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How do I know if someone is misusing drugs or alcohol?

Firstly, it’s important to recognise that not everyone who has used drugs will develop a problem with them. In fact, most people will use alcohol in a relatively safe way, or experiment with drugs for a limited time without causing significant harm to themselves or anyone else.

However, there are some signs that may indicate a more serious problem developing. For example:

  • Long, or frequent periods of unexplained absence
  • Uncharacteristic, erratic or unreliable behaviour
  • Apathy, lack of activity or interest in anything, particularly if previous interests have been abandoned
  • Disturbed or erratic sleeping habits
  • Frequently asking for money
  • Sweats and shakes when not drinking

Remember, these may also be symptoms of other problems, such as mental health issues, or even ‘normal’ teenage behaviour, so cannot confirm someone has a problem with drugs or alcohol.

How to talk about it

If you are concerned someone has developed a problem with substances the best way to handle it is to talk to them.

This is a delicate topic, and it’s important to approach it in a calm and supportive way, without making accusations. This is likely to deliver the best outcome for everyone.

Try to:

Try not to:

  • Explain your concerns, and describe the behaviour that worries you
  • Be open to what they might tell you
  • Listen
  • Offer support to deal with their problems
  • Use language that avoids blame or accusation
  • Have this conversation when you are angry
  • Place blame, or accept blame
  • Make accusations, especially without evidence
  • Set unrealistic expectations

For Example

For example, you might say:

‘I have noticed you’re not acting like yourself lately. You seem angry and defensive when I try to talk to you. This is making me unhappy, but it is also worrying me and I wondered if you are ok? Maybe you have a problem, and feel like you’re stuck. I want you to know I love you and will support you to overcome any problem, but I need this behaviour to change.’

Often this can take a few attempts, but it shows the individual that you are aware things aren’t right, and you are not happy with their behaviour. Importantly, it separates the behaviour from the individual and tells them you love them and you are ready to help.