What to do if you’re concerned about someone’s drug use


​Drug use is something that we all see on a daily basis. Whether it be the groups of smokers huddled down the side street that we walk past on the way to work, the long queue of people waiting to get their morning fix of caffeine at the local coffee shop, or the endless bars and pubs on a Friday night packed with people sipping on a glass of wine or schooner of beer to celebrate the end of the work week.

Drug use doesn't have to be illegal to be a problem. Each year, legal drug use causes more harm to society than illegal drugs, with alcohol and tobacco being two of the leading contributors to the burden of illness and deaths in Australia, according to a report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

But drug use that we don't see as often, including illicit drug use, can also cause harm to society and the individual. In 2011, Opioids accounted for the largest proportion (41%) of the illicit drug use burden.

The reality is that many of us know someone who uses drugs, but knowing what to do when you're concerned about their drug use can be difficult. The alcohol and drug information service (ADIS) advises:

  1. Be aware that everyone has different drug preferences – not everyone wants to use the same drug.
  2. Avoid judging people based on their drug preference.
  3. Accept that people don't always want to talk about their personal drug use when you do.
  4. Be aware that everyone's relationship with drugs is different and can change over time i.e. a person's relationship with a drug can start off pretty casual then become very intense and then become intermittent again.
  5. Understand not all drug use evolves into problematic use or dependence.
  6. Invite the person you are concerned about to reflect on their relationship with drugs and consider asking: Whether they are happy with the relationship? Whether they see it as a life-long relationship? Whether there is anything about their relationship they want to change?
  7. Be aware there is no handbook you can follow to persuade someone to stop taking drugs which means there are limits to helping in some situations. Avoid the temptation to lecture someone who won't stop taking drugs.
  8. If a person refuses to talk to you about their relationship with drugs they can phone a free, anonymous and confidential helpline like ADIS on 1800 250 015

What is ADIS?

ADIS is a free, 24-hour phone service available across New South Wales, offering information, support and advice for people seeking help to stop or reduce their drug use, as well as for their family and friends.

The ADIS service provides information, treatment referrals, crisis counselling, and support for illegal drugs like heroin, ice and cannabis, as well as legal drugs such as alcohol. ADIS can also give you contact information to help you access treatment services.

Help for families and friends

The influence of alcohol or other drug problems affects the person using the substance, but it can also impact on their family, friends and colleagues. Often, other people can see the problem that substance use is causing before the person using does.

The person may not want to change or might not see a need to change. It may be the case that they are experiencing mental illness, such as depression, which makes it more difficult for them to realise their drug use is a problem or have the motivation to change.

Family Drug Support (FDS) is an organisation that provides support and assistance to families throughout Australia who are dealing with a family member who is using drugs. Learn more about FDS.

Want to learn more about some of the most commonly used drugs affecting Australians right now? Check out the Your Room A-Z Drug listing.

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