Tatiana Answers: How to react to friends with teen going through drug addiction.

Dear Tatiana,

I have an acquaintance with a college-aged child who is battling drug addiction. I don’t know them very well at all, but the family seems fairly open about the recovery and addiction. However, obviously it is a sensitive and serious issue. My question is hard to put into words, but basically I’m wondering if it is helpful or hurtful to reach out to the parents or not? Also – should we encourage our kids who know this young person to reach out to them or not? I (and others) have expressed wanting to encourage the family and kid but haven’t reached out for fear that perhaps the family doesn’t want to think “everyone knows” or doesn’t want to keep talking about it since perhaps they are already consumed with recovery and other issues surrounding the addiction. Assuming you suggest that it is appropriate to reach out to them, what type of things would be helpful to say or do? Sadly, I’m becoming very aware that this could happen to any family and any kid and I’m hoping you can provide some valuable insight on what is helpful and what is hurtful in dealing with friends that are going through situations such as this.


I just want to be helpful


Dear “I just want to be helpful”,

Addiction is a disease, not a character flaw. It is progressive in nature, has a biological component and frequently a genetic one. Why would we respond differently to a community member’s diagnosis of Substance Use Disorder, than we would any other?

The question to ask yourself is, how would we respond to this acquaintance or their college-aged child if the diagnosis was cancer, diabetes, cardiac issues…? If the answer is you would reach out, let them know that you have been thinking of them, offer opportunities to get together (especially alcohol and drug free events) and are here to offer support; that’s how you should respond to this.

As with any diagnosis, there is a period of grief for the family. Each family is going to need something different and that is OK. Let them be the lead and you respond accordingly.


Tatiana Matthews LPC

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