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Ways to Help a Friend Struggling with Drug Addiction

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Michael Kaliszewski, PhD
Michael Kaliszewski, PhD
Dr. Michael Kaliszewski is a freelance science writer with over 15 years of experience as a research scientist in both academia and industry.

Ways to Help a Friend Struggling with Drug AddictionHelping a friend who is struggling with drug addiction is not easy. It is often difficult to initiate a conversation about their substance abuse. Here are some easy ways to help begin the process and get your friend the treatment they need.

Educate Yourself About Signs of Addiction

People with addiction can exhibit a range of symptoms. Behavior, physical appearance, and social interactions can provide clues as to whether one might be addicted to drugs or alcohol. Although specific symptoms can vary according to the individual and the substance being abused, if you suspect a friend is battling addiction, some common signs to look out for include:1

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Lack of motivation
  • Neglected responsibilities
  • Loss of interest in school, work, or hobbies
  • Poor performance in school or work
  • Self-isolation
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Lack of concern for appearance and hygiene
  • Stealing or selling possessions to buy drugs
  • Risky behavior (such as drunk driving)
  • Preoccupation with obtaining drugs

Physical Symptoms:

  • Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
  • Sleeping problems
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Tremors
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Pupils that are smaller or larger than normal
  • Bloody or runny nose
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired coordination

Social Symptoms and Other Clues:

  • Legal issues
  • Financial difficulties
  • Socializing with others who abuse drugs
  • Drug paraphernalia (spoons, syringes, pipes)

Have a Conversation and Encourage Treatment

It is important to talk to your friend about their substance abuse problem. It is recommended to initiate a conversation when they are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs.2 If they are not sober during the discussion, they are less likely to be understanding of the matter. It’s also recommended to meet in a neutral place and to talk for more than a few minutes.

You should create a two-way dialogue so that your friend doesn’t feel they are being lectured. Be sure to list the dangerous behaviors that you have observed and emphasize that you are worried about the effects that their addiction is having on both them and their family. Experts suggest developing and repeating a consistent, positive message, such as “we care about you and we want you to get help.”2

Prior to your discussion, you should find a rehab program for your friend. Do diligent research of all available treatment options and ask plenty of questions before making your selection. Depending on the substance being abused and the level of addiction, detox treatment may be needed before starting therapy.3

Find out exactly how the program works, and plan for your friend to start treatment immediately. To make the decision to go easier for your friend to make, have a bag packed and transportation prearranged.

Offer Love and Support

Many people struggling with addiction do not realize how much their family and friends love them. Be loving and supportive and let them know that you’re going to support them throughout their journey to recovery.4

Group Intervention May be the Way to Go

If an addicted person is reluctant to seek help, sometimes they can be persuaded through an intervention. This is when family members, friends, and associates come together out of concern and love to confront their friend and encourage them to get help. Consultation with an addiction professional can help you organize an effective intervention for your friend, allowing you to convey the message that the only choice is to accept help and begin the road to recovery.5

Sources

  1. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2019). What to Look For: Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders.
  2. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.  (2014). Helping an Adult Family Member or Friend with a Drug or Alcohol Addiction.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse (2016). What to Do If Your Adult Friend or Loved One Has a Problem with Drugs.
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). What to Do If Your Teen or Young Adult Has a Problem with Drugs.
  5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. (2012). Alcohol and Drug Addiction Happens in the Best of Families.
Last Updated on March 14, 2021
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Michael Kaliszewski, PhD
Michael Kaliszewski, PhD
Dr. Michael Kaliszewski is a freelance science writer with over 15 years of experience as a research scientist in both academia and industry.
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