How to Handle the Addiction of a Friend

You may be hesitant to get involved if you think a friend is addicted to drugs, but don’t worry about interfering. By showing your friend that you care, you can help more than you realize. Remember that drug addiction is a leading cause of death in countries around the world.

Before you talk to your friend, read all you can about addiction. It will help you understand the many ways drugs affect brain function. In short, when your friend uses drugs, the brain releases a flood of dopamine, a brain chemical responsible for feelings of pleasure.

The brain wants to continue those good feelings, which triggers cravings for more drugs. As time goes by, tolerance develops and your friend needs more and more to achieve the same results. Sometimes, the brain may require a large amount to feel “normal.”

If your friend is hesitant to seek treatment or can’t admit he is addicted, you may need to plan an intervention. Remember, it isn’t true that people must hit rock bottom before treatment works. In fact, the sooner your friend gets into treatment, the better the chances of successful recovery.

Never put yourself at risk while attempting to help a friend. Don’t accompany her to buy drugs. Never ride with a person who is drunk or high. Always take care of your own wellbeing.

How to Talk to a Friend about Addiction

  • Get together in a neutral place such as a park or coffee shop. Don’t meet your friend where drugs or alcohol are available.
  • Don’t try to discuss serious matters if your friend is high or drunk. Wait until a better time.
  • Stop the discussion if tempers flare. Try again later when you’re both calmer.
  • Be positive and supportive and avoid blaming. Don’t bribe your friend and don’t make promises you can’t keep.
  • Understand that addiction is a chronic brain disease.
  • Prepare yourself for excuses and denial, which are both common symptoms of addiction. Your friend probably knows her life is in trouble, but she isn’t ready to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth.
  • Your friend is likely to blame job stresses, a demanding boss, or a spouse that doesn’t understand.
  • Remind your friend, without shaming or guilt, how his addiction is affecting you and other people he loves.
  • Try not to take it personally if your friend gets angry or says hurtful things. Addiction causes people to do things they wouldn’t normally do, including lashing out at people they care about.
  • Investigate drug treatment clinics or rehabs in your area. You can also mention 12-Step groups such as Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholic Anonymous, but don’t force the issue. Twelve-step groups help many but they aren’t the answer for everyone.
  • Don’t despair if your friend isn’t ready to accept help. It’s not your fault. Let your friend know you’ll be there when he’s ready for help.
  • Remember that ultimately, your friend is responsible for her own recovery.
  • Don’t hesitate to plan an intervention, but don’t attempt to stage one on your own. Talk to other people who care about your friend, and then seek the assistance of a trained professional. A botched intervention can be more destructive than no intervention at all.

Differences between Drug Abuse and Drug Addiction

The two terms are often used interchangeably, but before you talk to your friend, you should understand the important differences between drug abuse and drug addiction.

Drug abuse refers to the harmful, non-medical use of psychoactive substances, including drugs and alcohol. It involves a deliberate decision to use drugs in an unsafe way. Although abuse can lead to addiction, many people abuse drugs without becoming dependent.

People who abuse drugs can still control their behavior. Sometimes, an honest conversation with a loved one can be the beginning of important changes and may prevent a progression to full-blown addiction.

Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that involves chemical dependency and a total loss of control over the drug. Using the drug can take over all aspect of a person’s life, becoming more important than work or school, or even friends and family A person in the grip of addiction may place drugs above eating and sleeping.

A person who is addicted to drugs may run into financial or legal problems, or he may lose his job or develop terrible health issues. In spite of the many negative consequences, he is still unable to stop without help.

How to Know if a Friend is Addicted to Drugs

Symptoms of drug addiction aren’t always easy to spot. Sometimes, addicts become very adept at keeping their addiction a secret from friends and family, but there are red flags that may indicate a problem with drug abuse or addiction. Your friend may:

  • use increasingly more drugs over a long period of time.
  • be preoccupied with getting and using drugs.
  • steal from others or sell personal possessions to buy drugs.
  • be anxious, depressed or irritable.
  • have mood swings or sudden changes in behavior.
  • become withdrawn and isolated.
  • be careless about grooming and self-care.
  • neglect day-to-day responsibilities.
  • display slurred speech, shakes, tremors or unstable coordination.
  • lose interest in work, school, and activities usually found enjoyable.
  • develop problems at home and work.
  • engage in risky behavior like unsafe sex or drunk driving.
  • Display substantial weight loss or gain.
  • Have frequent nosebleeds or bloodshot eyes.
  • Have trouble sleeping or sleeps excessively.
  • Give up family, social, work and recreational activities because of drug use.

Supporting a Friend in Drug Treatment or Rehab

Supporting a friend during drug treatment or rehab is challenging, but it’s one of the best things you can do to help.

If your friend has decided to enter treatment, offer your support and let her know you admire her courage. Treatment isn’t a magic bullet and it doesn’t promise long-term recovery, but your encouragement will help tremendously.

Your friend may be unable to contact you during the first few days of treatment, although every treatment center has different rules. If this is the case, don’t get angry and don’t take it personally. Your friend needs this time to focus on detox and the early steps towards recovery.

Try not to worry about your friend if you don’t hear from him immediately. Although this is a very difficult time, treatment centers will keep an eye on your friend around the clock. A doctor may prescribe medications to help alleviate symptoms of withdrawal. Most likely, counselors will help your friend begin work on a treatment plan in the first couple of days.

If possible, alleviate some of your friend’s worry by taking care of things at home such as picking up the mail, watering plants or taking care of pets.

Supporting a Friend after Drug Treatment or Rehab

Your friend will need your support more than ever when he completes detox. Staying sober is somewhat easier in a safe environment where there are no temptations, but it gets much tougher after treatment when triggers are everywhere and even driving across town or running into an old friend may bring up difficult memories and cravings.

Readjusting to the stresses and strains of day-to-day life can be exhausting. If your friend relapses, reassure him that a relapse doesn’t mean he has failed. Encourage him to get back into treatment as soon as possible.

Don’t smother your friend during this time, but be available and be patient; it takes time for the mind and body to heal from years of drug abuse and addiction. Your friend is bound to have times of frustration or anger, and she may experience periods of anxiety or depression. In time, it will become easier.

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