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If you suspect that your friend has a drug or alcohol problem, it can be difficult to know how to help, especially if you’re not certain that they have an addiction. Keep reading our guide to learn more about the signs of addiction and discover how you can best support your friend’s recovery and well-being.
It might not be apparent that a person has an addiction, particularly because some people who abuse drugs and/or alcohol may be secretive about their behavior. If you don’t live with them, it can be even more challenging to identify certain signs and symptoms.
The American Psychiatric Association classifies addiction as a substance use disorder (SUD), which is a diagnosis given by a psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed drug and alcohol counselor, or another qualified mental health professional.1
To this end, although you may have suspicions about your friend’s substance use, it is not your job to diagnose him or her. Leave that to the professionals.
However, it’s still helpful to know what drug or alcohol abuse may look like so that you can help guide your friend towards treatment or recovery if they are using. The signs of a substance use disorder can include:1
The use of drugs or alcohol may also shift a person’s mental or emotional state. A few signs for these changes include:1
Although you may want to help your friend stop using drugs, there’s nothing you can do to make them stop. The choice to use drugs is their responsibility—your friend needs to want to stop using and get help.
Forcing the issue may only backfire; in fact, research has shown that interventions like you might see on TV are generally not successful.2
Instead, you might start by encouraging them to see a doctor. Your friend may feel safer in this setting because conversations with professionals are not usually as emotionally charged as those with friends or family.2
In addition, you might consider other creative options such as:
Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between supporting versus enabling a friend with an addiction. When you enable your friend, chances are you are helping him or her avoid the consequences of their substance abuse.3 Without consequences from their substance use habits, the less likely they may be willing to make a move toward recovery.
Here are a handful of examples of enabling behavior:
Recognizing these behaviors and being honest with yourself is one of the best ways to avoid enabling your friend. You need to allow them to accept the consequences for their actions and behaviors, even if it means that they hit rock bottom.
If you’re always there to bail them out, they might come to rely upon you as a crutch and think they can get away with destructive behaviors.
If your friend says they want help finding treatment, there are several steps you can take to help.
You can provide support and encouragement. Let them know that it takes a lot of courage to admit the need for help and that you will stand by them every step of the way. One way you can do this is by helping them find a physician or call local doctors to see if they work with people who have addictions. 2
In that same vein, you can assist them in a search for a licensed mental health clinician who specializes in addiction. You can also get in touch with your friend’s insurance company to ask for referrals.2
You could also do research to help them find a treatment program. Treatment programs can be found through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s online database If you’re not sure what to look for, you might start by considering factors such as cost, types of treatments offered, location, program intensity (such as whether it’s inpatient or outpatient), and whether they accept your friend’s insurance.
Entering treatment is one of the most important decisions your friend can make, and you can’t put a price on sobriety. However, if your friend is worried about the cost of treatment, know that there are many payment options. Many insurance plans cover at least part of the costs of treatment; some cover all of the costs.
You can call your friend’s insurance carrier and check what types of benefits are covered. If the person is a veteran, the Benefits.gov website can help determine whether your friend is covered for certain benefits; you can find substance abuse facilities that may be covered under the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Alcohol and Drug Dependence Rehabilitation Program.
Some programs offer loans or sliding scale payments that are usually based on a person’s ability to pay/income, and many programs also offer scholarships to help defray the costs of treatment. State-run programs may be more affordable than private programs, although they usually offer fewer amenities.
The cost of treatment also varies based on the type of treatment your friend chooses. Inpatient treatment may be more expensive because you also need to factor in the costs of a residential stay. Outpatient treatment may be more affordable, but it doesn’t offer the 24/7 supervision and monitoring many people require to start and maintain their recovery journey.
Oxford Treatment Center offers a wide range of treatments and accepts most insurance.
It’s important to realize that addiction is a chronic disease, so relapse is a normal part of the recovery process. Relapse does not mean that treatment has been a failure; it just means that your friend might need an adjustment to the approach or type of treatment, such as longer stays, another type of therapy, or some other adjustment.4
Encourage your friend to keep trying and let them know that everyone in recovery goes through this process. Provide support and express nonjudgmental concern for their well-being (without enabling—your friend’s recovery is their responsibility, not yours).
You can support your friend’s sobriety in a number of ways, such as:
However you choose to support your friend on the pathway toward recovery, focus on the person, not the disease. You don’t need to talk about addiction and recovery all the time—try to spend time together having fun and enjoying each other’s company.