How to Help a Friend

It’s difficult to have a conversation with someone on campus you suspect might have a drug problem, especially if it is someone you have a close relationship with, such as a roommate, teammate, classmate, or coworker. And yet as hard as that discussion may be, it may go a long way toward helping someone in need. So here are some ways in which you can prepare and proceed.

Prepare – Know the Signs and Symptoms

A person who starts acting withdrawn or seems tired, depressed, or mad for no reason could be exhibiting signs of a drug problem. Other signs can include:

  • Not caring about personal appearance
  • Slipping grades, skipping classes
  • Losing interest in activities they enjoy
  • Lies about drug use
  • Needs drugs to have a good time or cope

Sometimes a potential drug problem may not be as obvious as a person getting high on a regular basis. Other indicators may include school and work concerns, such as complaints from professors or supervisors; the disappearance of prescription medicines, money, or valuables in your residence hall or at home; and the appearance of drug paraphernalia, including pipes, rolling papers, butane lighters, and medicine bottles that don’t belong to you or your friend.

These signs are not always indicative of a drug problem, but you are right to be concerned.

Make a list of the behaviors you have noticed and be specific. For example, “You came home too high to walk straight (# of nights) this past week.”

Prepare – Know the Available Resources

Do your homework ahead of time so you know what resources are available on campus and in the local community, such as:

  • Campus health center
  • Campus counseling center
  • Campus Employee Assistance Program
  • Community drug abuse prevention provider
  • Community drug abuse treatment provider
  • Local hospital or health care facility

You can also use the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service (SAMHSA) Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator (a confidential and anonymous source of information for persons seeking treatment facilities in the United States or U.S. Territories) to find resources in your area.

You might consider having these resources listed on a piece of paper to leave with the person. They may not look at it while you’re having the conversation with them, but they might give it more careful consideration at a later date.

Share your concern with someone you trust who is unbiased and can help you sort out your feelings and answer any questions you might have, such as a professor, coach, residence hall advisor, or staff in the school’s health center or counseling center.

Before talking with someone you suspect might have a drug problem, it’s very important to practice the conversation until you are sure you can remain calm.

Prevention professionals, peer educators, counseling centers, and recovery programs can be a good resource to talk with to learn how to approach this caring conversation. They may be available to help you practice what you want to say without coming across as judgmental.

Proceed – Have the Conversation

Do not have the conversation with the individual you are concerned about if they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.Image removed.
If the conversation becomes heated or out of control, then end the discussion and leave, with a plan to bring it up later when they are calm.
Be sure to listen. It’s important you hear what the other person is saying so you can offer to help. Ask if there is anything they need and then follow through.
Do not pile on criticism. Frame the conversation as a concern for the person’s well-being and provide specific examples of their behavior that concerns you. Avoid coming across as judgmental.

Consider using the following format:

  • Situation - Saturday morning when you came home at 3:00am.
  • Behavior - You were struggling to walk straight.
  • Impact - I was concerned for your well-being. (It is okay to share your concern/feelings.)

End the conversation with an open invitation to talk.

After the Conversation

Check in from time to time with the person you’re concerned about. Talking to them about a possible drug problem doesn’t have to be a one-time event.

 Keep in mind that helping someone with a drug problem can be stressful. You might get discouraged if they don’t listen to you. Know that stopping drug use is ultimately up to the other person, but you took a big step by sharing your concern and having a conversation with them.

In Case of Emergency

If you think your friend is in immediate danger and is exhibiting symptoms such as losing consciousness after taking drugs, having suicidal thoughts after taking drugs, or planning to drive after using drugs, then call 9-1-1 or other emergency services immediately.


Two friends