How to help a friend with drug addiction

If you’re worried about a friend who you think may be addicted to drugs, it’s good to know what to look for. The good news is that you can help them more than you may think, but professional help may be necessary to tackle something as serious as addiction.

This can help if:

  • you’re concerned that a friend is addicted to drugs

  • help a friend who is addicted to drugs

  • you want to know where to go for help.

2 boys walking in alley

How can I tell if my friend is addicted to drugs?

Their behaviour, their physical appearance, and certain stuff in their environment can provide clues as to whether your friend might be addicted to drugs.

Behavioural clues

Look for:

  • sudden changes in behaviour or mood swings

  • withdrawal from family members and old friendship groups

  • carelessness about personal grooming

  • loss of interest in hobbies, sports or other favourite activities

  • neglect of responsibilities.

Physical clues

Look for:

  • red, glassy or bloodshot eyes, or pupils that are smaller or larger than normal

  • sniffing or a runny nose

  • frequent nosebleeds

  • shakes, tremors, incoherent or slurred speech, impaired or unstable coordination

  • sudden weight loss or weight gain.

Other clues

The following items could also be a sign of addiction:

  • spoons and syringes

  • small, resealable baggies that could be used to store drugs

  • pipes, plastic bottles, or cans that have been pierced or tampered with

  • burnt foil

  • stuff missing, such as money, valuables or prescription drugs.

How can I help?

It can feel daunting to confront a mate about their drug use, but it’s important for friends to help each other. You may feel hurt by things they’ve done, but remember that they probably didn’t intend to hurt you. Addiction drives the best people to make poor decisions.

Acknowledge that your friend might not see their drug use as a problem

Without an understanding that there’s a problem, there won’t be a solution. Be honest with your friend about what you think the problem is, and make sure they understand that abusing drugs is a serious issue.

Talk to your friend about your concerns

Talk about the negative effects of addiction in terms of something your friend really cares about. They might not be worried about their health or about getting through uni, but they may really care that someone they love is suffering because of their addiction.

Be positive and let your friend know that you’re there for them

Help them stay focused on positive goals that don’t include drugs. Support and acknowledge the positive things they do and achieve, and don’t abandon your friend when they slip up – it will probably take time for them to turn things around.

Avoid using emotional appeals

Don’t try to guilt-trip them, and don’t preach, bribe or threaten them; this will only upset them and push them away.

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.

Find out about treatment resources that are available

Narcotics Anonymous and SMART Recovery are two self-help recovery programs that offer support from other people recovering from drug addictions, address the factors behind drug abuse and help people regain control of their lives. These websites have tons of information about addiction and getting help. If your friend isn’t willing to go to a support group, try suggesting a confidential telephone service such as 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?

  • Recommend the ReachOut NextStep tool, which gives personalised support options for drug-related issues.

  • Find out about the comedown effects of drugs and how they can be managed.