Supporting someone with an alcohol or drug problem

Alcohol and drugs information

Finding out more about alcohol and drugs can: help you understand different types of drugs, know the effects alcohol and drugs can have on our bodies, signs and symptoms of someone using, harm reduction tips and what happens if someone overdoses. Knowing more information can help you to speak to your loved one about their alcohol or drugs use and it can also help to save a life.

What are the signs?

If you have a gut feeling someone is drinking too much or taking drugs, it’s tempting to throw around accusations and assumptions. It’s better to know some of the signs and changes to look out for before trying to confront or talk to them.

Loss or increase in appetite, change in eating habits, unexplained weight loss or gain
Slowed or staggered walking, bumping into things
Smell of alcohol on breath
Slow or slurred speech
Irregular sleep patterns, having difficulty sleeping, awake at unusual times, unusual laziness
Red, watery eyes, pupils larger or smaller than usual, blank stare
Extreme hyperactivity, excessive talking
Changes in overall attitude or personality with no other cause
Changes in friends, avoiding old friends, friends who are known alcohol or drug users
Changes in habits at home, loss of interest in family and family activities
Can’t pay attention, forgetting things
Not motivated to do anything, has no energy or self-esteem
Moody, has sudden outbursts, irritated
Feels the need to keep things private
Unexplained need for money, stealing money or items
Drinking alcohol alone, early in the morning, and often drunk for long periods of time
Drinking alcohol or taking drugs has led to legal problems
Experiencing blackouts after drinking alcohol e.g. unable to remember what happened when drunk

What if they don’t want help?

There are many challenges if the person you care about is not ready to admit they need help. One minute you might feel anger and frustration, the next minute you might feel hopeless and exhausted. It’s as painful as it is annoying to watch the person carry on with their actions and not acknowledge what it is doing to themselves and their family.

It is hard for all of us to admit we have a ‘problem’, especially one that has so much stigma attached to it. Sometimes the person knows they have a problem but are too afraid and embarrassed to admit it. The fear of the unknown can stop a lot of people getting help.

There are some ways that you can try and encourage a person to get support:

It is not your responsibility to convince someone to get help. Sometimes you need to take a step back and think about yourself. It can be exhausting and draining caring about someone with an addiction, so don’t forget about looking after yourself. 

What happens when they are getting help?

If the person you care about is getting support from a treatment service or programme, it’s okay to offer to stand by their side along the way, but it’s also okay to take a step back if you need to. We encourage family members and friends to be part of the treatment and recovery process where appropriate but some people will want to do this on their own and refuse your help or support. This may be hard to take, but if this is what the person wants you should try to respect their wishes but let them know that you are there if they need you.

When a person is in recovery, support may still be needed. Many people still enjoy to attend support groups because they become part of a community and make friends – this is the same for families and friends who receive their own support. There is a wide recovery community across Scotland and we can point you in the right direction of contacting a group. Call our helpline 08080 10 10 11 for more information or search our directory for local groups and services.

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