Real Teens Ask: How Can I Help My Friend?

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Two teens

Lots of teens have questions about drugs. Each year, NIDA scientists spend a whole day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.

At the last “Drug Facts Chat Day,” a teen from Lima Central Catholic High School in Lima, Ohio asked:

"What should I do if one of my friends is using drugs...What should I tell him to convince him to stop?"

There are many ways to help and support your friend, but in the end, it will need to be your friend’s decision. And just by asking us this question, it’s easy to see you're a good friend. Sometimes our friends won’t appreciate advice they don’t want to hear—especially if they're using drugs—but telling the truth to help someone close to you is part of being a real friend, even when it’s hard to do.

Here are some ideas of things to say and do:

What To Do:

  • Find out if your friend is experimenting with drugs, or if he may be addicted. Neither one is good—but you may need more support if your friend is addicted.
  • Understand that addiction is a brain disease. Just like you wouldn’t expect someone with cancer to be able to heal herself without a doctor's help, the right treatment, and support from family and friends, you can’t expect your friend to heal herself.
  • Know that it's never easy for anyone to admit that they have a drug problem. You’ll need to be patient—and not give up easily.
  • Listen, encourage, share, and support. Sounds easy, right? But it’s so hard. We provide further tips and resources in a previous post we wrote titled “How to Help a Friend in Need.”
  • BTW, it's tough having a friend with addiction issues. So, if you need some support, visit: https://al-anon.org/.

What To Say:

  • Just telling your friend that you’re concerned can be a big help. Your friend may not want to talk about it, and the effects of drugs on the brain may keep him from “hearing” you or acting on your advice.
  • Assure your friend you are there for her and that she is not alone. People with drug problems often have gotten in with the wrong crowd—and they don’t want to turn away from these so-called friends for fear of being alone.
  • Suggest that he speak to a trusted adult who will keep it confidential. Maybe there’s a family friend who could help.
  • Turn to a professional for immediate help if the problem looks to be too big for you to handle alone, or if you’re worried your friend may have suicidal thoughts that she could act on.
  • Use SAMHSA’s Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator or call 1–800–662–HELP to tap into a support network where you can find immediate and confidential help 24/7. They'can also direct you to local treatment options.

When the people we care about and have lots in common with make bad choices, it can be frustrating, confusing, and a little depressing. Still, we should be there for our friends—and also try to be a good role models for them by making smart choices ourselves.

Update: Learn more suggestions for how to help a friend.

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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