Drug Abuse

Drugs affect the brain’s “reward circuit.” Normally, this reward system motivates a person to repeat behaviours needed to survive, such as eating or socialising. 


Drugs highjack this system, meaning unhealthy but pleasurable behaviours (taking drugs) are reinforced. Over time drugs break down the rewards system – meaning people find less pleasure in other hobbies, and need to take more and more drugs to achieve the same high.


If you are worried that your friend may be abusing drugs, you may be able to tell by looking at their behaviour, physical appearance, and stuff in their environment.

Neglecting responsibilities, loss of interest in hobbies, withdrawing from friends and family and getting careless about personal grooming, along with sudden weight change, shakes and tremors, incoherent speech, impaired coordination, frequent nosebleeds or sniffing, and eyes that are red, glassy, bloodshot or pupils that are larger or smaller than normal are all signs of drug use. Spoons and syringes, small resealable baggies, pipes, plastic bottles or cans that have been pierced or tampered with, burnt foil, or missing money, valuable or prescription drugs in the environment are all signs too.

What it feels like

Once your body is addicted to a drug, your body feels like it is unable to function without it. It is an extreme level of craving, where each moment without the drug causes physical symptoms of withdrawal – pain, diarrhea, vomiting, sweating, fatigue or anxiety, agitation and irritability. It is difficult to stave off the urge to use. There is also a sense of shame and feeling the need to hide a terrible secret and keep up normal appearances.

What you can do to support in the first 24-48 hours: 
  • Check their situation regarding: Ease of access to drugs| Access to money / emergency funds | Access to shelter | Access to food and water

  • Be present with your friend

  • Let them know you care - accept that they might not be willing to change yet

  • Let them talk through what has been concerning them, and how they feel

  • Talk through their worries, concerns and plans for the future

  • Let them know the ways you are able to support them (emotional, practical, financial)

Providing Support 

A friend may be angry or defensive, and may be unwilling to admit they have an issue. Drug use is not always, but often rooted problems going on in other areas of life – job loss, relationship issues, trauma and more. While managing dependency can seem largely practical, there are many emotional issues to be addressed underneath. You can make a difference by helping them deal with the issues they are avoiding.

Emotional Support
  • Be present with your friend

  • Let them know you care - accept that they might not be willing to change yet

  • Let them talk through what has been concerning them, and how they feel

  • Talk through their worries, concerns and plans for the future

  • Let them know the ways you are able to support them (emotional, practical, financial)

  • Give love and understanding

Practical Support
  • Set goals to cut down or stop using drugs and support your friend to be accountable to them

  • Plan activities that don’t allow using drugs or don’t trigger your friend – spending time in public at a beach or park, or at the movies, are all safe activities.

  • Offer to help moderate their access to drugs. You can offer to help them get rid of their stash, take control of their access to money.

  • Support them get in touch with their GP or local addiction service to get a referral

1 Week on what now?
Providing support in the long term
Emotional Support
Practical Support
Who can help?
Service that can help
Service Directories
Professional Helpers

Counsellor

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General Practitioner (GP)

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