How and when to have a conversation with a friend about their drug use or drinking

Christmas is a time, for many, of indulgence. This can range from one too many mince pies, or possibly a bit too much to drink on a given night.

However, if you are worried about someone's drinking or drug intake, it can be a difficult issue to raise, however, ignoring a problem could lead to real harm.

Psychiatrist and Addiction Medicine Specialist, Dr Adam Winstock, founder of the Global Drug Survey, spoke to to outline a few tips on how to approach the conversation:

Think about the reason you are raising the conversation:

In Dr Winstock's research, when asked whether they are worried about a friends' drug and alcohol use, over 50 per cent of people have responded "yes" and for more than half those people it is for two or more friends.

In addition, the drugs that cause the most problems are the drugs most used in society:

Alcohol, cannabis, coke, MDMA and amphetamines.

The things that concern friends the most are the amount used, the impact on health and the impact on behaviours and relationships.

Dr Winstock says that "a lot of the time", the reason people raise the conversation about drugs is because they have noticed changes in relationships and behaviour, which may or may not indicate a serious problem:

These changes can leave people angry and disappointed in what their friends are doing to themselves and other people.

It is important not to make assumptions that just because you’re seeing a problem, that a problem exists.

Leading us to...

Think about what you are trying to say:

It is important to think about how your words should reflect the place that this conversation comes from.

You should be having it if you are concerned and want to help someone, but you should ensure you approach dialogue by expressing this, otherwise you run the risk of closing people off:

I think the mistake most of us fall into is expecting that they respond with: 'Absolutely, thanks for letting me know I have a problem.'

When you start the conversation you want to come from a good place, from concern and not anger.

The conversation normally needs to be one that helps the person reflect upon how their drug use is affecting themselves and other people.

So how do you raise the topic?

There’s a question along the lines of 'I’m worried, but I don’t know whether I should be, but I’m here to help', which pulls back from accusation and expresses concern.

If you have concerns, you can probably help:

In short, if you're close enough to the person to be concerned, you can probably help by communicating with transparency:

There’s a lot of research which shows that if you involve family or friends in drug treatment, you get better outcomes. Sometimes all you have to do is raise the issue to start people thinking about changing what they are doing.

Prior results of the Global Drug Survey support this - a few years ago when asked if they had said something to intervene with a friend and whether it had helped, three quarters of people said they had acted.

In addition, around half thought it had been received well and had made a positive difference.

People who spot things going wrong first are usually mates. Fortunately they're often the most trusted forms of support.

Our survey shows that the most common place that people would send friends for help and advice, who they had concerns over, were friends and family - outranking every other response available including GPs, drug treatment services and Talk to Frank.

If you act early, you may stop a growing problem early:

As Dr Winstock concludes that it is always better to approach a conversation, than to ignore:

The earlier you can get someone with a problem to reflect on their drug use and change what they’re doing, the better.

Dr Adam Winstock will be hosting a free webinar on this topic on Thursday 17 December 2015 at 8pm (GMT) and you can register for it here.

If you wish to contribute to the world's largest drugs survey, you can take the Global Drug Survey 2016, here.

Watch the video, below:

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