Here's how to support a friend experiencing substance use challenges

Mar 19 2019, 6:05 pm

There is an overdose emergency in B.C. It’s time for us to recognize that as the public health crisis that it is. Addiction can affect anyone, including our closest friends.

Helping a friend who is experiencing substance use challenges is often a tough journey. There might even be times when ignoring the situation seems like an easier solution.

However, it is important that you are there to support your loved one. Not talking about substance use keeps people isolated, increasing the risk of overdose. Talking about these issues can be hard, but discussing substance use could be the most important conversation you ever have.

Here are some tips on how to support a friend experiencing substance use-related challenges.


Understand substance use

It might be helpful for you to learn more about substance use. There are some myths that make it harder to understand what someone with substance use-related challenges could be thinking or feeling. For example:

Myth: Do a drug once and you’ll become addicted.

Fact: This is untrue. Most people who are prescribed or try drugs do not become addicted.

Myth: People who use drugs don’t care about their loved ones. If they did, they would stop.

Fact: Addiction is not a choice. People who use drugs do care about their loved ones, and ending addiction is a lot more complicated than just stopping using drugs.

There are usually underlying reasons why people use drugs. People often use drugs to deal with emotional, physical, spiritual or mental pain. The shame and blame associated with drug use also make it harder for people living with an addiction to reach out for help. That’s why it is important to have more honest, judgement-free conversations about substance use and show that nobody needs to deal with their problems on their own.

Talk, listen, and be open

Talking to your friend about their substance use-related challenges will be a big step, and you might be nervous about what to say.

But that’s okay; you don’t have to have all the answers. Just be there for your friend, listen to what they say, and support them. Recognize that they could be feeling vulnerable, and make sure to speak calmly and without judgement. This shows that you care about your friend no matter what.

Learn about treatment options and ways to stay safer

Friends and loved ones can play an important role in helping someone who uses drugs find the help they need.

The more you know about treatment and recovery services, the more you can help your friend and support them to get help when they are ready. If you need to, contact treatment professionals in your area to learn more about what can be done, so you are better equipped to support your loved one.

There are also important steps to take to be safer. Ask your friend if they know how to identify and respond to an overdose, and let them know about harm reduction services such as overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites and drug-checking facilities.

Offer your ongoing support

Your friend might not understand or realize how much you care about them. Talk to them about your concerns, and ask supportive questions like: “What can I do to help?” and “Do you feel ready to get professional support?”

Let them know that you will be there to support them throughout their healing journey.

Take care of yourself

Supporting a person dealing with substance use-related challenges can be hard. Make sure to look after yourself by getting enough sleep, eating well, and not placing blame on yourself. Remember that you don’t have to go through this alone, either.

Don’t be afraid to contact a counsellor or join a support group for people impacted by addiction. Find a list of services by region or specialization here.


This information is not intended to take the place of professional medical care.

If you or someone you know needs substance use support, please consult your family doctor or dial 811, a free telephone resource that provides 24/7 non-emergency advice and support.

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