Helping a Friend with an Addiction
When a friend shows signs of abusing alcohol or other drugs, it's hard to know what
to do or say.
Drug abuse refers to a deliberate decision to use alcohol, an illegal drug, or a medicine
in an unsafe way. Drug abuse can lead to addiction.
Addiction means losing control over if you are going to use the drug. Or losing insight
into knowing how or when to stop.
Addiction begins with drug abuse. Drugs interfere with normal brain functioning. But
they also have a long-term effect on the brain. At some point, changes happen in the
brain that can turn drug abuse into addiction.
Addiction can be physical, psychological, or both.
Physical addiction. A person's body becomes dependent on the drug. It needs more and more of it to get
the same effect. When the person stops using the drug, they may have withdrawal symptoms.
Psychological addiction. A person's mind craves the feeling that the drug gives. Or the person feels emotionally
awful when he or she stops using the drug. The person can be overcome by the desire
to get more of the drug.
Research has shown that addiction is a brain disorder. It is just as life-threatening
as heart disease, diabetes, or emphysema. It can even be more life-threatening than
these conditions. Like other long-term (chronic) illnesses, people with an addition
can have periods of relapse and recovery. The behavior and social symptoms of addiction
can hurt family, friends, or coworkers. But you may be in the best position to help
the addict understand the need to seek treatment. Most people who are in recovery
say they got help because a friend or relative was honest with them about their drinking
and other drug use.
Making the decision to help
When deciding if you should speak to your friend, you may have some concerns, such
Fear or mixed feelings about getting involved in someone else's life. Just remember,
addiction to alcohol or other drugs is a leading cause of death.
You believe someone else will say something. But it's important not to wait for someone
else to step up.
You may feel hurt by your friend's past actions or behaviors. So it's important to
take responsibility for your feelings, too.
It's also important to have an idea about the amount of alcohol or drug abuse. Think
about how it is affecting your friend as well as others. If your friend has alcohol-
or drug-related problems, he or she needs help.
When a person has a psychological or emotional craving for a drug, you may see certain
symptoms. Your friend may:
See drugs as the solution, not the problem
Take the drug in larger amounts or over a longer time
Be preoccupied with getting drugs
Steal or sell their things to buy drugs
Feel anxious, grouchy, depressed
Withdraw from contact with friends and family
Lose interest in school, work, or hobbies
Socialize with others who abuse drugs
Have mood swings
Have problems at work and at home
Has trouble with relationships
Take part in dangerous behavior such as driving while drunk
When a person’s body becomes dependent on a drug, you may see some of the following
Needs more drugs for the same effect
Weight loss or weight gain
Physical withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug
How to talk
The following can help you talk with your friend:
Don't try to talk when your friend is drunk or high. It's also a good idea to meet
in a neutral place. But not at a bar or any place else that serves alcohol.
Talk about the effect your friend's drinking or drug use has on whatever the person
cares about most, such as career or children. Your friend may not be concerned about
his or her own situation. But they may care deeply for their children and what the
problem may be doing to them.
Be aware of treatment or recovery resources available in your community. Find the
local phone number for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Learn
what treatment resources are available in your area by calling your state's Office
of Substance Abuse Services or searching the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration's treatment locator. This website also has 2 treatment locators on this page specifically for opiate
If your friend doesn't want to go to AA or NA, talk with other people who know and
care about your friend to see if they have other ideas.