Remember – Send me your stories and questions. All are confidential. You can email Ask Stacy at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also see follow up information and resources for each topic on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/askstacyssw.
Wanting to Help: Dear Stacy, when you suspect a loved one or friend has a drinking or drug problem, what is the best way to help them?
Stacy: Dear Wanting to Help, it is admirable and generous to want to help a family member or friend who you believe may have a substance abuse problem, however, they must first admit they have a “problem” and want to receive/get help for themselves. Sometimes, we are too close to the situation and we want the sobriety/recovery more than they do, but this only causes us to become possible enablers in hopes of them changing.
Substance over use or abuse is a complicated matter and it not only affects the person abusing the substance(s), but the whole family or network of friends. You may find yourself constantly covering for that person or making excuses for them. You may be enabling them in ways you never thought about before.
First, I recommend that you educate yourself on addiction/addictive behavior(s) and what that may look like for your family member or friend. Then I would set boundaries for yourself when engaging with them. Don’t go out drinking with them or smoke weed with them, whatever it may be. Don’t let them borrow money. Don’t cover for them no matter what.
It may be hard to break the cycle with them, but if you change the way you deal/interact with them, maybe they will begin to see why you are doing so. This may open the path to be able to discuss your concerns with them. We never want to judge others as we all have our own “addictions” in some form or another, but we want to be supportive with boundaries. Once this open communication happens, then you will be able to share some resources with them and hopefully they will be receptive to using them to make changes in their life.
In my many years of working with people, I have found that the old clichés are true. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.” Until your friend or family member admits that they have a problem and wants to get help, there is nothing you can do. You have to decide what is enough and if you will continue to tolerate their behavior. The best way for you to help them is to help yourself.
“If you want them to change, you will probably have to change too, even if you don’t have an addiction. If you show you are willing to try, your loved one will be more likely to try as well.” - Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD
Here are some resources on the topic.