Tips for Talking to a Friend Grappling With Addiction

December 10, 2019 Hannah O'Grady

There is no denying that nearly all mental health diagnoses are shrouded in stigma and pejorative views. When it comes to addiction and substance use disorders, this stigma has the potential to take on a dangerous form. From my experience, those grappling with addiction rarely receive adequate social sympathy, and this lack of support has the potential to exacerbate symptoms. In fact, research shows that those who experience stigma are less likely to seek out treatment for their substance use.  As someone who has struggled with addiction, I can assure you that there are right, and overtly wrong, ways to communicate with someone who is dealing with addiction. 

Treat People With Addictions With Dignity and Respect

I want you to take a moment to consider what comes to mind when you hear the word "addict." Do you have images of a lying, manipulative person? Does your mind immediately jump to images of substance users you have seen in media? Growing up, my best friend was a heroin addict and began using opioids in sixth grade. He is one of the most talented and intelligent men I have ever met, yet, no one sees this side of him. When people look at him, they only see addiction; this results in a lack of dignity and respect. I have experienced this as well, even with my previous nicotine addiction. It was not uncommon for people to sneer at me and say, "Oh, you smoke? That is disgusting". The reality was, I was smoking as a way to cope with my anxiety and depression; no one took the time to explore that with me. Thus, if your friend is grappling with a substance use disorder, I urge you to not brush this person off as being immoral. Instead, treat your friend the same way as you did before the addiction and take the time to listen. 

Practice Patience and Empathy

When I used to smoke, my friends were consistently urging me to quit. They would throw out my smoking paraphernalia, snap my cigarettes in half, and express their disappointment in my inability to stop cold turkey. The truth was that I was not ready to quit; for years, smoking was my coping mechanism, and I was not ready to lose that. Although abstinence is undoubtedly possible, lapses are not uncommon. Yet, if your friend lapses back to their substance, this does not mean that your friend is back at square one. Instead of expressing hopelessness in them, take a moment to consider your friend's perspective and experience. Although setting boundaries is crucial in any relationship for saving your emotional energy, I encourage everyone who has a friend with an addiction to push themselves towards taking on a more empathetic and patient approach. Reducing this stigma towards your friend is important for recovery, as well as for shifting our society's conversation around this misunderstood mental health disorder. 

APA Reference
O'Grady, H. (2019, December 10). Tips for Talking to a Friend Grappling With Addiction , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 17 from

Author: Hannah O'Grady

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