How To Talk To Someone If You Suspect They Have A Problem

How To Talk To Someone If You Suspect They Have A Problem

Broaching this subject with someone you know or care about can be really daunting because you probably aren’t sure how to talk to someone if you suspect they have a problem. It’s not really something we are taught or well-versed in (and if you are, then I’m sorry you have to go through that). I want to share a personal anecdote that I went through as well as bringing my own experience as an addict into the conversation to help give you the best idea of how to approach the situation.

A few years ago, I was following a girl on Instagram who admittedly suffered with an eating disorder for many years of her life, but was apparently doing better. She never posted pictures of herself on her stories until one day she did and the image took my breath away. What I saw was not someone who was “doing better,” in fact, all I could concentrate on was the fact that I could count the number of visible bones she had because she was so thin.

I’m not sure what made me fixate so much on this girl — whether it was the fact that I could empathize with an obviously broken person or the fact that she didn’t see a problem — but I became obsessively concerned with her well being, wanting to help her, and REALLY wanting her not to die.

I suppose this is how it feels on the other side of these types of things (addiction, eating disorders, etc.) — unable to help someone unless they want to help themselves. Knowing that there’s a better way, but only if they’re able to see it. Understanding that you can scream and insist on things as much as you want, but that you have absolutely no control over another person.

I struggled with whether it was my place to say anything. I had only talked with her over DM a handful of times and we certainly didn’t have a close relationship where this type of conversation would be entirely appropriate. I went back and forth and also brought it up with my therapist because I often need a rational, third-party opinion. In the end, I never said anything, which still bothered me, and had to unfollow her on Instagram because it was not my responsibility and was taking up a lot of my mental energy. It may sound harsh, but we basically had no relationship and it wasn’t my job to fix her. Right before I did that I saw that she entered a treatment program.

That being said, there ARE appropriate times to reach out to loved ones, friends, coworkers, etc. if you suspect they may have a problem. There are varying levels of what’s appropriate based on your relationship with that person, and I want to share some tips of how to approach the situation in case you ever find yourself there. Here are my best tips on how to talk to someone if you suspect they have a problem.

First of all, make sure to talk to the person one on one. Confronting them in a group (unless you’re working with trained professionals in the form of an intervention) can go horribly wrong and will almost undoubtedly result in defensiveness and shutting down. Make sure they are free of any substances and operating with a clear head. This will make them more receptive to what you have to say and more likely to remember it.

Express your concern by letting them know you care about them, but that you’ve noticed that their behavior has been off. “I want you know that I’m concerned about how you’ve been acting recently. It doesn’t seem like you.

Make sure to use “I” statements that reflect how their behavior makes you feel rather than scolding them with statements like “you are really ruining your life.” Instead, phrase it as “I’m worried that you may be making decisions that might have a negative impact on your life.

Talk about how you feel, but be open and receptive to whatever the other person may have to say. Listen. Some people may be receptive and have been waiting to get help without knowing how to bring it up. They may be thankful for you taking notice and bringing it up with them. Obviously, this is an ideal situation. Those who are not ready to make changes will likely respond defensively or not at all.

I had a handful of people try and talk to me when I was battling my own addiction. I was unwilling to change my behavior, so I went on the defensive and cut most people out, but I still remember every one of those conversations. This isn’t to dissuade you from trying, but to let you know that you are still heard even if change doesn’t happen immediately (if at all). If the other person doesn’t want your help or doesn’t acknowledge the problem, just reaffirm to them that you are there no matter what if they change their mind. It’s important for people suffering through these things to know that if they time comes when they’re ready to change, they’re not alone.

Here are some of the top things to remember when talking with someone who may have a problem:

  • Be gentle
  • Focus on “I” statements
  • Be supportive
  • Educate yourself about what you suspect they may be struggling with
  • Remind them that you are there for whatever they may need
  • Don’t chastise or scold them

It’s hard to know when it is and isn’t your place to say something to someone. I’ve started to follow this rule: if it’s someone that I have an actual relationship with, then I think it’s appropriate. It can get blurry with so many internet connections to know what constitutes an actual relationship (do we have to have met or talked on the phone?), but I can tell you pretty confidently who I would feel comfortable bringing up a conversation with based on the frequency and subject matter of our messages, even if we’ve never met.

Still, the main people that I would reach out to are those who I frequently interact with in person: mostly friends and family. Think about your relationship with a person and if it’s appropriate for you to bring it up. It’s ultimately your decision, but make sure to make that decision wisely.


Do you have experience in how to talk to someone if you suspect they have a problem? I’d love to hear your input in the comments below. 🙂

6 comments on “How To Talk To Someone If You Suspect They Have A Problem

  1. Great set of tips, Erin! ❤️ I really like that you focus on “I” statements instead of directly scolding the other person, which would make them get defensive immediately. I hope this post helps someone out. 🙂

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  2. This is really great advice! I like what you said about the “I” statements. Makes perfect sense! There have been times I haven’t reached out to people for fear of pushing them further away but I probably should have!
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  3. This is a great post, Erin. It’s so hard to know when (and how) to say something and when you have to let it go. But you’re so right, the person has to want to accept help, or else it won’t do any good at all.

  4. Not about the story, I want to tell someone (classmate) that I really hate her cause when I suspected her when I saw my lost thingy that is securely in my bag , I saw it on her bag(I was looking for it,were checking on everyones bag) then when I asked her “where did you get this thing” she said “My mom bought it in the store” when it is obviously mine (cause when I checked it the arrangement is still the Same?!!, That the start of me suspecting her!!, And also u can’t buy anything like that in the store cause it’s homemade!!!) I just hate her lies!!, Also I didn’t even relied her that I hate her. I didn’t get that thing back cause I was scared…. (I saw her bag again that it is full of someone’s
    stuff ???? But I didn’t do anything about it anymore) I didn’t tell anyone cause she’s really pretty that everyone liked her….
    How would I tell her that without knowing that it’s me?
    Pls help me

  5. I once had a housemate who I was concerned about. She didn’t act at all like her normal self, very quiet and withdrawn from everything.
    Every time I tried talking to her about whether anything was wrong, she walked off.
    I could tell that it might have been something todo with me as she always avoided me.
    I didn’t know what else to do. I text her one morning voicing my concerns, that she wasn’t herself was something wrong. I’m sorry if I upset her.
    She replied, “ I can accept half an apology. Yes you did upset me. It was about the washing up liquid you brought. You got cross. I was angry with you . Now I’m indifferent. “
    I explained that it was washing up liquid that I had refilled from an eco shop, in a washing up liquid bottle.
    She didn’t think it was washing up liquid because it was clear liquid, not green or pink.
    In another text she said , “ you never explained to me what it was, you just got angry “.
    I said it’s washing up liquid that I’ve had refilled from the eco shop near where I work. Your welcome to use it.
    All the events that occurred two weeks ago that I thought had long been forgotten my housemate resurfaced.
    I suppose I could have emailed her the COSHH sheet of the product.
    I suppose I just wanted to try to make amends . Any amends I tried to make, like me buying communal washing up liquid was thrown straight back in my face.
    I feel I never want to show concern to anyone else ever again. For fear of being hurt by them.

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