How to Be Supportive When a Friend Is Battling an Addiction

How to Be Supportive When a Friend Is Battling an Addiction

Here are tips from a counselor on how to take a cue from the RHONY ladies and rally around a struggling friend.

By Stacy Lenz

Our hearts have been with Luann de Lesseps as we’ve watched her struggle with addiction. She returned to rehab to address her problem earlier this month and more recently reached out on social media, posting the inspirational message, "Never regret a day in your life: good days give happiness, bad days give experience, worst days give lessons, and best days give memories." We’re so happy that she’s getting the help she needs and we’re rooting for her health and recovery, as are her pals on The Real Housewives of New York City.

Anyone that has loved someone struggling with addiction knows how incredibly difficult the situation can be, both for the person afflicted and everyone around them. It’s hard to know what exactly to do. In the case of the Countess, we’ve watched as her friends have shown up for her — spending time with her as she’s adjusting to sober life, the kind words they’ve shared and how they’ve helped support her return to rehab.

Personal Space reached out to Dr. Nicki Nance, a licensed mental health counselor and an associate professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida, and asked her how we can show up for our friends if we see them struggling with a similar situation. 

While someone could be in any stage of battling addiction, from not yet admitting they have a problem to going to rehab to anywhere between, it's guaranteed to be a difficult time in their lives. (If you are worried that being a supportive friend is not enough and that direct action needs to be taken, please consult an expert like a substance abuse counselor.)

What to say and what not to say

It can be incredibly difficult to know what to say, so Dr. Nance advises with starting with the truth: 'I don't know what to say,' 'I care about you and I want to help, but I don't know how,' and 'I miss you' are all excellent ways to honestly tell your friend how you feel.  

On the opposite side of the coin, things to avoid saying include statements that start with 'you should,' 'you have to,' and 'you need to.' She asserts to also not say, ’I know what you're going through.’ "Even if you are in recovery yourself, you aren't them. Don't give a lecture of any kind. If people could be lectured clean, there would be no addicts,” she adds.

Supportive gestures for those struggling

If you are watching your friend struggle, kind gestures can be quite meaningful. Dr. Nance suggests small ways to show up for your friend, which could range from simply asking them ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’, or offering to go to a 12-step meeting with them, or just giving them their favorite candy.

If your friend goes to rehab

There are many things to show your support if your friend goes to rehab. According to Dr. Nance, things you can do include writing to your friend in rehab. 

Additionally, offer to “pet-sit, water plants, pick up the mail, pick up the kids. Offer something specific rather than say ‘Call me if you need anything.’ If you know the family, ask if there is anything you can do for them. Things like dropping off a pizza can mean a lot to a family. If they want to talk, listen.” 

When your friend returns from rehab

When your friend returns from rehab helping them stay sober should be your priority as a friend, which means not taking them to any situations that involve alcohol or drugs. “Even if alcohol was not their drug of choice, just one drink impairs judgment. Even seeing others drink can get the addictive process in the brain re-engaged.” Dr. Nance also states that when your friend returns they may feel restless or irritable and to be understanding of those changes as they adjust. 

She also warns that for a newly sober person “a lot of people were only (their) drug or drinking friends. As a rehab counselor, I often heard people say they needed to go to the bar because their friends were there. I would tell them to wait 30 days and see how many of those bar friends tried to contact them just to be a friend, and without alcohol or drugs on the agenda.” Additionally, she warns, “If you are avoiding a recovering person because you can't drink or use around them, get a substance abuse assessment for yourself.” 

Supportive gestures for the newly sober

“Go to an Al-Anon meeting yourself. Help them structure their time,” suggests Dr. Nance as ways to be there for your newly sober friend. Most importantly, let them know how much they mean to you. “Tell them you are glad they are back in life with you.” These are just starting points and remember to feel free to reach out to counselors and attend support meetings if you need to for yourself — everyone needs help and support sometimes.

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