“How do I help a drug addict?”.  Unfortunately, this is a common question we receive from loved ones here at Ocean Recovery.

If you know or suspect that someone you care about has developed an addiction to drugs, please remember that there is hope for recovery. In this article, you’ll find information on how drug addiction can occur, the warning signs to look out for, how to approach a conversation regarding drug use and more.


What is Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction can be defined as when an individual has a chronic need to consume the substance they have grown to depend on. There are many types of substance use disorders, with some of the most common include (but are not limited to) prescription drug addiction, cocaine addiction, heroin addiction and cannabis addiction.

A common misconception we tend to see regarding drug addiction is that it’s a choice. While the initial consumption of harmful substances might have been a voluntary decision, the progression into addiction is far from an act of will.


How Drug Addiction Occurs

When a person consumes drugs, dopamine can flood the brain, which is how we can feel pleasure and reward. As time goes on, the brain comes to rely on the drug to release dopamine, diminishing its natural ability to do so without the substance. This leads to an increased need for the drug to achieve the same pleasurable feelings, creating a cycle of dependence.

Chronic drug use can also alter our brain structures of judgment, decision-making, learning, memory, and behaviour control. This can make it increasingly difficult for the addicted individual to resist the drug, even if it destroys their life as they know it.

As the brain changes, a person’s ability to exercise self-control decreases. What this means is that abusing drugs becomes compulsive. This feeling is comparable to how we might feel as though we need to eat when we are hungry. The chemical imbalances in the brain drive this compulsion.

Certain environments or social scenarios can trigger drug use, further engraining the addiction. For example, a person might associate a specific location or group of friends with drug use, making it difficult to avoid the temptation when exposed to these triggers.

Once addicted, stopping the use of the drug results in withdrawal symptoms. These can range from mild discomfort to severe effects. The fear of these symptoms often drives individuals to continue using, even when they wish to stop.


Recognising the Warning Signs and Symptoms of Drug Addiction

Drug addiction often goes unnoticed, especially in its early stages, as individuals may be in denial or unaware of their escalating dependency. The indicators that are the most important to look out for a change in their behaviour, personality and physical appearance.

Behavioural and Physical Changes

Individuals may show subtle or drastic shifts in behaviour. They might become withdrawn or overly confident and outgoing. Relationship difficulties or frequent absenteeism from work or commitments without any explanation can also be seen as a red flag.

You might also have noticed a decline in their self-care and personal hygiene. This can look like a disregard for personal appearance, even if others point it out. They might have unexplained health issues, or show signs of weight loss or weight gain.

Substance abuse can also become an incredibly expensive habit to keep up with, so you might also pick up on the fact that they’re frequently short of money or have unexplained expenses.

Preoccupation with the Drug

If they are open about their drug abuse with you, then being able to spot when they may be experiencing cravings will be easier. This will likely dominate their thoughts, causing them to appear distracted, irritable, and disinterested. Common physical signs to note include fidgeting, sweating, tremors and/or appearing nauseous.

Secretive Behaviour

They may become vague about their whereabouts and who they are meeting. This is often accompanied by a noticeable distance from their usual friends and family, indicating a shift in their social circle.


How to Identify and Recognise Drug Paraphernalia

Drug paraphernalia can be defined as equipment that is primarily intended or designed for use in making, preparing, or consuming drugs.

Being able to spot paraphernalia can be extremely helpful if you suspect, but feel unsure whether they’re using substances.

  • Rolling papers and cigar wraps – Commonly used for rolling marijuana cigarettes, however, they are also used for producing tobacco cigarettes.
  • Pipes and bongs –  Often used for smoking various drugs.
  • Needles and Syringes – Common among those who are injecting drugs, such as crack cocaine or heroin.
  • Spoons and lighters – Typically used to melt drugs before injection.
  • Razor blades – Used to chop and divide powdered drugs, such as cocaine or prescription drugs.
  • Straws and rolled-up money – Often found on those with cocaine addiction, as these products are used for snorting substances.
  • Small clear grip seal bags –  This is usually what powder drugs are purchased in, particularly cocaine.

If you suspect someone is struggling with drug addiction and want to support them in achieving long-term recovery, how you approach the situation will be integral to what happens next.


How Do I Help A Drug Addict?

If you decide to broach the subject of drug addiction with your friend or relative, then it is important to handle the situation carefully. It is common for those abusing drugs to get angry and defensive very easily, and so a non-confrontational approach is needed.

Plan Before You Take Action

With a topic as sensitive as drug addiction or the potential of drug rehab, it’s important to plan ahead before you approach any scenario. Really think about what you’re going to say, how you’re going to say it and where you’re going to discuss their drug problem with them.

Our advice would be to choose a private and comfortable setting that’s familiar to them. This helps to ensure that the conversation is as productive as possible, in an environment where sensitive topics, such as negative consequences of drug addiction, can be talked about.

Stay Strong and Positive in Your Approach

It would be natural to feel afraid about approaching a loved one in respect of their drug use or misuse because of the uncertainty of how they will react. However, remember that if you can overcome your apprehensions and start the conversation, this might lead to a life-changing moment if your loved one decides to seek the help they need.

Many individuals with substance use disorders also suffer from mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. In such cases, the drugs might have been initially used as a coping mechanism. For this reason, it is very important that you appear to be non-judgemental with respect to their mental health or addiction. Treating the situation as if your friend or relative has an illness rather than an addiction can be a useful approach.

Be Prepared For Denial

It is common for many drug users to deny that they have a problem. They may try to tell you that they can stop whenever they like, or that they do not use drugs at all. This can be very convincing, but if you are absolutely certain or have proof that they are engaging in chronic substance use, persevere.

Remember that it is often very difficult for someone who is addicted to drugs to see the changes in themselves and their lifestyle in the same way as others see them. This is even more true if they are in the early stages of drug addiction. You will need a great deal of patience and empathy to continue to help and support your loved one.

Encourage Open and Honest Discussion

It is important to set time aside with your loved one to have open and honest discussions about the drug related to changes in their appearance and lifestyle.

It may be very difficult for them to admit that they are using drugs for fear of feelings of guilt and shame. You will need to provide a great deal of reassurance for them to feel able to admit that they have a problem and would like to address it.

Look at Addiction Treatment Support Options

The good news is that there are many drug addiction treatment options that you and your loved one can explore together. If outpatient drug rehab is the most viable option for their circumstances, the first step is to encourage your loved one to visit their GP. These medical professionals will be able to recommend local resources that will prove essential in their recovery process.

If they need treatment for drug addiction, they are entitled to NHS care and treated in the same way as anyone else who has a serious mental health problem.

Several treatment options are available, including treatment at the GP practice or a referral to the local drug service. If they do not wish to talk to their doctor, then they can approach their local drug treatment service themselves.

As well as the NHS, there are charities and private drug treatment organisations that can help you. In some cases, they may be able to provide your loved one with a referral. Whilst private drug treatment can be required, treatment typically comes at a cost. Sometimes, people can obtain outpatient drug rehab for free with referrals through certain UK councils or charity organisations.

Support groups are also an incredibly beneficial resource for those working to maintain a drug-free life. Narcotics Anonymous is one of the most well-known organisations, as they provide online and in-person meetings across the UK, which are free of charge to attend. These meetings follow a 12-step programme, which is seen by many as a successful tool to regain control and cope with the traumas associated with drug abuse.


Effective Inpatient Treatment Options For Drug Addiction

Although there are outpatient options worth exploring, chronic drug use often requires a comprehensive inpatient treatment plan. This is especially true in relation to relapse prevention rates. Patients who receive residential treatment have a better chance of being able to maintain their sobriety.

The initial phase of treatment typically includes a thorough drug detox. This is when your loved one will undergo a thorough cleanse to ensure that all substances are removed from the body. Individuals then continue on to psychological treatment in the form of a personalised treatment programme.

Your loved one will be able to discover the origins of their drug use through various forms of individual therapy and group therapy sessions, enabling them to comprehend the underlying thoughts and behaviours that contributed to their addiction.

It’s essential to understand that in the early stages of recovery, the individual may not have much confidence in their recovery journey. However, with continuous support and as they journey through the rehabilitation process, they will gradually regain control and confidence in their lives.

It is at this stage anyone supporting them must be prepared to take a small step back and trust the process, as your loved one will likely be able to develop incredibly useful coping strategies during their stay.


Reach Out Today

Whether for a friend or family member, if you are looking for inpatient rehab for drug addiction, we can help and support you. If you would like to contact us for more information, please call Ocean Recovery on 01253 847 553 or email us at info@oceanrecoverycentre.com.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: October 12, 2023

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.