How to Help a Friend Whose Substance Use is Concerning

Step 1 - Prepare

  • Learn more about substance abuse. You may want to speak to a professional on campus or in the surrounding community who can help you plan for what to say and how to say it. The AOD office is available to consult with you. Also, gather information about local resources that are available to support those in recovery.
  • Gather a list of incidents when your friend's substance use has concerned you. For example, last Monday your friend stayed up all night partying and drinking when he/she had an exam at 8:00 a.m. Tuesday morning.
  • Choose an appropriate location and time. A private location where you will not be interrupted is best. Also, make sure your friend is sober; it is impossible to reason with a person who is drunk. Talking to your friend a day or two after your friend has been using substances irresponsibly may make more of an impact than many days later.

Step 2 - Have a Discussion

  • Let your friend know that you care. Explain to them how you feel about their substance use. For example, "You act like a different person when you are smoking weed and this is hurting our friendship." Keep the discussion focused on your observations and do not use second-hand information such as, "I heard that you insulted so-and-so while drinking."
  • Tell them how their substance use is affecting you and use "I" statements to explain. For example, "I find it difficult to be around you when you have been using."
  • List the negative effects that you have seen on your friend's life. These areas may include alcohol-related health problems, blackouts or memory loss, poor grades, missing class or work, consequences with the law (MIPs, DUIs, etc.), or declining relationships with family and friends.
  • Expect denial. Chances are it will not be easy for your friend to admit that they have a problem with substance use. Admitting this can be shameful so make sure that you affirm your friend's positive attributes. Be prepared to talk with your friend multiple times if they deny there is a problem.
  • Don't judge or criticize.

Step 3 - Aim for Progress, Not Perfection

In some cases, even though your friend agrees that there is a problem, they may be unable or unwilling to act as quickly or directly as you would like. Keep in mind that substance-related habits are hard to end or control. If your friend is struggling, try to:

  • Remain supportive by recognizing the effort your friend puts into even small attempts to limit substance use.

  • Help your friend make contact with other recovering users. (We have Recovery Meetings on-campus)

  • Encourage non-drinking behavior by planning activities not related to alcohol and by limiting your own drinking when you are with your friend.

  • Give them a list of campus and community recovery resources that you have gathered.

  • Offer to go with them to see a counselor at the GVSU Counseling Center on-campus 


Helping a friend with a substance problem is not easy, but it is very important! Know that you are not alone and use resources to help you and your friend. Make sure to take good care of yourself in the process.

Substance Use and Relationships

Substance Use and Relationships

Page last modified May 19, 2021