How to Deal with a Friend Who Is an Addict

One of the most gut-wrenching things in life is to see someone you care about suffer in any way. If you’re like most people, you want to help, but sometimes your choices seem extremely limited – if they exist at all. This can leave you feeling frustrated, scared, and powerless.

This is particularly true when it comes to addictions. When you find yourself in a relationship with a friend or loved one who is suffering from an addiction, there are two ways you can handle the situation:

• One, you can ignore the problem and let them take care of themselves.
• Two, you can take an active role in helping them get past their addiction to get clean.

Unfortunately, choosing the first option may have the same result as ignoring your friend while he is sitting with a gun to his head. The only difference is that it will just take longer to get there. If you have heard the saying, “If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem”, it couldn’t apply more than to this situation.

If you truly care for your friend and want to help him kick his addiction, the second option is the better choice. And to begin it, you must first learn the dos and don’ts of dealing with a friend with an addiction. You may think that what you are already doing for him or her is the best that you have to offer, but it is crucial that you understand how addiction works and what to expect from an addict. This knowledge will allow you to handle the situation in a way that will truly make a positive difference.

Understanding Addiction

To a person who has never experienced addiction, it may seem as though the addict is merely lacking in willpower. This is not the case. The reason that some substances are more addictive than others often has very little if anything to do with the effects they produce when they are used. Although psychological addiction does occur, most addictions involve an actual physical dependency on the substance of choice. The body develops this dependency with repeated use so that the substance is needed to function in a way that the addict has come to perceive as normal. And, quite often, the person needs increasing amounts of the substance in order to function.

Psychological addiction has more to do with the emotional experience the substance or activity provides. Gambling is a perfect example. The gambling addict thrives on the high he or she experiences in anticipation of and during the experience. Gambling isn’t physiologically addictive like alcohol or heroin, but for the person prone to addiction, it can be just as powerful and compelling, even as the consequences increase in severity.

Most addictions are a combination of both physiological and psychological addiction. The addictive agent in the substance changes the chemical functions of the brain or body. As a result, the user becomes increasingly dependent while he or she also has an enjoyable experience. As the addiction becomes more intense, the addict feels driven to do the same behavior over and over.

People who have an addiction to a substance will get to the point where they will do whatever is necessary to obtain it. Feeding their addiction becomes their highest priority. This is why addicts are more likely to steal, lie, and cheat than those who don’t have addictions. They will do this even though it would have been completely out of character prior to their addiction.

Hitting Rock Bottom

Addicts will often refuse to acknowledge that they have a problem until they hit rock bottom. What it is important for you to understand is that this point doesn’t happen for everyone at the same time – for many, it comes too late. For some, the first time they have to lie to their friends – to someone like you – is the final straw before they decide they need to get help. For others, the gun to their head goes off before they make the commitment to turn their life around.

One thing that most addicts have in common is low self-esteem. They often don’t believe they deserve a good friend, that they have any worth or value, or that anyone loves them. As you might imagine, it is extremely difficult for someone having these types of thoughts to make the choice to step up and get clean. Addiction doesn’t just “go away” on its own. It is going to continue to get worse as time goes on – and the addict is going to keep feeling worse about himself or herself as it does.

The Commitment You Have to Make

Don’t wait until your friend has hit rock bottom and made the decision to go clean before you take steps to help him or her. It may never happen and you will never forgive yourself when you are attending your friend’s funeral. Once you make the decision to help your friend with an addiction, you will need to make a commitment to that friend to stick it out no matter how difficult it may be. It will be difficult and you will have to take actions and make decisions that will be painful for the both of you.

The Intervention

An intervention can be the turning point that lets the addict know the time has come to make a change. It can also be a complete waste of time. The execution of the intervention will make all the difference in the world to the results you get. These are some important tips to make sure yours is successful:


• Hire a professional. An addiction intervention specialist will know the steps for a successful intervention and will know how to turn things around if they start to shift in the wrong direction.

• Keep it small. You don’t need to invite every relative, friend, and co-worker he has in order to get the big impact you want. Try to limit the number of individuals that are present to the single digits.

• Invite those people that he is closest to regardless of how anyone else, including you, feels about him. He isn’t going to care what strangers or people he isn’t close to have to say.

• Prepare ahead. Everyone involved needs to be prepared with what they will say. The goal is to provide love and support rather then try to address blame. Let your friend know that you love him too much to let him kill himself with his addiction and it’s time to get help. Stay positive.

• Be prepared for the next step. If your friend agrees to get help, you want to move quickly to get him where he needs to be. Know beforehand where he can go for help, accompany him to get his things, and take him to the location where they are waiting for him. Discourage him from putting it off until next week or after a specific event when he will have had a chance to change his mind.

Other Alternatives

If you choose not to do an intervention or the one you do attempt is not successful, there are other measures you must take in order to get your friend to deal with the addiction. Your friend might also have agreed to try to go clean without getting professional help. This might be more likely with some addictions than with others but you can do your part by removing temptation from your friend’s home.

Don’t cover for him when he chooses to indulge in addictive behavior rather than being responsible to his work or his family. Don’t give him money, even if it is for food. Make him deal with the consequences of his behavior no matter how difficult it may be for you or for him. Make it clear that you want him to get help and until he does, you are not going to deal with him and watch him kill himself with his addiction.

There is a big difference between being supportive and being a crutch for your friend’s addictive behavior. Keep the outcome in mind at all times and don’t give in. He needs to know that you are always there to support him when he decides to get help but not before.