If my friend or loved one asks for my help, where do I start?
When people you care about ask for help, they have taken an important first step. If they are resistant to help, see if you can at least convince them to get an evaluation from a doctor.
You can always take steps to locate an appropriate physician or health professional and leave the information with your friend. You can call health professionals in advance to see if they are comfortable speaking with their patients about addiction. If not, ask for a referral to another doctor with more expertise in the area of addiction. There are 3,500 board-certified physicians who specialize in addiction in the United States. The American Society of Addiction Medicine website has resources for patients and their families, including information on how to find a physician who can treat addiction. You do not need a doctor’s name; simply fill out the zip code section, and it will reveal treatment experts in your area. In addition, the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry also has a Patient Referral Program.
Emphasize to your friend or loved one that it takes a lot of courage to seek help for a drug problem because there is a lot of hard work ahead. There is a great deal of scientific evidence that treatment works, and people recover every day. Like other chronic diseases, addiction can be managed successfully. Treatment enables people to counteract the powerfully disruptive effects of drugs on the brain and behavior and to regain control of their lives. Like many diseases, it can take several attempts at treatment to find the right approach. But assure your friend or loved one that you will be supportive in their courageous effort.
If my friend does go into treatment, how can I offer support?
This is a great conversation to have with your friend's treatment provider, if your loved one gives the provider permission to speak with you. Different patients need different levels of support. If there are difficult dynamics in a family group or set of friends, the counselor may recommend little contact for a while. It is important to tell friends struggling with addiction that you admire their courage for tackling this medical problem directly through treatment and that as long as they stick with the treatment plan, you will offer encouragement and support. When residential treatment is over, your friend will have to re-enter the community and it will be a difficult time. There will be triggers everywhere that could promote a relapse—such as driving by places where the person once took drugs or seeing friends who provided those drugs. You can encourage your friend to avoid these triggers, and you can make an effort to help identify those triggers. However, people addicted to drugs have to fight much of this struggle on their own, without the help and advice of friends, using the knowledge and skills learned in treatment. Offer as much love and support you can as long as your loved one continues to follow the treatment plan. If the patient relapses, you should encourage additional treatment.