How to talk to your friend about their drug use
If you’re worried about a friend who’s taking drugs, here are ways to approach the conversation with them
Written by spunout
Fact checked by experts and reviewed by young people.
Talking to a friend about their drug use might feel like a difficult thing to do, and it’s hard to know where to start. Whether you’re worried your friend has become dependent on drugs, or you’ve just noticed that they’re taking drugs more often, there are things you can do to try and help your friend.
How to speak to someone about their drug use
Try to keep an open mind going into the conversation, and have patience.
You or your friend can call the HSE Drugs & Alcohol Helpline on 1800 459 459 to access information and support. If there is a drug emergency such as an overdose, call 999 or 112 straight away, and be honest with the medics about what they have taken – they are there to help.
Picking the right time and place
It’s important that you consider the best time and place to have this conversation, with few distractions and space to talk openly about the issue. Avoid having this conversation if either of you have been drinking or taking drugs, or if they’re having a comedown after a high.
It’s best to pick a time when they have a clear head and can concentrate on what you’re saying.
Think about what you’re going to say
It’s best to know what you want to say before you have this conversation. If you don’t prepare, you might say something you did not intend to or forget some important points. Planning ahead of time means you can be clear and ready for how they might respond.
Writing down a few questions or key points might be helpful before you speak to them, and can keep the conversation on track.
Starting the conversation
To start off the conversation, try asking a question rather than making a statement. You could say “I notice you’ve started taking drugs more, I just wanted to check in if everything is okay?” or ask “How have you been feeling about your drug use lately?”
If you feel like you have a lot to say, try asking them if they would be willing to listen to you without interruption. In return, let them know they will have a chance to respond when you’re finished, and that you will listen.
Before you begin, make sure you emphasise how important this person is in your life as a friend or a family member, so that they know you are coming from a place of caring about them.
Try to understand how they feel
Talking about drugs can be difficult, and this might not be an easy thing for your friend to hear. Be understanding, use non-judgemental language and tell them you’re bringing it up because you care about them. Try using phrases like “I know this is a difficult conversation, and I’m not here to judge you – I just want to offer my support because I care”.
Avoid lecturing them about their drug use as they’re more likely to get defensive. Instead, just tell them you want to have an conversation about it, ask open ended questions about how they are feeling, and offer your genuine care and support.
If things have happened as a result of their drug use, try using these as examples to show them the ways that taking drugs has impacted on your relationship or on certain situations.
Ask them about their understanding and memory of specific events, and then give your point of view, expressing what you saw, how you felt and how concerned you are. They may not realise the effect an event had on you until you tell them.
Remind them you are there to help
Emphasise that you’re there to support them and help them through their problem. Before you start, make sure to have the information for a support service or an addiction counsellor, or be ready to give suggestions as to what they can do next. If you’re comfortable doing so, you could offer to accompany them to the GP or another support service if they’re anxious about going on their own.
What to expect when you speak to someone about their drug use
Be prepared for any kind of reaction. There’s a chance your friend might not accept there is any issue with their drug use. They might get angry, feel embarrassed, dismiss the conversation or refuse to talk to you at all. Regardless of how they react, try to stay calm. You cannot force your friend to address their behaviour if they are not ready to, but you may have given them something to think about, and they will know you are there for them and support them.
If your friend accepts what you have said and agrees that they need help, let them know about support services that are available to them (find a list of services at the end of this article). Although you can be there for your friend in certain ways, you are not a professional or expert when it comes to drug dependency. You will only be able to offer a certain type of support and it is important to not put too much pressure on yourself.
Knowing when to step back
If you find your conversation is headed for an argument, try not to push it. Leave your friend to think about what you’ve said and come back to it at another time. If they become angry at you, you do not have to tolerate aggressive behaviour. Let your friend know that you are there to support them when they have calmed down, but that they cannot treat you in that way.
Before you go into this conversation, it’s good to know what options there are for finding help. This means you can direct them to the right place to take the next step in overcoming their problems with drugs. It helps to have one or two ideas as to where they could go next so that there can be a follow-on from your conversation.
Look after yourself
If your friend’s drug use is really affecting you, don’t go through it alone. You can talk to a trusted friend or family member about it, or you can go to a support service. Take time for self care.
Supports and Services
- Drugs.ie: Online information and support for drug and alcohol use. Includes a national directory of drug and alcohol services
- HSE Drugs, Alcohol, HIV and Sexual Health Helpline: Freephone 1800 459 459.
- The Club Drug Clinic offers advice, support and detoxification for GHB (Liquid Ecstasy, G) and other chemsex and club drugs is an integrated person centred specialist addiction service: Tel 016488600
- Rialto Community Drug Team
Find a local service through the National Directory for Drug and Alcohol Services at Drugs.ie