How to help a friend with drug addiction

If you’re worried about a friend who may be addicted to drugs, it’s good to know what to look for. You can help them more than you may think, but sometimes, professional help is necessary to tackle a problem like addiction.

This could be for you if:

  • You’re concerned a friend is addicted to drugs
  • You want to know how to help an addicted friend
  • You want to know where to go for help

How to tell if my friend is addicted to drugs

There are behavioural, physical and environmental clues that might indicate your friend is suffering from a drug addiction.  Knowing what to look for can help you figure out if your friend is addicted.

Behavioural symptoms:

  • Sudden changes in behaviour or mood swings
  • Withdrawal from family members
  • Carelessness about personal grooming
  • Loss of interest in hobbies, sports, or other favourite activities
  • Neglecting responsibilities

Physical symptoms:

  • Red, glassy, or bloodshot eyes or pupils that are smaller or larger than normal
  • Sniffily or runny nose
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Shakes, tremors, incoherent or slurred speech, impaired or unstable coordination
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain

If you've seen some of these things, it may also be a sign of addiction:

  • Spoons and syringes
  • Small, sealable plastic bags which could be used to store drugs
  • Pipes, plastic bottles, or  cans that have been pierced or tampered with
  • Burnt foil
  • Missing money, valuables or prescription drugs

How can I help?

It can be a daunting task to confront someone about their drug taking behaviour, but it’s important to try to help them.  You may feel hurt by past actions of your friend, but remember that they aren’t intending to hurt you.  Addiction drives people to make poor decisions, but you can help them make better choices with these tips:

  • Acknowledge that your friend might not see their drug use as a problem.  Without understanding that there is a problem, there won’t be a solution.  Define the problem to your friend, and make sure they understand that abusing drugs is a serious issue.
  • Talk to your friend about your concerns.  Talk about the effect that addiction has on something your friend really cares about.  They might not be concerned with their health or situation, but they may really care about something that is suffering because of their addiction.
  • Be Positive and let your friend know that you’re there for support.  Help them stay focused on positive goals that don’t include drugs.  Reinforce good behaviours, and don’t abandon your friend when they slip up.
  • Avoid using emotional appeals that appeal to guilt, and don’t preach, bribe, or threaten them; it will increase the compulsion to use drugs because they will be feeling negative emotions.

What if my friend isn’t responding to my help?

Sometimes, even the best efforts to help a friend aren’t enough to make them stop.  Become aware of treatment resources that are available.  Narcotics Anonymous and SMART Recovery are two self-help rehabilitation programs that address the factors that lead to drug abuse and help people regain control of their lives.  Their websites also have tons of information about addiction and getting help.If your friend isn’t willing to go to a facility, try suggesting a confidential telephone service like DirectLine

Don’t forget about yourself

When someone you care about is trapped in addiction, it affects you too.  Family Drug Help provides support and information to family members and friends of someone with an addiction.

What can I do now?

Last reviewed: 04 May, 2016
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