Friends and Addiction—How to Help

Two friends at abandoned house, talk about addiction.

One of the most common questions I hear is, “How can I help my friend with their drug habit?” To people who don’t use drugs and alcohol, a substance abuse addiction can seem strange and confusing. Why would your friend continue to use a substance that was harmful to them? Why would they keep putting that concoction of chemicals into their body when it might kill them?

Such is the struggle that friends of addicts face, and it’s why I get that question almost every day. People want to know how to help their friend, but they often don’t know how. Luckily, there is a wealth of information out there on just how to do this.

Get Educated

First and foremost, one has to get educated about drug use. If you want to be successful in helping your friend, you have to make sure that you know what they are going through. Study up on drug addiction, on the type of drug they are addicted to, on how rehab works, and on how addiction affects both the mind and the body. It might take some time, but it’s a worthwhile investment.

Communication Is Key

Friendly conversation in a park.

Communication is always the best tool in your efforts to help someone break free from a drug problem. The more you regularly converse with your friend, the better chance you will have of gradually working them towards a resolution for change.

One of the first misconceptions that you have to disabuse yourself of is that helping an addict off of a drug habit and into rehab is not something that is going to happen overnight—it’s a process that’s most likely going to take a few attempts. It will likely take you communicating with your friend several times before they come around and decide that it’s time to make a change in their lives.

Always Play It Nice

In times long past, models for “dealing with” addicts used to be quite intense and antagonistic. The idea was to forcefully get the addict to “see the error of their ways” by any means possible. Nowadays, while interventions still do seek to bring an addict to an understanding of the gravity of their crisis, such interventions are not forceful or antagonistic. There is love, care, compassion, and understanding, all with a firm insistence that the struggling individual gets help.

Your focus needs to be on playing it nice. Don’t allow yourself to be walked all over and manipulated. Don’t let your addicted loved one control the conversation or its circumstances. But at that same time, don’t allow yourself to get confrontational, intense, antagonistic, accusative, compulsive, or angry with your friend. That won’t get you (or your friend) anywhere.

Maintain Your Own Moral Code

Sometimes people get the idea that they have to relate to their addicted loved one to be able to help them. They might allow themselves to be talked into using drugs or alcohol with their loved one—sort of with this idea of “solidarity.” Such is a toxic path, and it never works. It leaves you with more problems on your hands than you started with. Be sure to always maintain your moral code when attempting to help an addicted friend.

Do Your Best to Prevent Their Problem from Getting Any Worse

If you can, do your best to help prevent your friend’s problem from getting worse. If they are currently drinking too much alcohol, but they’re talking about going on pills for depression or anxiety (a terrible idea if the person is already struggling with alcoholism), do your best to encourage them otherwise. One drug problem is hard enough. Adding more complications, addictions, and difficult habits to the crisis makes it that much more complicated.

Never Enable Your Friend

Friend addict asking her friend for enabling.

This might be the most difficult of them all, but it’s likely the most important. You want to help your friend, but always remember that enablement is not supportive. And what is enablement? Enablement is the act or fact of doing anything which make it easier for your friend to use drugs. These can be actions like giving your friend a place to stay, loaning them a phone or car, giving them money, letting them “borrow” your possessions, and so on. These are all actions that make your friend’s life easier, that makes it easier for them to keep using drugs and less likely that they’ll hit rock bottom. We don’t want that.

Additional Reading on Helping a Friend with a Drug Problem


Reviewec by Claire Pinelli ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.