Supporting Someone Else

Explaining Alcohol and Drugs

Most of us will know about alcohol and drugs. We hear about them nearly every day in the news, in films, and in songs. We are never far from a pub or an alcohol aisle in our local supermarket. However, many of us may want to know more about the effect and risks involved with taking drugs and alcohol and are not sure where to start.

Finding out more about alcohol and drugs can help you understand different types of drugs, the effect alcohol and drugs can have on our bodies, what to look out for if someone is using, risk reduction tips and what happens if someone overdoses. Knowing facts may help when talking to another about their alcohol and drug use – it can be a helpful starting point and can also help to save a life.

What are the changes?

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.

When you start to feel there might be something going on, everything can look suspicious. Try not to jump to conclusions right away, some changes may be health-related or have some other explanation. If the changes are regular and getting worse, then you will know something might be going on.


  • 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;
  • Paranoid;
  • 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 black outs after drinking alcohol e.g. unable to remember what happened when drunk;

In the home

  • Finding ‘drug equipment’ – needles, tin foil, papers, small bags, white powders, etc. in bedrooms, personal items (backpacks, etc.);
  • Finding bottles of alcohol in unusual places.

Taking steps

We say ‘taking steps’ because steps can go in any direction. They can go forward, backward, to the side, a slip, or go around in a circle. The person you care about admitting they have a problem with drugs or alcohol can be the first step, with recovery being the last. There are many steps to take in between the first and last and these are easier with support. You also need to take steps to recover and it is easier to do this with someone there to support and help you.

Some families and friends need to take a step back from their loved one and let others support them. Remember it is always your choice to decide if you want to help or not, this is not selfish. You may feel that because you have taken a step back you yourself do not need support, but it is there for you if you need it.

Not getting help

There are many challenges if the person you care about is not ready to admit they need help. This can be challenging for everyone. 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:

Sometimes the person is just not ready to listen, you know them best. It is also not your responsibility to convince them. 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. There are things you can do to try to get you through it, such as supporting yourself and there are also support services and resources that can help.

Getting help

If the person has asked for help and 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.

Sometimes family members and friends can be forgotten about in the recovery process. However there are many family and friend support groups across Scotland, either independent or run by organisations.

There are also many resources online that you can access for support:

In recovery

The word ‘recovery’ is used often and has different meanings. For some people, recovery is being sober and drug-free, some might consider recovery as a set duration e.g. only in recovery if free from drugs and alcohol for a year. Some people also use the terms ‘recovering alcoholic/drug user’ or ‘recovered.’ Whatever your definition, ‘recovery’ is a step where support may still be needed.

There are many support services, communities and organisations which offer ongoing support to people in recovery. Our helpline can give you information on what recovery services and community groups are in your local area.

Remember, you also will be ‘recovering’. After living with tension and stress for however long it lasted, you may still have buried feelings and experiences that are hard to ignore. It can be common for families and friends to feel ‘flat’ once the person they care about ‘recovers’. This can be hard to explain, surely after praying and hoping for this for so long, you should be elated! For so long you have been living on adrenaline, waiting for a ‘knock on the door’ or a call from the hospital but when that worry is over you finally have a chance to stop and realise what you have been through. You didn’t have a chance to process it when you were living in the middle of it, so be kind to yourself. It’s understandable and common to feel drained, plus there is always the nagging worry at the back of your mind that they will return to alcohol or drugs.

That’s why many people still attend support groups – they have often made good friends and they want to give them hope that things can and do change for the better. Just because the person has stopped using alcohol or drugs doesn’t mean that you still don’t need to get things off your chest and talk to others.

View our Helpline Details

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