What to Say to a Friend Dealing with Addiction

The music community rallied to support Demi Lovato, reminding us of the importance of reaching out.

Image courtesy of  Linda Raymond/ Getty Images

When the news of Demi Lovato’s reported overdose broke this week, the singer and songwriter’s friends and supporters were worried and concerned, but one thing they weren’t is silent.

“Like all of you I am reeling at the news about Demi. All of us love her and need to pray for her to get well. She is a fighter,” Nick Jonas tweeted. “I love u @ddlovato,” Ariana Grande wrote. “Praying for @ddlovato. You are loved,” Justin Timberlake posted. “Praying for you and thinking of you,” wrote Kesha.

The outpouring from fellow stars and fans continued to flow throughout the night, with the tag #PrayForDemi trending within hours. The love and support from fans and friends went viral almost immediately.

It was June 21st when Demi Lovato fans logged onto Twitter to find a tweet by Lovato, announcing the sudden release of a new single, titled “Sober.”

“My truth,” Lovato posted, releasing the song that bravely reveals her relapse, following six years of sobriety. The singer/songwriter, who opened up about her struggles with mental illness and drug addiction in a 2017 YouTube documentary, “Simply Complicated,” has spoken publicly about breaking down the stigma surrounding mental illness. “It was very important for me to talk about mental illness,” Lovato told Arianna Huffington on the Thrive Global Podcast in October. “How you can live with it and have an incredible life.”

Lovato delivered a raw performance of the new song at the Rock in Rio festival in Lisbon, Portugal on June 24th — her voice shaking as she sang each lyric, fighting back tears as she confessed that she was no longer sober. “Momma, I’m so sorry, I’m not sober anymore,” Lovato sang. “To the ones who never left me, we’ve been down this road before.”

When a friend suffers with addiction, we’re often flooded with the thought, “Maybe it’s not my place to say anything,” or “Maybe I should wait to reach out.” Addiction, like all mental illnesses, is a sensitive subject, and it’s deeply personal and emotional to talk about. However, it’s also important to voice your support when a friend is suffering. The CDC reports that the rate of drug addiction is climbing every year, and according to the 2018 World Drug Report, released by UNODC, the prevalence of drug use in the US has almost doubled in recent years.

“Drug addiction is a chronic brain disease,” says Jessica Gold, M.D., M.S., Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University in St Louis School of Medicine. “You can’t view the addiction as the person making bad decisions,” Gold says, “It is the disease.”

If you’re nervous about choosing the exact words to say, Gold suggests choosing your language wisely — focusing on unconditional love. First and foremost, be supportive rather than focusing on failure, Gold says. “Educate yourself on your friend’s condition and become acquainted with the stages of addiction.” And when it comes to asking questions, Gold recommends being as general as possible: “It’s important to be supportive of treatment, but not ask too many specific questions about your friend’s addiction program or support group.” When an individual is struggling with a mental illness, specific questions can feel overwhelming and defeating, she says.

Finally, Gold says it’s critical to share your loving words of encouragement with your friend, even if they don’t want to open up in the moment or talk about the specific parts of their treatment. “It’s a day by day challenge, and they’re supposed to focus on one day at a time.”

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