My friend is taking too many prescription pills, should I say something?

Dear Liz,
I think my friend is taking too many prescription pills, should I say something?
– Concerned Friend

Dear Concerned Friend,

Without much context around this question, I’m not sure I can comment. I can say, however, that in my three decades on this earth that I have known good decent folks with hearts of gold who struggled with addiction issues ranging from food to alcohol, and drugs, even prescriptions given to them by medical doctors. I’ve found that being a supportive friend means showing up and saying something…but what? How do you intervene when you think your pal is in trouble?

To answer this, I am turning to my friend, fellow blogger Jim LaPierre who runs the BDN blog called Recovery Rocks. Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist, and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life.

Here is what Jim had to say:

I’ve been asked this countless times. To an addictions counselor, it translates to, “I’m pretty sure my friend is waist deep in quick sand, but I’m afraid I’ll hurt their feelings by mentioning it.” Maybe expressing our concern over a possible substance use disorder should not be akin to, “Janet, you really seem to be packing on the pounds these days!”

I get it. Folks tend to fear conflict and therefore anticipate defensiveness. Showing concern for your loved one on sensitive topics can be a bit of an art form. Most counselors would suggest that the finesse you’re looking for would come through making, “I statements.”

As cheesy as that may sound, saying to your friend, “You seem to be taking too many medications” will be received very differently than saying, “I’m concerned about how your medications are affecting you.” “You” triggers defensiveness because it points at my friend’s choices. “I” need not trigger defensiveness because I’m expressing concern for you as my friend.

I suggest to folks that when they’re concerned about being misunderstood that they lead with their fears. Example: “Janet, I want to talk to you about something but I’m afraid it’ll come out wrong.” By doing this, we’re enlisting our friend’s support and patience in expressing our concerns.

Think about what you’ve seen that’s changed. What’s different that’s raised your concerns? I’m assuming here that you haven’t just been snooping through her medicine cabinet and are genuinely worried. Expressing this as directly and succinctly as possible is your best bet.

Express your concerns without expectation. Give your friend time to consider whether this is something they need to look at. Don’t get hung up on whether you’re right or wrong – sharing your concerns is a way of showing love. The world needs more of that.

Good luck!

~ Liz

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