Drug & Alcohol Addiction: How to Get Help

David grew up pretty strait-laced: He was quiet, always had good grades, and even made varsity soccer as a sophomore. But now, David seems different. His grades are slipping, he’s showing up late to practice, and his teammates are seeing him less and less. A few of his old friends heard that he’s been continuing to use the pain pills he was prescribed for a knee injury, “just for fun.” David says that he can stop on his own… but his friends are worried he might be addicted.

How can you tell if someone is addicted?

Unfortunately, David’s situation isn’t uncommon. He might say that he can stop using drugs or drinking on his own, but so do many addicts. You wouldn’t expect someone to overcome a disease like cancer without help from a professional — so it’s normal to need expert help with an addiction as well. (See Addiction: What You Need to Know for common signs of addiction.)

How do I help a friend who I think has an addiction?

Tell your parents, your school counselor, your rabbi, or another adult you trust.

Don’t worry about your friend being mad at you or what he or she might think. They need your help, and you’re getting it for them. They’ll thank you someday.

Educate yourself about addiction.

It can be difficult to watch addiction change your friend — but it’s important to remember that their disease is treatable. Knowing more about what they’re going through and ways to get help will offer you some peace of mind.

Reading this page is a great start. Take a look at our NYC-metro resources page for more information. While many treatment programs are Christian in focus, there are a number of Jewish and secular ones as well.

Talk to your friend — and speak up as soon as possible.

Don’t wait for your friend to “hit rock bottom” before you reach out. The earlier addiction is treated, the easier it will be to overcome.

Remind them that you love them and care about their health, which is why you’re concerned.

Without getting angry, tell them how their addiction is affecting you. Maybe they bailed on your history project because they were getting high, and your grade suffered because of it. Maybe they said something mean to you that you don’t think they would have said sober. Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, an influential 18th-century Jewish thinker taught that among the reasons that cravings and addictions are so destructive is that they undermine our awareness and appreciation of God. Even if you don’t believe in God, addictions certainly undermine our awareness and appreciation of the world — and of our friends as well.

Don’t attack your friend. Be as specific as possible about changes you’ve noticed, and how his or her addiction affects your relationship.

It’s normal for them to react defensively — their brain feels threatened that you’re going to take the substance away. Just remind them that you care about them. If your friend agrees to get help, remind them that you are there for support.

Much like with other diseases, it can take time to figure out the right way to treat an addiction. Remind your friend that you will be there, even if they struggle.

Take care of yourself.

Addicts have groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), but did you know that there are also anonymous support groups for people touched by the drug or alcohol problems of others? They also have teen-specific groups, such as:

Alateen — for teens affected by someone else’s drinking

Narateen — for teens affected by someone else’s drug useUnderstand the three C’s of coping with a loved one’s addiction:

Understand the three C’s of coping with a loved one’s addiction:

Cause: You didn’t cause your friend’s addiction. It’s common for addicts to blame those around them when they feel overwhelmed by their problem — but there is nothing you can possibly do or not do to cause someone’s addiction.

Control: You can’t control your friend’s behavior. No matter how much you want to help them, overcoming their addiction will be their decision and a result of their own hard work.

Cure: Addiction is a chronic, lifelong disorder, and there is no cure. Even if your friend stops using a substance, they will always struggle with their addiction. It’s important to remember that you cannot “fix” your friend — you can only help them as best you can.

Learn to let go with love.

Addiction isn’t a problem that is solved overnight. If your friend isn’t ready to get help, you may need to redefine your relationship with them before you can keep them in your life.

What should I not do when trying to help a friend with their addiction?

Don’t make excuses for them — like “he was really stressed last week” or “she’s drinking every day, but she never drives drunk.”

Don’t argue with them while they’re drunk or high. They won’t be able to make a rational decision, and you won’t be able to reason with them.

Don’t take their behavior personally. You can do your best to help your friend, but you can’t control their entire life.

Don’t use when you’re with them, even just every now and then. You may not have an addiction, but they may see your use as permission to keep abusing the substance themselves. It also could come off as hypocritical if you use in front of them, but then tell them to get help.

Special thanks to our experts:

Patricia Cintra Franco Schram MD,  Specialist in Addiction Medicine and Developmental and Behavior Pediatrics, Instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, and clinician at the ASAP (Adolescent Substance Abuse Program) Boston Children’s Hospital

Joe Gonzalez, LCSW and CEO and owner of TRI center Inc., a substance abuse treatment center in New York City

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