5 Best Gifts for People With Substance Use Disorders

Whether it's a holiday, a special occasion, or a birthday, you may be wondering what to buy for that loved ones in your life who has or is in recovery for a substance use disorder. Asking what they want can be problematic because the gifts they ask for may be related to their substance use, or even make their addiction worse. And if they ask outright for something directly related to their substance use disorder, such as money, drugs, or drug paraphernalia, it could lead to conflict at a time when you want to strengthen, not weaken, your relationship.

Here are five great ideas for gifts for the person in your life with a substance use disorder that won't enable their substance use or hurt their recovery.

1
Share an Experience

A couple in a hot air balloon
Sharing a novel sensory experience is a great gift for someone with a substance use disorder. Ken Fisher/ Getty Images

Many people who have a substance use disorder actively seek out sensory experiences and social contact through their drug use. Sharing an experience can be a meaningful way of spending time with someone with a substance use disorder. A different kind of experience might just open them up to seeing that life has a lot to offer. It could be something outlandish, such as a flight in a hot air balloon—the ultimate high—or something as simple as a meal in a restaurant that provides an experimental sensory experience, such as a raw food cafe or one that features live music. Stay away from places that serve alcohol.

2
Financial Gifts That Can't Be Used for Drugs

Hero Images/Hero Images/Getty Images

Although cash may be used for drugs for those who are not in recovery, you can give money in different forms so it may not be worth the hassle of your loved one trying to convert it to cash in order to buy drugs. Good examples are gift certificates or gift cards, particularly for items you know they need. You can also pay for something that can't be cashed in but that might enhance their quality of life, such as health insurance, a magazine subscription, or a continuing education program.

3
Gadgets or Knickknacks Unrelated to Drugs

Rubik's Cube
Rubik's Cube. Sonny Abesamis / Flickr

One of the big attractions of drug use is having something to do with your hands. There is often a procedure, even a ritual, associated with drug use that can leave idle hands uncomfortable. Little gadgets such as a small, handheld fidget spinner, stress ball, or musical instrument fulfill a similar need. A small puzzle such as a Rubik's cube can also work. This is a great option if you don't have or want to spend a lot of cash, but still want to give an enjoyable gift.

4
Media Showing the Realities of Recovery

Eminem - Bill Pugliano - Getty Images Entertainment - GettyImages-52825193
DETROIT - MAY 14: Rap artist Eminem speaks about his financial past and present at the 1st Financial Hip Hop Summit May 14, 2005 in Detroit, Michigan. The summit, which brought together Russell Simmons and hip Hop and Rap artists to raise awareness of young adults about the importance of financial empowerment. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images). Eminem - Bill Pugliano - Getty Images Entertainment - GettyImages-52825193

People with substance use disorders are often fascinated by the lives of others in the same situation, especially if the person is using the same drug. While some books and movies make inappropriate gifts by reinforcing the excitement of drug use, some do a great job of illustrating the recovery process, showing people can come out on the other side. One example is Boy George's autobiography—he took ecstasy and LSD and later heroin, but became abstinent as he matured. Another is the movie "It's All Gone Pete Tong," which is funny and deep and gets across the sinister side of cocaine use disorder without being preachy and without cocaine being the focal point of the movie. Eminem's "Recovery" album is another good choice.

The following are movies about drugs, but be careful to watch them in full before deciding whether or not they sent the right message to your loved one:

5
Realistic Self-Help Resources

Cover of the book Controlling Your Drinking
Controlling Your Drinking is an excellent self-help book. Guilford Publishers

If your friend or loved one is interested in self-help approaches to recovery, a carefully chosen resource might spur them on to try to get into recovery or work on improving their lifestyle more generally. Particularly helpful are approaches to achieving the goals of substance use disorder without drugs. The Natural Mind by Dr. Andrew Weil and Free Rides: How to Get High Without Drugs by Douglas Rushkoff and Patrick Wells are good examples. Controlling Your Drinking by William Miller and Ricardo Munoz is a great self-help book for cutting down on alcohol. However, take care that the book actually fits your loved one's goals or he or she might feel judged and like you were pushing your own agenda rather than giving a genuine gift.