If someone is addicted to drugs, they may lose control of their drug use to the point where they cause harm to themselves or those around them.
It can be upsetting to know that someone you care about has a problem with drugs, and not know how to help them.
Whether they’re abusing drugs or alcohol, you can't force that person to stop using if they don’t want to, but you can encourage them to seek help.
In this article you’ll learn about the signs of addiction, how to talk to someone about their drug use, and how to support them while they are in treatment.
We also address the importance of looking after yourself while you are supporting someone who is abusing drugs.
Why do people use drugs?
There are many reasons why people start taking drugs. It may be to have fun, to let loose and relax, or just to satisfy a curiosity as to what it might be like. Most people who try drugs don’t continue to use them.
However, some people use drugs to deal with negative feelings like depression, anxiety or low self-esteem. They might think drugs are helpful when they are really making their problems worse.
If you think someone may be using drugs for these reasons, you could try talking to them. Approach the subject in a kind and empathetic manner and suggest there may be more constructive ways of managing their issues. If you feel it necessary, encourage them to seek professional help.
Peer pressure can also lead to drug use. You could steer someone away from a negative environment by spending time with them doing other activities.
Recognising the signs of addiction
If you suspect someone is struggling with drug addiction, you may notice them:
- Taking the drug very often
- Being unable to stop or take less of the drug
- Hiding their drug use from others
- Lie about how much they take
- Taking the drug even if it causes them harm
- Taking the drug when they are alone
- Taking extreme measures to obtain more of the drug (e.g. stealing, lying or faking illness)
- Doing less of the things they once enjoyed so they can take more of the drug
Talking to someone about their drug addiction
You may be worried that someone close to you has developed a drug problem. Expressing concern can be difficult but there are things you can do to make the conversation easier.
Firstly, pick a private location where you and the other person will feel safe. Make sure you both have time to talk so you won’t be interrupted.
Be gentle and understanding and always give them time to answer any questions. Try not to judge or criticise or act like you know better. Making them feel bad about themselves is not the best way to motivate change.
You might want to have some useful resources and contact information for drug addiction support at hand.
It’s possible you will have to have this conversation with someone more than once before they choose to seek help. Try to remain empathetic and positive each time you approach them.
If someone you know has confided in you about their drug use and you aren’t sure what to do next, there are services you can contact to get them professional support.
Alternatively, you could encourage the person to speak to their doctor.
Where can they seek professional support?
Seeking help for a drug problem can be scary, especially if it is the first time. A person may worry that they will be judged for their drug use. They may also worry about what will happen to them if the drugs they have used are illegal.
Let them know that seeking help is a good thing and there are places they can go for confidential support. Our blog on seeking help for drug addiction has some useful contacts.
You could even offer to go to any appointments or meetings with them. This may be welcomed, especially if they are going for the first time.
Encourage them to continue treatment
Sometimes, a person may be reluctant to attend treatment sessions.
You can encourage them to go to their appointments and strive to meet their targets. Reassure them that treatment is likely to be effective and recovery is possible.
Be positive and congratulate them for any progress they make. Let them know that you believe in them and are there for support.
In some cases, the person may not attend treatment as they do not find it helpful. You may be asked to go to sessions to support them alongside their treating team.
After a person receives residential treatment, they will have to return to community life. This can be a risky period for them as they will be surrounded by triggers, like the people they once bought drugs from and the places where they used to take them. You can ask what these triggers might be and help the person avoid them.
If someone you know does relapse you can encourage them to seek additional support. Tell them that relapses of drug addiction are as any other chronic illness, but that does not mean they cannot get back on track.
Take care of yourself
When helping someone with a drug problem, try to consider the potential effect on your own wellbeing. You should not feel pressured to take on a supportive role if you don’t feel you will be able to manage.
If you do become involved, it’s a good idea to talk to someone about your feelings and worries. For example, you could contact a counsellor or join a support group.
This is especially important if the person you are concerned about is a family member. Drug addiction can seriously damage relationships within a family. But at the same time, a healthy, well-supported family can play a vital role in the recovery of someone struggling with drug addiction.
The person you know might not want to get help for their drug addiction. You can’t force them to do anything they don’t want to, but you can make sure they are aware of the professional help available if they change their mind.
You can always suggest they get treatment, listen to them if they need to talk and be a source of positivity for them during their recovery. Small gestures like this can go a long way.