How to Help
Discussing a friend's drug or alcohol use isn't an easy thing to do. It's very normal to worry about how a friend or sibling will respond to your concerns. If you're at a loss about how to start this type of discussion with someone you care about, here's a list of steps which may help with your approach and delivery.
Before you engage your friend in a conversation, you'll need to prepare yourself. Go for a walk, sit where you can't be disturbed, and think. Reflect on the facts of the situation. Organize your thoughts. Decide what you want to say to your friend. Focus on a tone that is assertive, but not aggressive. Think about what resources you might need: a parent, a counselor, your faith leader, a school counselor, etc. Once you start the conversation, remain calm and supportive.
Discuss your concerns and identify some of the changes that you've seen in your friend. For example, you were at a party and saw your friend using drugs or acting in a way that you find inconsistent with their "normal" behavior; their grades have slipped or they're missing classes; your friend has changed from being "the person you know" to someone who is getting into trouble at home, or school, or in the community; or simply, you have noticed your friend has become quiet and secretive. Tell them you miss them and that you're concerned about them and that's why you want to talk. You may also decide that writing a note to your friend might be an appropriate first step.
After presenting your side of the story, ask your friend for his/her response to the information you've presented. Listen to your friend. Hear what he/she is saying. Offer your help or ask them if they think they need a professional's help.
Determine a time when you and your friend will follow up about the discussion. Talking to your friend about drugs may be a continuous process -- not a one-time event. Let your friend know that you'd like to touch base about the situation again in the near future because you care about them. And, for you, don't be afraid to ask an adult who you can trust for help.
Key Talking Points
- I don't want anything to happen to you or for you to hurt yourself.
- We all count on you. Your brothers/sisters (if applicable) look up to you/care about you, as do I. What would they do if you were gone?
- Look at all the things that you would miss out on. Drugs and alcohol can ruin your future and chances to… keep your drivers' license, graduate, go to college and get a job.
- What can I do to help you? I am here to support you.
- Are there other problems you want to talk about?
- Are you feeling pressure to use? Let's talk about it.
- I love you and I won't give up on you.
- If you need professional help or you need an adult to talk to, I can help you find someone. I will be here to help you and support you every step of the way.
Talking to a Parent or Supportive Adult
If you decide that your friend's problem is bigger than both of you, it may be time to bring the issue up with your parents, your friend's parents, or another supportive adult (coach, doctor, etc.). Keep in mind that only you know the people and relationships involved. Talking to a counselor about this decision may also be a good idea if you're not sure how your parents or your friend's parents will react.
Helping a friend with a drug or alcohol problem is hard work and can be a very difficult experience for you as well as your friend. You may feel a great deal of pressure to get your friend to stop drinking or doing drugs. Or you may get discouraged if your efforts to convince your friend to stop using drugs or alcohol don't work. But it is important to know that your friend's drug or alcohol use is NOT your fault. Remember that it's ultimately up to your friend to make that change and you can't do that for him. Sometimes, as much as you may try to get your friend to quit or seek help, you just can't seem to make it happen. If this becomes the situation you are in, you should do one of the following:
- Seek support from other friends or trusted adults - your friend is not the only one who needs help in this situation.
- Limit the time you spend with your drug or alcohol-using friend. Remember your friend's use may also be putting you at risk.
- Start thinking about yourself-get out and participate in activities that you enjoy to take your mind off of the situation.