Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change. —Tony Robbins
For today’s article, I wanted to share something that’s been on my heart for awhile now: addiction within friendships.
This topic isn’t easy for me to talk about as I’ve had to experience this indirectly directly (if it makes sense) for over half a decade.
Whether it’s gambling, drugs, alcohol or behavioral addiction such as pornography, to me, an addiction is an addiction.
And navigating addiction within friendships is not easy.
It doesn’t matter if you’re the one dealing with addiction directly or if you’re part of a support group dealing with it indirectly. Addiction within friendships is very difficult. It’s the hardcore truth.
And I must say that I’ve had to learn to navigate this topic with one of my own close friends.
Before I share how I navigate addiction within friendships, I wanted to give you some truths on what it’s like being in a friendship with someone who has an addiction.
And I’m just going to be real about it (in no particular order):
If you yourself don’t have a strong mindset, you will not be able to help.
If you’re new to navigating addiction within friendships, you might be wondering why the person just can’t “get over it”.
Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is vital when having conversations.
At times, you’ll get extremely frustrated with the person who’s addicted.
You may be needed to attend “staffing meetings” with his/her therapist.
You may wonder if you’re wasting your time because that person seems like they don’t want to quit.
People who have an addiction are likely to hurt you. Be prepared because dishonesty will be involved.
Don’t believe everything s/he says. At the beginning, s/he could be lying to both you and their therapist or one or the other so make sure to look at the situation/what they’re saying from a holistic perspective.
Speaking of, your support for the addicted can only go so far. You can only be there for him/her the best you can.
No matter how hard you try, you cannot help the addicted unless s/he wants the help.
At times, you’ll feel like nothing is happening and might get frustrated, especially if you have the personality that likes to see people succeed.
Being a support to someone who has an addiction can be so emotionally and mentally draining that you might want to quit.
Having a support while being a support is so good for the soul and energizes you to keep going.
Walking with someone through their addiction can strengthen your relationship with that person and teach you more than you can ever imagine.
Experiences vary depending on the person and the depth, length of time, and type of addiction.
The truths I shared above are from the top of my mind when I was writing this post so it obviously doesn’t cover everything. Actually, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. If I think of anything else, I’ll add to this post.
Within the last five years of my life, I’ve pretty much done everything a supportive friend could do for their friend who’s battling addiction. Staying up late nights guiding a friend through his/her emotions, attending group meetings, encouraging him/her and keeping an eye on them to make sure s/he doesn’t harm themselves is only beginning of scratching the surface.
As a friend, here’s how I’ve navigated addiction within friendships:
LISTEN AND ASK QUESTIONS
The best thing you can do for your friend is to listen to him/her. Anytime you sit down with them, make sure they have your undivided attention. It shows that you care when you make them feel like you both are the only people in the room.
Don’t be the one who does the talking. Just ask questions and listen. If s/he asks you a question, answer it with a question. Most of the time, you’ll get the answers you need by asking the right questions to gain understanding.
CREATE A SAFE AND OPEN ENVIRONMENT
From personal experience, my friend didn’t come to me or our mutual friends for years because s/he was afraid of being judged. At the time s/he came to us, s/he thought they were going to lose our friendship. I’ll never forget that night. My friend cried in my lap thinking s/he was going to lose my friendship. It just broke my heart.
The time it takes for that person to trust you depends on your relationship with him/her. Work hard to create a safe, open-door environment for that person to talk to you. Sometimes, s/he just needs to vent.
NO JUDGMENTAL RESPONSES
It’s so important to not respond with judgmental comments or give off a judgmental vibe. Most likely, that person is coming to you in a very cautious and sensitive state so be careful with your words. Like I said earlier, create a safe environment. The goal is to build trust.
REDUCE THE STRESS
For me personally, my friend’s trigger is stress and anxiety. After finding what causes the start of my friend’s addiction, we worked together to make sure of two things: 1) that s/he comes to me or their support group right away when they need help with something. That way, the situation doesn’t spiral out of hand where s/he uses their addiction as a way to cope. 2) I make sure to reduce my friend’s stress by helping him/her with the task at hand, talk through it with him/her and make sure they feel much better.
Part of being a support to a friend is to understand that you can get stressed out too. In order for you to be the best support you can be, you’ve got to be aware of your emotions.
If you’re stressed whether it’s from the situation or from your own life, it’s important to set boundaries. What I mean is, if you’re not “all there”, how can you be there for your friend when s/he needs you? You can’t.
And no, that doesn’t mean you’re being selfish. The phrase I’ve learned that helps a ton is this:
“Hey, I’m not in a place where I can be 100% present for you right now. Can you give me some time? I want to make sure I have the mental capacity and give you the best of me because you deserve my undivided attention.”
When your friend hears this, s/he will understand and feel cared for. It’s important that you’re in a good state of mind when navigating addiction within friendships.
Addiction within friendships is not easy to navigate.
As your friend(s) are in the midst of their addiction or are beginning the road to recovery, please know that the emotional and physical toll on both sides is very real.
It doesn’t matter if your friend is dealing with addiction or depression.
If you aren’t at your best. You CANNOT help them.
Understanding the five tips I gave above and applying them within your friendship will help both sides.
I’m not saying that navigating addiction within friendships is easy by any means. It’s not. Just remember that you can’t help someone if your tank is empty.
Please note that what’s written in this post is my opinions based on my experiences. I understand that addiction is a serious issue for many so this content should not be used for diagnosis or treatment of a health problem or disease and serves as informational purposes only. Always consult a professional healthcare provider with any questions you may have.