We’ve covered what to do if you find out your friend is using drugs. But what do you do if you suspect drug use without being 100% sure?
Perhaps you’ve seen pills in their backpack, heard rumors, or have noticed your friend acting differently. Whatever the reason, it’s a tricky spot to be in. Some signs of addiction overlap with symptoms of depression, medication side effects, or other mental and physical illnesses. You want to support your friend during a tough time, but don’t want to ruin the friendship by making assumptions—so what comes next?
Let’s go over some common signs and symptoms of drug abuse, and what to do (plus what NOT to do) as you start the conversation.
How to Tell If Your Friend Is Using Drugs
Seeing your friend use drugs or finding pills in their room are obvious signs of possible addiction—but some are better at hiding it than others. Addiction signs and symptoms can be behavioral, physical, or psychological. Ones you may notice include:
Behavioral Signs of Addiction
- Obsessive thoughts and actions
- Loss of interest in normal hobbies, judgment, inhibitions, and motivation
- Inability to focus
- Hyperactive or unusually elated
- Withdrawn or depressed
Physical Signs of Addiction
- Enlarged or small pupils
- Sudden weight loss or gain
- Bloodshot eyes
- Unusual body odors
- Poor physical coordination
- Looking unkempt
- Slurred speech
Psychological Signs of Addiction
- Lack of motivation
- Irritability or angry outbursts
- Changes in personality or attitude
- Emotional and mental withdrawing from people
- Sudden mood swings
- Unexplained paranoia
Here’s What To Do If You Suspect Your Friend Is Using Drugs
If you notice these signs of addiction and are concerned it might be due to drug use, it’s okay to confront your friend. But there are some things to keep in mind as you start the conversation. Let’s cover a few.
- Stick to the facts. You only know what you know—avoid drawing conclusions on your own. “I saw pills in your bag and have noticed it’s difficult for you to stay awake lately. I want you to know I’m here if there’s anything you want to talk about.” This puts the choice to discuss what’s going on in your friend’s hands, and gives them space to reflect.
- Let go of expectations. Don’t expect your friend to reveal they’ve been using drugs right away. And as kind as you try to be, it’s common for those being confronted to respond with anger, defensiveness, or avoidance. Take a deep breath as you prepare for the conversation and make room for any type of reaction you’ll receive.
- Let them know you’re there for support. Regardless of their response, reinforce that you’re there to help. If your friend isn’t ready to open up or is in denial, reassure them you’re a safe space to talk if they need a listening ear. Let them know that no matter what they’re going through, you’ll be there to help connect them with the resources they need to recover.
- If necessary, reach out for help on their behalf. If you believe your friend is in danger, it’s okay to reach out to their parents, counselors, or a trusted adult. It’s not the easiest action to take, but it could save your friend’s life if drug abuse or depression is at the root of the changes you’ve seen.
Here’s What NOT To Do If You Suspect Your Friend Is Using Drugs
- Don’t accuse or make assumptions. Avoid coming right out with accusing your friend of abusing drugs, especially if you’re not 100% sure. If you stray away from the facts, your friend may feel judged, shamed, and attacked. This sends the message that you’re not a safe person to share hard truths with, and increases the chances of a negative response.
- Don’t make it about you. If your friend is struggling with addiction, chances are they’re already battling feelings of loneliness, shame, and hopelessness. While your friend’s behavior may have impacted you, avoid inducing more guilt by focusing on how it’s burdened you. Now is the time to dig deep in your commitment to friendship, even when it’s hard to do.
- Don’t spread rumors. Avoid gossiping about your concerns with others at school. Unless you’re sharing information with trusted sources who can help, keep the suspicions between yourself and your friend. The last thing they need is hurtful rumors to spread—especially when they’re still unfounded.
Created in 2018, GameChanger is a student-powered movement with focus on substance misuse prevention among youths. We connect students, educators, and communities with education, training, coaching, and support services to prevent opioid and other drug use before it starts.