Do you know someone who is experiencing domestic violence or substance abuse? Are you unsure about how to support someone who is being abused or who is abusing drugs and alcohol?

Whether you’re concerned about a friend, family member, client, or patient of yours, here is some information and resources to help you navigate this situation.

• These tips do not have to be followed in any order
• Assess how much support you can provide
• Be thoughtful about your boundaries and your safety in providing support

Helping a Friend or Family Member Who is Being Abused

Tell the person who is being abused that you are concerned for their well-being. 

Make it clear that you know about the abuse and that you are concerned because there is a good chance that the abuse will get worse.

Listen without judging

Your friend or family member probably believes the abusive partner’s negative messages. They may feel responsible, ashamed, or inadequate – and afraid to be judged by you. 

Acknowledge that the abuse is not their fault.

What is happening to them is not their fault, and nothing a person does justifies abuse. Tell your friend or family member that abuse is always the fault of the abusive partner, and there is no excuse for it – not alcohol or drugs, financial pressure, mental illness, depression, jealousy.

Be supportive and patient.

Respect your friend or family member’s decisions. There are many reasons why people stay in abusive relationships. They may leave and return to the relationship many times, and they will need your support even more during those times. Do not criticize their decisions or try to guilt them with “should” or “If I were you, I would…” statements.

Understand that change is a process.

They may leave and return to the relationship many times. Each time they leave, they learn more about themselves, their situation, and the resources available to them. Let them know that help is available and there are people they can talk to. WIT’s LifeLine number is 215.751.1111.

Encourage them to reach out to others who can provide help and guidance, such as a local domestic violence agency that offers support and counseling. 

Women In Transition is located in Center City Philadelphia and offers free supportive counseling in person and over the phone, through our LifeLine (215.751.1111). For crisis situations, call the 24-hour Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline (1.866.723.3014).

Help them create a safety plan.

It’s a good idea for them to keep money, important documents, a change of clothes, and an extra set of keys in a safe place, such as at a friend or neighbor’s house. For more information about safety planning: 

Do not confront the abusive partner. It could be dangerous for you and your friend or family member.

Keep in mind that you cannot "rescue" the person. They have to be the one to decide it's time to get help. Support them no matter what their decision. 

Call WIT’s LifeLine yourself 215.751.1111

for free supportive counseling and resources as you support your friend or family member.

Helping a client or patient who is being abused

Call WIT’s LifeLine

for supportive counseling and more referrals and resources specific to an individual's situation. Contact the 24/7 Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline for crisis intervention and emergency shelter-related situations.

Contact WIT’s CEAT (Community Education And Training) Coordinator

to discuss training workshops for both staff and participants, and for support creating organizational policies around domestic violence and substance abuse. We can customize workshops and trainings to suit your organization’s needs. We work with medical providers, faith-based organizations, government agencies, social service agencies, schools, workplaces, and other groups. 

Helping someone who is abusive

Do not confront the abusive partner.

It could be dangerous for you and your friend or family member. Call WIT’s LifeLine to discuss the situation with a trained domestic violence counselor and to evaluate any risks.

There is help available for people who want to stop their abusive behavior.

Menergy provides counseling, anger management classes, and intervention for abusive partners. 

Helping a family member or friend who has problems with substance abuse

If someone you care about has asked for help, validate this important first step in their recovery process. Acknowledge that it takes a lot of courage to seek help and that you will be there to support them. If they are in denial or are minimizing their behavior, encourage them to see a doctor or therapist. Often people will talk to professionals rather than family or friends. 

Learn as much as you can.

Alcoholism and drug dependence are complex problems and do not happen in isolation. However, with support and resources, they can be managed successfully. 

Express your concern

Tell them that you are concerned about them and the impact that substance abuse is having on their lives. You may be met with excuses, denial or anger. Be prepared to respond with specific examples of behaviors that concern you. 

Be supportive and nonjudgmental. 

Do not blame or shame them for their situation. Substance abuse is not about moral failings.  

Set boundaries for yourself. 

Being supportive does not mean assuming their responsibilities. 

Have realistic expectations.

There is no quick fix. Your family member or friend may stop using, but that is not the same as being in recovery. Let them know that the treatment process will include learning and practicing new coping skills.

Recognize that recovery is an ongoing process.

Continue to show that you are concerned about their successful long-term recovery. Remember that everyone’s recovery looks different.

Call WIT’s LifeLine yourself at 215.751.1111

for free supportive counseling and resources as you support your friend or family member.