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01-22 How to talk to a friend who has a problem with alcohol or drugs

How to talk to a friend who has a problem with alcohol or drugs

When friends have a problem with alcohol or drugs, it may be difficult to know how to help them. At first, it may be hard to tell if they have a problem because they may use alcohol or drugs alone and to hide it from everyone around them, including you. If you try confronting them, they may even try denying that they havea problemor saythings like, “I can stop whenever I want to.”

You might also notice that friends turn into completely different people when they are using alcohol or drugs. They may start getting into trouble at home, school or with the law. There are many serious consequences resulting from alcohol or drug use, which is why it is so important for them to receive help.

Dangers of alcohol and drug use

Alcohol and drug use can lead to serious problems, such as disagreements with parents or friends, poor performance in school and even trouble with the law. Using alcohol and drugs can also impair judgment, making it more likely that users will engage in risky behaviors such as having unprotected sex or multiple sex partners, leading to unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases; driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs; and alcohol- and drug-related car accidents, arrests, injuries and death. They may also be more likely to be victims of sexual assaults and rape.

People who use alcohol or drugs early in life are more likely to experience changes in their brain’s development and other lasting health effects. Alcohol and drugs are often used as a coping mechanism or a way to feel better when a person is feeling worried, stressed or upset. If a friend is drinking alcohol or taking drugs to feel better, he or she could end up developing alcohol or drug dependence, especially if another family member has a problem with alcohol or drugs.

The effects of alcohol and drugs are different for everyone, but the younger people start drinking and taking drugs, the more likely they will become addicted later in life. Your friends can become easily addicted, even if they only use alcohol or drugs once in a while, because drugs and alcohol can change the way the brain works and develops. For example, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) reported that people who start drinking alcohol before they are 15 years old are five times more likely to develop alcohol abuse or dependence than people who first drink alcohol when they are 21 years old.

What to do to help your friend

If you are concerned about your friend’s drinking or drug use, express your concerns and provide support, love and encouragement to seek help. This is best done carefully because you don’t want your friend to feel like he or she is being criticized or judged. When you talk to your friend, your goal isforhim or herto agree to seek professional help, which is less likely to happenin the heat of an argument. If you do decide to talk to your friend, make a plan for when to confront him or her about the alcohol or drug use, and avoid having that conversation when the friend is under the influence.

Many resources are available to help your friend and to contact for more information:

Sovereign Health of Rancho San Diego provides a therapeutic residential treatment program for teens between the ages of 12 and 17 with behavior problems, including problems with alcohol and drug use. If you are worried about your own or a friend’s alcohol or drug use, please contact our 24/7 helpline to speak to a member of our team.

Written by Amanda Habermann, M.S. clinical psychology, Sovereign Health Group writer

For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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