Let's Talk about Substance Abuse | SC Thrive

Let’s Talk about Substance Abuse

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Let’s Talk about Substance Abuse

Substance Abuse

How do you help someone experiencing substance abuse? What do you say? Let’s take a moment to look at these 2 perspectives on intervention:

Intervention as defined by Merriam-Webster:
“an occurrence in which a person with a problem (such as a drug addiction) is confronted by a group (as of friends or family members) whose purpose is to compel the person to acknowledge and deal with the problem”

“Intervention” described by Michael Scott, Regional Manager of Dunder Mifflin, Scranton

Transcription: ” An Intervention… it’s sort of hard to describe. But really it’s a coming together… it’s a surprise party for people who have addictions! And you get in their face and you scream at them and make them feel really badly about themselves. And then, they stop.”

Initiating a conversation about someone’s substance use of any kind can be very daunting.  Maybe we anticipate how the person will react. Maybe we are afraid of upsetting the person. Maybe we just don’t have the ‘right’ words to say. Maybe you feel that approaching a person with a group of people will make a bigger impact. There are a lot of ‘maybes’ that will stop us from openly expressing concerns about a person’s substance use. It’s best to shy away from the idea that it needs to be like an episode of Intervention or Michael Scott’s ambush “surprise party” intervention. One person can make a huge impact on someone’s life. One person can #BeTheDifference.

Think back to the substance use section of Mental Health First Aid training. Let’s review a few Do’s and Don’ts for approaching these conversations.


  • State observations using “I” statements
    • Example: “John Doe, I notice that you haven’t been feeling well at work in the morning and I can smell alcohol.”
  • Be open and honest
    • Example: “Johnny Doe, when I look at your (insert social media outlet), I see cigarettes in almost every new post. I’m concerned about your well-being.”
  • Acknowledge the feelings that may be causing substance use
    • Example: “Jane Doe, I’ve noticed that the past few times we talk, I hear you say that work has been stressful and only X substance helps you wind down when you get home.” Sometimes when people feel like this for long periods of time, substance use increases. Sharing with someone you trust may be beneficial.
  • Maintain realistic expectations
    • Example: You’re working with Janey Doe to help her find a job. She has been in opioid use treatment for 2 months. She tells you that she had a really bad day yesterday, so she got 2 Oxycodone from a friend. — Janey will most likely have setbacks like the one above. Remain calm and ask her if she has talked to her treatment provider. Be supportive, while still encouraging her to continue with treatment. Remember the Stages of Change model we reviewed.


  • Blame the person for having a SUD.
    • Example: “John Doe wouldn’t be in this situation if he hadn’t starting hanging out with those friends of his.” — Though this may be true, there are deeper underlying issues that need to be addressed with professional help. As First Aiders, our purpose is to meet the person where they are and help them get to the appropriate help.
  • Join someone in using the substance or use the substance around them
    • Example: Jan Doe is trying to quit smoking cigarettes. When you step out for a smoke break, you invite her to talk to you while you smoke. It won’t hurt if she’s just watching you smoke. –Wrong! Sensory triggers are very impactful to the individual who associates those sights, smells, sounds, feelings, habits, etc. with using the substance.
  • Try to “cure” the person
    • Treatment will hopefully lead to recovery. But even after recovery is maintained, this does not mean that the person will completely get rid of addiction. There is no “cure”, but people can live fulfilling lives while in recovery.

Lauren Hultstrand Headshot
About the Author:
Lauren Hultstrand is the Mental Health Project Coordinator at SC Thrive. She is currently providing Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training at no cost to community members in Spartanburg County thanks to a generous Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grant. She works closely with the United Way of the Piedmont and intends to train 1,200 First Aiders by September 2018. To date, she has spent over 150 hours training in Mental Health First Aid courses.

Interested in taking a Mental Health First Aid Course? CLICK HERE
Want to learn more about Mental Health First Aid? CLICK HERE