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 as:

  • 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.

Psychological symptoms

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

Physical symptoms

When a person’s body becomes dependent on a drug, you may see some of the following symptoms:

  • Sleeping problems

  • 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: