How to Talk to a Friend Who is Abusing Drugs/Alcohol
Professor and licensed clinical social worker offers five tips to help navigate a difficult conversation.
“Lots of people use drugs or drink alcohol, but there are differences between use and abuse, and it’s important to know that distinction,” said Kerrie Gianvecchio, a lecturer in the Department of Healthcare Studies.
As a licensed clinical social worker, Gianvecchio has had the opportunity to work in many settings within the human services field over the past 20 years. “However, the field that I have always felt the most passionate about is working with individuals that are addicted. After having the privilege to work with this population I have seen the beauty of recovery — and I am inspired by the gifts of recovery,” she said.
So, what should you do if you think someone is abusing drugs or alcohol, and want to talk to them about it? Gianvecchio breaks it down:
3 Ways to Tell if There’s a Problem
1. Loss of Control: A problem can be identified by a loss of control. Meaning, that they are either using more than intended or that they tried to stop but couldn’t. Do you notice that it’s interfering with their relationships and obligations? Are friends and family worried? Is the person not acting like themself? Is their work or schoolwork impacted?
2. Is Their Use Risky? Risky use means that the person may be putting themselves in dangerous situations or continues to use even though it worsens their current conditions.
3. Are There Any Physical Indicators? These would include feeling sick (physically or emotionally) when they’re not using, or saying they need to use more of the substance to feel the effects.
“It would only take a couple of these examples for a person to be diagnosed with substance use disorder,” Gianvecchio said. “But remember that any use has the potential to become problematic.”
5 Steps to Take if There’s a Problem
Start by assessing the situation. Know where on the scale of recreational-to-problematic use that your friend is on. This helps you decide their level of risk and how much to intervene.
Low risk = express concern, monitor, respond
High risk = express concern, invite, get help
1. Express Your Concern: Let your friend know you are worried by using “I” statements. For example: “I feel worried when you use because you …”
2. Monitor: Keep your relationship with your friend intact but enforce good boundaries and watch out for increased risky behavior.
3. Respond: Your response should offer support. Encourages changes in concerning behaviors while maintaining your own boundaries.
4. Invite: Offer resources. These could include teachers, counselors, or another trusted adult. Example: “Hey, want to go over to Hazen with me to talk to someone?”
5. Get Help: Even if your friend refuses to get help, notify a trusted adult. Supporting a friend in this situation can be very challenging, and you shouldn’t have to do it alone.
“Remember substance use disorder is a brain disease and people often need treatment and professional support.”
1. Be supportive and empathetic.
2. Know that it may be hard for them to ask for help.
3. Applaud any movement toward positive change.
4. Change won’t happen overnight but be patient.
5. Don’t go at this alone. Instead, use the help of your own support system.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to help others with addiction, check out The Department of Healthcare Studies, and our Alcohol and Substance Abuse major/minor.