How To Support Someone Struggling With Substance Use

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2020, 14.5% of the population aged 12 and older (or 40.3 million people in total) had a substance use disorder in the past year. That equates to just under one in every seven people—meaning that if you know at least seven people, the odds are good that you know someone who has struggled with substance use.

If you’ve ever watched a friend or family member struggle with substance use, you know how difficult—even heartbreaking—that experience can be. Often, people want to help but don’t know how, or end up accidentally alienating their loved one in the process. Trying to find the right words to say or choosing the right moment to bring up the topic can feel like a delicate balancing act—one with extremely high stakes. 

How To Help Someone With a Substance Use Disorder

While helping someone who is battling addiction is rarely easy, it’s almost always worth trying. Here, we’ve outlined a few guidelines and strategies for how to help someone with addiction:

  • Educate yourself. Substance use is not a moral failing—rather, it’s a disease that often has roots in trauma or mental health problems. Do your research, or connect with professionals who can help you better understand the science and research behind addiction.
  •  Be straightforward. Though conversations like these can be uncomfortable, beating around the bush or delaying them will only do more harm than good. Discuss your concerns honestly and calmly when both of you are sober.
  •  Actively listen. If you are able to get your loved one to open up about their substance use, use that as an opportunity to better understand where they’re coming from. In order to successfully help someone with drug or alcohol use, it’s essential that you approach the issue from a place of encouragement and non-judgement, and that both of you enter the conversation sober.

    Whatever you do, avoid lecturing the other person, becoming heated or yelling at them, or trying to guilt-trip or threaten them.
  • Offer your support. Ask your loved one how you can help them make a positive change, whether that’s connecting them with resources and support groups, helping figure out a treatment plan, or simply providing moral support.
  • Maintain firm boundaries. It’s not unusual for recovery to be preceded by delays, denials, and relapses. Be patient, and if need be, remind yourself that you haven’t done anything wrong. If your loved one continues to use drugs or alcohol, don’t try to shield them from the consequences of their actions. At the end of the day, other people’s behavior is neither your responsibility nor your fault.

RADIAS Health provides person-centered integrated healthcare services to people experiencing mental illness, substance use, or co-occurring disorders. Our behavioral health services are delivered by compassionate, skilled health care and support staff. In addition, our care includes supplementary services such as case management, supportive housing, homeless services, residential services, outpatient DBT treatment, and more. If you or someone you know could benefit from our mission, contact us today or consider donating!