acquiesce - September 14th, 2020

How To Help a Friend with an Addiction

Speaking to your friend about their addiction can seem awkward and intimidating, especially if you are unsure of how they may respond. This can make it hard to know what to do or say, particularly if you aren’t entirely sure if they really are suffering from an addiction. Below is some advice on how to recognise and understand an addiction, how to approach your friend and advice on getting help.

Recognising an addiction

Recognising an addiction in a friend can be very difficult, especially as many signs of an addiction are similar to those of a mental health problem. It is important not to ‘accuse’ your friend of having an addiction just because they exhibit some of the following signs, as you may be wide of the mark and alienating them from you. Below are some examples of signs which may indicate an addiction:

Behavioural Signs of Addiction

Behavioural changes may be the first sign of an addiction that you notice in your friend. It is important to bear in mind that each person’s symptoms differ, particularly depending on what they are addicted to. Here are some common behavioural signs of an addiction:

  • Poor performance and/or attendance at work, college or school
  • A loss of interest in things they once enjoyed e.g. hobbies
  • Withdrawing from social occasions
  • A lack of attention to personal responsibilities
  • Lack of care for family or personal safety
  • Dishonest and secretive behaviour
  • Engaging in negative behaviour or failure to stop using a substance despite the consequences
  • A lack of physical exercise and movement
  • Agitation or lack of communication with loved ones
  • Steal or sell belongings to gain money to fuel their addiction

Psychological Signs of Addiction

When a person is suffering from an addiction, their usual psyche may be altered or seem completely different than normal. These psychological signs can often push friends or loved ones away due to their negative nature and can leave those with the addiction feeling alone and isolated. As difficult as it may be, recognising that these psychological signs may be as a result of an addiction, can help you to remember that your friend may not actually mean what they say if they have hurt you. Some examples are:

  • Regular and extreme mood swings
  • Poor judgement and lack of care for personal wellbeing
  • Increased temper or anger
  • Lack of sleep and tiredness
  • Memory problems
  • Paranoia and stress
  • Becoming defensive during conversations
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Lack of self-esteem, self-confidence and self-worth
  • Become agitated or irritated often.
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Addiction can also manifest itself as an increase in any existing mental health problems

Physical Signs of an Addiction

These may be the last signs you notice in a person as your friend may not display these signs until much later on into their addiction. Examples of physical signs are:

  • Fatigue, tiredness and exhaustion
  • Disturbed sleep patterns or insomnia
  • Lack of care for physical appearance
  • A decrease in personal hygiene
  • Weight loss or gain

Understanding Their Addiction

Before approaching the subject with them, it is important for you to try to understand what they may be experiencing. To you, your friend may seem lazy or unwilling to stop their negative behaviour, however drug addictions are much more complex than that. Many people use substances or hostile behaviour to avoid confronting a problem that they may be facing. This can include mental health problems, stress or trauma. If your friend is using drugs, alcohol, gambling or any other addictive behaviour to cope with their issues, this indicates that they are really struggling with them, so taking a sympathetic approach is the best way to go. 

Once someone has an addiction, stopping may seem impossible. Not only can stopping take a toll on them mentally, but physical withdrawal symptoms from substance abuse can be very hard to endure. These can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Low mood or mood swings
  • Nausea
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Sweating
  • Aches and pains
  • Retching
  • Seizures

If your friend or family member feels embarrassed about their addiction, they may feel like they cannot seek help from a rehabilitation centre in order to detox properly and so will avoid stopping so that they do not have to endure withdrawal symptoms, which can often impact their job or their relationships.

With behavioural addictions such as gambling, the addicted person may experience shame, guilt and remorse, especially if their behaviour is impacting others. These overwhelming emotions can lead to further gambling as a desperate attempt to try to regain lost money.

Understand and Manage Your Own Feelings

It is natural to feel upset or annoyed at your friend’s addiction, particularly if it has impacted you personally. If you feel bitterness towards your friend as a result of betrayal or an argument caused by their addiction, allow yourself to cool down first before approaching them again. Setting your own limit on how involved you wish to become in helping them with their addiction is an important step to protecting yourself from being hurt or betrayed again.

How To Approach Your Friend

Approaching your friend with the right kind of attitude can dictate how the conversation goes. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts on how you can have a discussion:


  • Speak to your friend when you’re both sober
  • Arrange the conversation in a private and familiar location in case you or your friend become emotional
  • Allow plenty of time for the conversation to take place
  • Discuss how your friend’s addiction is impacting those who they care most about. Whilst they may not care about their own situation, they may care more deeply about their loved ones and what their addiction is doing to them


  • Be judgemental or critical. This sets the wrong tone for the conversation and may result in your friend becoming defensive or leaving the conversation entirely
  • Interrupt them. Give your friend time to speak and explain how they feel. Show them that you are listening and understanding what they are saying, even if you disagree
  • Give up. These conversations are difficult and it may seem like you’re getting nowhere, however, the patience and understanding of a friend is one of the leading reasons why those in recovery sought professional help

Getting Them the Right Kind of Help

At Acquiesce, we provide a discreet, highly supported and safe environment within the community for your friend to recover in. Without being hidden from the real world, our urban recovery model allows individuals to gain all the tools and experience necessary whilst maintaining a carefully monitored level of autonomy and responsibility over their own recovery. This makes the transitional period from treatment a much smoother process, resulting in a more sustainable recovery journey.

Our programmes are designed to accommodate each individual’s existing commitments and responsibilities including family and work arrangements. Find out more about our available programmes here.

Supporting Yourself

We offer a range of family and friend support including psychoeducation, visits and update calls on your friend’s recovery. Evidence shows that including family and friends as part of the treatment programme can be an important factor in the effectiveness and success of the treatment. It also helps you to gain a greater understanding of addiction and can provide you with recognition of your friend’s current responses and provides alternatives to help them manage their issues.

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