Helping a friend or family member with substance use

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Understanding and supporting someone experiencing issues with alcohol or other drugs can be difficult and overwhelming. It is normal to feel angry, upset, scared or helpless.

How can you start the conversation? Where can you go to get help?

People use substances for many different reasons. Some people use them to treat pain or to alleviate anxiety or depression symptoms. Others use them to increase the enjoyment of some activities.

But if someone is spending a great deal of time getting, using, or recovering from the effects of a substance, and continuing to use despite experiencing problems, like difficulty meeting responsibilities, this may mean it is time to have a conversation with your loved one if you feel comfortable.

For you, it can be difficult to know how to respond to them. But there is no “right way” to do so

Conversation tips

  • Arrange a suitable time to talk where you will both have privacy without interruptions.
  • Do this in a location your friend or family member feels comfortable in, whether that’s walking and talking, sitting side by side, or driving together.
  • If possible you should start the conversation when they’re not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or “coming down”, however sometimes its cant be avoided
  • If you ask directly about drug use, avoid making assumptions that they are using drugs, how often, or why.
  • Let the person know how their drug use is impacting you. Do this by using “I” statements, rather than “you” statements.
  • You may not be able to cover all of your concerns in the first conversation. Let your family member or friend know you’re here for them to talk. Use language like ‘we can do this together’
  • Ultimately, encourage them to talk about their substance use with a professional support worker.
  • Remember that suddenly stopping the use of many substances can be dangerous and cause harm. Always discuss options with a professional.

Acknowledge and celebrate positive changes, big or small.

This may be things like making the phone call for support, or your loved one acknowledging that their drug use is becoming an issue. Improving safety or positive health and lifestyle changes are great steps.

Not everyone will make changes to their drug & alcohol use, but the most important thing is ensuring they are keeping safe and making informed decisions around their substance use.

Encourage your loved one to link in with a non judgemental service like QuIHN, for advice and support around staying safe whilst using drugs.

If you live with your loved one, set clear, workable boundaries around what is and what is not okay in the home, your space and your relationship.

Take care of yourself

Always remember that taking care of yourself is just as important as helping a loved one.

Don’t neglect your own wellbeing during another person’s journey. Reducing your stress can ultimately lead to you being more helpful to the people who need you the most.

The impacts on the person using drugs or alcohol is one thing. However, there is stress and negative effects for loved ones also.

Families and carers often keep what is going on to themselves in fear of being judged or not understood, leaving people suffering in silence. It is important to remember that you are not alone. Many families struggle with supporting loved ones who have substance issues, and it’s more common than people realise.

QuIHN has a range of services including counselling for friends, family or carers of people with substance issues. Click here for local service information.

Family drug support have a 24hr hotline Support Line: 1300 368 186 and some great resources on their website 

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Helping a friend or family member with substance use

Understanding and supporting someone experiencing issues with alcohol or other drugs can be difficult and overwhelming. It is normal to feel angry, upset, scared or helpless.