My friend has a child who is struggling with addiction. How can I help?

In the throes of today’s opioid epidemic, we know we need massive action and front-line advocates to save lives. I am in awe of parents and others who have been personally touched by this issue and use that experience to connect with other families struggling, holding their hand through ups and downs of this epic journey. Sometimes, though, that massive action takes place in small moments shared between friends — particularly in reaching out to a friend whose son or daughter may be struggling with substance use.

You don’t have to be specially trained or be affected by this issue personally to support a friend in need. You don’t have to know exactly what to say. You only have to be willing to be there. When I was in the grips of active heroin addiction, I wish people who knew would have reached out to my family. It would have meant the world to them. They wouldn’t have felt so alone. If you know a family touched by active addiction, reach out and offer them the support you would for any family with a chronic medical condition.

Sometimes we don’t reach out because it isn’t easy. It’s normal to not want to bother someone. It’s normal to be afraid you might say the wrong thing, or to feel uncomfortable being present when someone else is struggling. However you feel, checking in with your friend can change the stigma and isolation associated with addiction. Just saying, “I am so sorry you are struggling. I don’t have any real answers, but I do want to support and listen to you. Is there anything I can do? Do you want to grab a cup of coffee?” will change lives. I truly believe that. Whether your friend takes you up on the offer or not, they now know they have someone they can speak to when they are ready. They know they are not alone, and you can feel secure in the knowledge that you’re making a difference in someone’s life simply by extending that offer.

If you are feeling uncomfortable about reaching out, try these suggestions.

Fred Muench, Ph.D./Partnership for Drug-Free Kids