Dos and Don’ts when you suspect a friend is abusing drugs

When a friend’s possible  drug use moves past indulgence and into excess, you may have a party monster on your hands, but you also have expectations and obligations to sort before diving headlong into it.

Q:

I think my friend might be abusing drugs. Before I even get started, I’m going to come right out and say that I dabble recreationally, so I’m not judging partying with substances per se. 

At first, I just thought he was being weird or going through something that made him act differently. Several months ago, he started going manic on occasion, accusing good friends of talking behind his back. Not everybody is affected the same way by the same drugs, so I chalked it up to a little too much snuff in the snort.

Lately, he upped the ante, and others in our group are noticing it too. He’s losing weight, and not in a good way. His eyes are sunken and dark, his skin is yellow, and his accusations have blown up into full-on thinking everyone is out to get him. He grinds his teeth obviously and constantly. 

Even when I don’t suspect he’s on it right in the moment, I do know all of these can be signs of prolonged meth use. But maybe it’s just some unknown emotional drama that has him not being himself?

This is the first guy I met when I moved here, and I care about him, but I also know I don’t have much room to talk when it comes to indulging in party favors. Should I confront him?

Dear Worried:

Your concern is probably more common than many of us like to talk about. Queers and meth are a well-documented duo. 

Remember that while we each choose whether to indulge in chemical escapism and risk the consequences as individuals, that doesn’t mean you can’t see the signs. In fact, you could be more qualified to tell if someone else is indulging, or if they take it further and lose their way.

Be careful, though. What if the signs you’re seeing mean that your friend’s health is at risk from an undiagnosed virus? What if he, as you hint, might be going through something that is stressing him out so much that he’s letting his self-care and appearance go? 

As a friend, you can’t confront him about drugs if you don’t know it for a fact. If you do, you could cause damage with the assumption before you have a chance to help.

Since you are close, I do think you can approach your friend, and I do think it may take more than one conversation. Ask if there’s anything he wants to talk about. Leave the signs you mention to your own observations, and leave your other friends out of it. If he thinks people are talking behind his back, you’d only be feeding his paranoia.

Tell him you sense a possible problem and are concerned because he seems different. If he still avoids it, tell him you’re there for him if he changes his mind or anything comes up. This opens the door for him to come to you, and for you to circle back and broach it again a little later.

If he’s not ready to confide in you, that doesn’t mean your friendship has to be over. The line between being supportive and pushy is a fine one, and it’s hard to navigate by its nature. Use your best instincts.

Of course, you’re right that the symptoms you name could be signs of and addiction and abuse, so you have to be ready for that to be the issue. If your friend confides that this is his situation, or if you find direct evidence of such, encourage professional help. You can support him, but you can’t fix him.

The Q is for entertainment purposes and not professional counseling. Send your burning Qs to [email protected]

Illustration by Brad Gibson.

This column originally appeared in Q magazine. Read the full issue below.