Ways to Help a Friend with Alcoholism or Drug Addiction

Being present and helping your friends and loved ones when they are struggling with an addiction to alcohol or drugs can be the support they need to get into recovery.1 There are many ways you can encourage your friend. Read on to learn how.

How to Help My Friend with Alcoholism or Drug Addiction

There are a variety of approaches you can take to help a friend with a drug or alcohol addiction. These can include, among many others: 2

  • Providing them reassurance.
  • Avoiding judgement.
  • Stating your commitment.

Signs a Friend May Be Struggling with Alcohol or Drug Abuse

A substance use disorder (SUD) (e.g., drug addiction, alcoholism) is a medical condition characterized by the inability to stop or control alcohol or drug use despite negative consequences.1

Although most people who consume alcohol consume a small amount and can stop drinking or take drugs and can stop without much difficulty, people who develop an SUD may struggle controlling their substance use and use substances compulsively or in other dangerous ways.1

There are different signs that a friend may be struggling with alcohol or drug abuse. And since alcohol and opioids are among the most abused substances, let’s focus on the signs associated with those substances.

Excessive alcohol use, including binge drinking, increases a person’s risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. There can be many symptoms, signs, and behaviors associated with alcohol intoxication and, potentially, with alcohol abuse:3

  • Staggering gait.
  • Bloodshot eyes.
  • Excessive consumption of breath mints or mouthwash.
  • Behavior and mood changes.
  • Continual smell of alcohol on breath.

Just as there are side effects with excessive alcohol use, there are side effects to individuals who misuse opioids as well. Opioids prescribed by a licensed medial physician tend to be safe.

However, it’s not safe when an individual takes the medication to achieve the effect it causes, or they consume someone else’s prescription of the opioid, or they consume the medication in a way it isn’t intended to be taken.4

Side effects of opioid misuse may include, but are not limited to:4

  • Euphoria.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Small pupils.
  • Slowed breathing.

It’s often family or friends that are witnesses to overdoses, so knowing what signs to look for may be helpful.

Known as the “opioid overdose triad,” the following are the usual signs seen in individuals experiencing an opioid overdose:5

  • Pinpoint pupils.
  • Decreased level of consciousness.
  • Shallow and slow breathing.

How to Talk to My Friend About Their Addiction

Friends hugging and crying

How you approach your friend to discuss addiction will likely determine the outcome of the interaction. Individuals who struggle with alcohol or drugs often get blamed for their behavior.6 Although substance use disorder is a disease, there is often a stigma attached to it.

So, before you reach out to your friend, prepare yourself for the conversation.

Educate yourself about addiction to alcohol or drugs from credible sources. Gather pamphlets or bookmark webpages on your phone to reference for later. Learn terminology such as “substance use disorder” (SUD)7 or “alcohol use disorder” (AUD)8 (among others) so that you’re using language that isn’t shaming, blaming, or judging.2

Offer your friend support by showing them that you may or may not understand what they’re going through, but you’re there to listen and open to learning.

Additionally, as long as you feel comfortable doing so, approach your friend in private so that they know that they can feel safe with you. And with the pamphlets, bookmarked web pages, or any other recourses you’ve gathered while educating yourself, have them available to use for the duration of your conversation should you need it.

When you have the conversation, consider the following approaches:2

  • Even if you don’t understand, let them know it’s okay. You will support them even if you don’t understand what they’re going through.
  • Use curiosity. Ask a question to get them to share their experiences with you. This could help you to understand their experience and may lead to some self-reflection on their part.
  • Provide reassurance. Assure your friend that you will be there for them and won’t abandon them (perhaps like others have already).
  • State your commitment. With relapse being a natural part of the recovery process, affirm to your friend that you will be there for them if they relapse.
  • Avoid judgement. There’s no need to shame or judge your friend into letting them know they are doing something “wrong.” They already feel bad. Instead, let them know you want to bond with them.

How to Help My Friend Get into Addiction Rehab

Helping to get your friend into rehab can be a simple process, but it’s something that they will have to want for themselves first.

When your friend is ready to take the first step towards recovery, let them know that there are insurance providers that offer coverage for drug and alcohol treatment. AdCare Treatment Centers in New England are in-network with a variety of insurance providers.

Your friend can check their health insurance coverage for addiction treatment to see what options may be available to them. Afterwards, they can call AdCare at to discuss details unique to their situation, treatment, and insurance coverage.

Treatment for substance use disorder is tailored to the needs of the individual based upon their substance-related social, medical, or psychiatric challenges and their substance use patterns.9

Depending on the individual, as well as the treatment options offered at the facility, an individual may undergo outpatient or inpatient (residential) treatment.

Outpatient addiction treatment allows for patients to live at home where they may continue many of their daily responsibilities in addition to treatment9 whereas inpatient rehab or residential treatment requires individuals to live at the treatment facility where they will have around-the-clock supervision and access to medical care.

Unless your friend has court-ordered treatment, they are under no obligation to receive treatment and may refuse your help. Many individuals are often more willing to take advice from a medical professional as opposed to a family member or friend.

Encourage your friend to meet with their health care professional to discuss their substance use and treatment options.10 Although your intention is to want what’s best for them, it’s important that they make this decision for themselves.

Be sure to set your own boundaries that you’re comfortable with while you avoid enabling your friend’s substance use.10

Additionally, there are other ways for you to help. You can suggest touring a facility to help them get more comfortable with the idea of entering a program and to be able to manage realistic expectations. You can even suggest a sober escort who can drive them to medical detox, as well as to the facility when it’s time for treatment.

AdCare offers several locations in which to choose. All provide a supportive environment with different treatment options to address the individual needs of each patient. With locations in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts, AdCare makes it easy to find the care you’re looking for.

Don’t let addiction take control of your life any longer. Call us today at to learn more about addiction treatment at AdCare. There are two inpatient AdCare facilities, one Massachusetts rehab center, and one rehab center in Rhode Island. AdCare also offers outpatient treatment and has sister facilities across the United States as well. Call us today to learn more about our comprehensive addiction treatment options.

You aren't alone. You deserve to get help.
AdCare has multiple locations throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island, making it easily accessible to most parts of New England. We offer an integrated system of care and have been helping individuals and families struggling with addiction for 45 years. Take the next step toward recovery: learn more about our addiction treatment programs in MA and RI or learn about how rehab is affordable for everyone.