How to Tell Your Friend They Have a Problem with Drugs

A friend or family member who abuses drugs presents a danger to himself and to others. This person may be risking their position at work, ruining family relationships, making poor decisions that result in financial disaster. It is often a difficult and daunting task to confront a friend about such a problem. Nevertheless, such a confrontation could save your friend's life. Drug abusers do not believe that they need help. It is an action of love to introduce the subject and help your friend confront these demons.


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    Be sure that your friend really has a drug problem. There is a big difference in drug use, drug abuse and drug dependence.
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    Drug use: simply ingesting a drug. This is not bad OR good. People use drugs for medical and recreational use, and drug use can be okay if the person using it is knowledgeable about the drug and uses responsibly. (See for a great repository of drug information.)
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    Drug abuse: using a drug, legal or illegal, in a way that interferes with your daily functioning and interpersonal relationships. If your grades are falling because you spend time getting high instead of studying, or if you are getting warnings at your job because you are high at work, or you find yourself not being able to pay rent because you spent all your money on drugs, then you -may- have a problem. If your friends feel you are 'different' in a bad way, or you find your loved ones unable to connect with you because of your drug use, you may have a problem.
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    Drug dependence: the most severe form of drug abuse. This is when you cannot get through a day without using and you abandon friends, family, passions and obligations in the pursuit of a drug. This type of drug use severely and noticeably impacts your mental and physical functioning. Physical and psychological dependence are part of the same construct, so don't try to separate the two. People generally refer to physical dependence when a user's body will start to shut down or the user experiences severe withdrawals, but psychological dependence is the same phenomenon, only within the mind. And as the mind and body are inseparable, drug dependence is best treated as one singular issue, regardless of the locus of the most severe symptoms.
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    Please keep in mind that these are guidelines. Never diagnose yourself or others unless you are a trained and licensed professional. Even then, professionals should keep in mind that the DSM-IV's definitions of these drug use-related phenomena are slippery. (For example, one sign of drug abuse according to the DSM-IV is getting in trouble with the law for drug violations. However, someone who carried half a gram of marijuana for a friend could get a drug charge just as easily as someone who shoots up heroin 5 times a day. Clearly, legal violations are not a good metric of drug abuse, so the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria should be taken with a grain of salt.)
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    Prepare a strategic plan of action. Talk with a health care worker and ask what would be the best options with helping your friend's drug problem. But remember what you can do for your friend depends on your age, the help, resources, and on the friend themselves.
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    Write down how you want to help your friend. Before you approach your friend, ask yourself, "What do I want to get out of this meeting?" Possible objectives might be:
    • A realization that this lifestyle is destructive.
    • An honest admission of drug use.
    • A desire to be drug-free.
    • Agreement to ask for help.
    • Attendance at a support group.
    • A system of accountability.
    • Enrollment in a drug rehabilitation program.
    • Reconciliation with estranged family members.
    • Restitution for damage to others.
    • Surrender to authorities for outstanding warrants.
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    Approach your friend with a nonjudgmental voice. Confrontations that begin with "You should..." or "You shouldn't..." will turn the discussion into a battle that will force your friend to defend him or herself. A better approach might be, " When you use marijuana, I feel sad and I get worried you might be hurting yourself and/or putting yourself into harms way." Try talking about your feelings about said friend and how much they really mean to you. You may also bring up problems that are arising in your friendship because of them using, and how you never want to lose them. Telling them and really showing them that they can totally count and trust on you to listen and just be there for them no matter the situation, may help reassure and help to move forward because they have someone in there corner!
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    State your commitment to your friend. One of the greatest fears of the drug abuser is that he will lose his friends or family if he is found out. Offering support in the rehabilitation process is important. Offer to attend 12-step meetings with your friend. Offer to be there if he has to tell his parents and other superiors about his abuse.
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    Be the example. It is important that you walk the walk as well as talk the talk. If you are going to help someone get clear of drugs, you must be willing to go drug free as well.
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    Do not enable your friend. Make it clear that you will not tolerate his drug use and will not associate with him when he is using. This is not the same as never talking with him, but it means you will walk away if you see him using, and not talk to him for the rest of the time he is high.
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    Get the help of capable people. Do not do this alone if possible. An intervention is far more successful if others are present. If you are young, talk to a parent or a teacher or a counselor or a principal or a religious leader. Don't stop seeking help until someone listens to you and offers to help.
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    Gather a variety of possible solutions. It is not easy to get someone to admit that they have a drug addiction. After your approached your friend you can give possible solutions. It's better to go through the the information in the forms of brochures or videos that you can hand to your friend so that he may see help is available.
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    Be direct in your approach. Be clear and direct. "I saw you lighting up a blunt last night and I felt scared." "When you use drugs, I get afraid that you will say and do things that will hurt my feelings and my body." "I will not hang around you when you are using or are under the influence of drugs." "I want to help you kick the habit, I know of a Drug Abuser Anonymous meeting tonight at 8, I will go with you and sit through the meeting to help you check it out."


  • Do not try to bring up a person's drug habit while they are high. Wait until they are clean and sober. This can improve memory and emotional salience.


  • If someone you care about is in danger, call a parent or adult. If there are none around or if you are an adult and the situation is dangerous, call the emergency services to help

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Categories: Supporting Friends