Supporting Family and Friends: Talking About Substance Use

By Trina Mansour

Posted on Thursday August 6, 2020


The Canadian Centre for Substance Use and Addiction ( recently published a news bulletin speaking to an unfortunate side effect of the pandemic. Canadians have increased the amount of alcohol they are consuming while confined to their homes. Various reasons cited for the increase include uncertainty, boredom, loneliness, lack of structure, and stress. This has increased concerns for addiction within our communities. It’s important to have open conversations that are supportive and connect people with resources when needed.

What is an addiction free lifestyle?
An addiction free lifestyle is one that does not compromise health and performance with alcohol or cannabis use, illicit drug use, problem gambling, and tobacco use. It is important to choose a lifestyle that is about moderation and that stays within reasonable limits. Developing effective coping skills will also reduce the likelihood that you will become involved in potentially harmful behaviours.

Addiction free lifestyle:
It’s a family affair
Studies show that early intervention by parents can prevent substance use. Serious problems related to alcohol and drugs are less likely to develop if families are able to talk openly and honestly in a respectful and loving environment. This strengthens family ties and builds resilience.

Top 10 tips for an addiction free family:
1 Communicate with your children to help them make sound decision-making skills
2. Develop a support network within your family by showing love, listening to concerns, and being prepared to help when asked
3. Know your facts. If your children have questions about substance abuse and you don’t know the answer, look it up together
4. Set rules. A family works best when it sets rules and responsibilities
5. Be a good role model. The things you say and do can have strong influence on other members of your family
6. Share your feelings about important things
7. Spend time together to make your family ties stronger
8. Raise the issues of alcohol and drugs; don’t be afraid to bring up this topic
9. Watch for signs of substance use and address them early
10. Solve problems together. Use the combined strengths and skills of all family members to address important issues

How to talk to someone about substance use
Sometimes people may not realize how harmful their use has become. Recognizing that they have a problem is the first step to dealing with it. It is much easier to deal with problematic use if you handle it early. The longer people wait, the harder the problem may be to address.

Starting the conversation can be tough, but there are constructive ways you can show you care. Be aware that the conversation might bring out some strong emotions and may not go as you expect. Know that it is okay and it will still show your friend or family member that you care.

When talking:
• Show concern. Tell them you are worried because you care about them, and want the best for them.
• Listen. There may be some underlying reasons for why they’re using substances, like mental health problems such as depression, or to cope with previous or ongoing trauma or violence. Listen for these potential issues and validate and acknowledge their experiences without probing them. It may help inform the type of help you encourage your friend or family member to seek.
• Be patient. A conversation about substance use can result in someone feeling angry or defensive. Don’t rush the conversation. If you need to come back to it another day, do so.
• Keep an open dialogue. Assure them you are there for them, and that they can talk to you anytime.
• Don’t stigmatize. Be aware of the language you use when talking to someone about substance use. A good guideline is to remember the person comes first, not the behaviour. Be compassionate and open in the way you talk about it so that the person feels understood and accepted. If someone feels they are being judged, they are less likely to seek help.
• Sometimes people can lose sight of the things they do have in their life and their personal strengths. Remind them that there are friends, family members, groups, activities and other things that make getting help worthwhile. Recognize their strengths and their ability to overcome this.

How to guide someone to get help
Substance use disorder is a medical condition that requires help from health professionals. Encourage your friend or family member to call local or national organizations, or support them by checking out online resources together. Remember that it’s also important to protect your mental and emotional wellbeing when dealing with serious issues. Helping someone can be mentally, physically and emotionally draining. Seek help and support for yourself as well.

Resources: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction 1-866-531-2600: Addiction, Mental Health, and Problem Gambling Treatment Services
• Canadian Forces Member Assistance Program 1-800-268-7708
• Family Information Line 1-800-866-4546
• MFRC Mental Health Team 613-687-2104 ext 224
• Garrison Mental Health Team 613-687-5511 local 4600

You’re not alone. Reach out to your local Health Promotion Team for more information about resources, supports and programs
• Online at
• By email at
• On Facebook at Petawawa Health Promotion