Concerned about a friend?
Drugs and alcohol can be hard subjects to discuss, especially if you think your friend or relative has a problem.
Try to stay open-minded and remember that, with the right help and support, most people overcome their use before any serious harm is caused. Also, even if you do offer support, they might not change their behaviour.
You or your friend can call FRANK anytime on 0300 123 6600 for confidential advice.
People take drugs or drink heavily for lots of reasons. Having a better idea of why your friend takes drugs or drinks heavily will help you when you talk to them.
Some people take drugs or drink occasionally to have fun, socialise and relax. Taking drugs or drinking might not become a problem for these people, and they’ll probably stop when they’re ready to. You can still remind your friend that some drugs are illegal and that drugs and alcohol can affect their physical and mental health, especially if they’re still growing.
Some people use drugs or alcohol to escape difficult feelings that they're struggling to cope with. They might be depressed, anxious or insecure, and they might think the drugs or alcohol are helping them - when they’re actually making things worse. If you think this is the case, talk calmly to your friend and look for ways to help them think about why they're using drugs or drinking heavily and ways they can manage without them. If necessary, suggest that they look for professional help.
To fit in
Some people take drugs or drink to fit in, or because they’re under pressure to do so by their friends. You could offer to do things with them that don’t involve using drugs or drinking.
Some people are just curious. They might try drugs or drink once or twice to see what it’s like and then decide to leave it. Remember that most people who try drugs or drink too much don’t continue doing this.
Drugs and alcohol can be hard subjects to discuss, especially if you think your friend has a problem. There’s no right or wrong way to talk about drugs and alcohol, but there are some general guidelines you can follow to make things easier.
Do speak to your friend:
- when you’re both sober and not on drugs
- somewhere private and familiar (your friend might become emotional)
- when you have plenty of time – it’s not a conversation you can rush
- more than once – you may need to have several conversations
Don’t speak to your friend in a way that:
- is judgmental or critical – it won’t help
- doesn’t give them time to talk – try to speak less and listen more
- assumes superiority – don’t act like you know better (even if that’s what you think)
Remember that you or your friend can call FRANK anytime on 0300 123 6600 for confidential advice.
You can’t force your friend to do anything they don’t want to do, but you still might be able to help.
Start by encouraging your friend to stay away from the places where they’d normally take drugs or drink alcohol (like the pub or a mate’s house), and suggest other activities.
You can also remind your friend of the potential dangers involved in taking lots of drugs or drinking lots of alcohol and tell them where they can get accurate information about what they’re using. Whatever happens, make sure your friend knows you’re around and happy to talk – that you’re there to help and not judge.
What should I do?
Worrying about a friend’s drug or alcohol use is stressful, and how you choose to deal with it is up to you. You might try to help your friend, you might decide to put up with it and not say much, or you might decide to step back and not offer much support.
There are pros and cons to each of these choices, and it’s essential you think of your own wellbeing when you decide on which approach to take. It may be that you need support and/or professional help yourself too.
Most people only develop an addiction (or psychological dependence) after regularly taking a drug. It’s highly unlikely that anyone will develop an addiction after taking drugs once or twice – or from drinking once or twice.
Some signs that a person is getting addicted to alcohol or drugs are:
- they take the drug very regularly or drink very regularly
- they take the drug or drink despite trying to cut down or stop
- they lie about how much they use or keep their use secret
- they keep taking the drug or drinking despite the harm it's causing
- they drink or take drugs alone
- they do extreme things to get the drug or alcohol – like stealing, getting into debt or faking symptoms to get prescription drugs
- they do less of the things they enjoy, because the drugs or alcohol are getting in the way
Remember that people who are addicted (or dependent) often don’t think they are, or don’t feel like they can admit it.
So if you think your friend has a problem and you want to help them, think about how you're going to approach the topic and what you’re going to say – as you don’t want to upset them.
And if they don’t listen to you at first, don’t be put off. Just give them some space and try again in a little while.
If your friend needs medical help – either from a clinic or an ambulance – it’s essential that you tell the people helping everything you know about the drugs or alcohol they’ve taken.
And if you have any drugs left, hand them over to the medics as it may help them understand the problem.
They won't tell the police and you won’t get into trouble.
If your friend is caught with drugs, they might get into trouble. They might get a warning, an arrest, a formal caution or a conviction. This will depend on the drugs they’re caught with and what they’re doing with them.
If your friend is caught with drugs at school or university they might get into trouble there too. Getting caught with drugs in school or uni can lead to suspension or expulsion, and to the police getting involved.
Your friend could get fined or arrested for drinking alcohol in public if they are under 18.
It’s hard to tell what the effects of taking drugs or drinking too much alcohol are. Most people who try drugs or drink a lot don’t keep on doing this – and some people take drugs or alcohol regularly without developing a problem.
It all depends on who’s taking the drugs or drinking, the person’s state of mind, age and body size, which drug(s) they’re taking or how much they are drinking, what they’re mixing it with and where it’s being taken.
Physical health effects
Taking drugs can make users feel tired and run down. Sometimes people get more spots and colds too. If someone starts using drugs regularly, the harms can begin to build up resulting in long term health problems, such as liver, kidney and nerve damage.
Alcohol affects physical health in many ways. When people are drunk, they are more likely to have accidents and some might get involved in fights. Regular drinking heavily can cause long term health problems including heart disease and strokes, liver disease and cancers. If young people regularly drink alcohol, this can affect the normal development of their brain, liver, hormones and bones.
Mental health effects
Drug and alcohol use can lead to people feeling unusually emotional with mood swings. Sometimes there can be serious mental health problems such as panic attacks and depression. Alcohol can make it more likely that people feel suicidal. Anybody with a family history of mental health issues should be especially careful when taking drugs or drinking a lot as they may be more at risk themselves.
Anyone can overdose from taking drugs, even if they are experienced at using drugs and think they know what they’re doing. Young people who are fit and healthy have died from a heart attack after taking drugs because of the toxic effects drugs can put on the body.
Drinking a lot of alcohol, especially over a short time can lead to alcohol poisoning, sometimes called alcohol overdose. People who are fit and healthy can die of alcohol poisoning. See ‘What to do in an emergency’
Acting out of character & personal safety
Some people take drugs or drink alcohol because it makes them less inhibited – but this can have negative effects too. They might do things they wouldn’t normally do that they later regret, like having unprotected sex, or getting into risky situations. If your friend is out of it or having a bad experience on drugs or alcohol, they’ll be vulnerable and may need help and looking after. If you go out with friends, make sure you go home together.
Getting into debt
Some drugs aren’t necessarily expensive, but frequent drug or alcohol use can still get people into debt and financial trouble.
If you’re worried about the effects of a specific drug or of alcohol, take a look at the drugs A-Z
It might be that your friend takes drugs or drinks alcohol to deal with a difficult situation, or block out something that’s happened in the past.
Your friend might have told you something very personal, which they don’t want you to repeat, but which is related to their drug or alcohol use.
If this is the case, then you’ll probably need to get professional help for your friend – and you can do this without breaking your friend’s confidence by:
calling Frank anytime on 0300 123 6600 for confidential advice
contacting one of the young people’s and adult drug and alcohol treatment organisations in your area
Remember, you don’t have to say what’s happened to your friend, just that your friend needs some help with managing their drug or alcohol use.