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Worried about someone’s drug use? Here’s how to help

One in five people have increased their alcohol consumption during COVID-19 and the use of drugs such as cannabis has also risen.

Despite this, a recent survey of people worried about a loved one’s alcohol or drug use shows that less than half (41%) feel they know how to provide them with support.

The research, conducted by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, also found that only about half would know where to direct someone to find relevant support services (51%) or information (52%).

“Annually, there are over 4,100 alcohol-related deaths and over 2,000 drug-related deaths in Australia. Additionally, thousands of people are hospitalised and treated for alcohol or other drug-related diagnoses each year,” says Dr Erin Lalor, CEO of the Alcohol and Drug Foundation.

“To help those who might be worried, we’ve launched the Path2Help portal. Just plug in your answers to 11 questions and the portal will automatically sift through more than 7,000 specialist services to match you to support services closest to you, based on your specific needs and circumstances,” Dr Lalor adds.

Here, Dr Lalor shares her advice for people who are concerned about a friend or family member’s alcohol or drug use:

Knowing when to ask for help

It’s not always easy to recognise when someone is at risk of harm from alcohol or other drugs.

Something to look out for is if they’re becoming increasingly secretive. It’s likely they don’t want to upset you and people will often hide their habits.

Keep an eye out for signs such as changes in energy levels, fluctuating moods or simply just acting outside their usual behaviour. They may also be struggling with social isolation and interactions or managing their work and finances.

If changes to their behaviour are causing you to feel concerned, it’s time to reach out for help.

Finding support that’s right for the person you want to help

There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to supporting alcohol and other drug use.  The challenges a young adult may be facing compared to a parent or grandparent will be very different.

You might find that you already understand the drug being used and its effects, like alcohol – the most widely used drug in Australia.

However, if you’re concerned about someone but aren’t already familiar with the drug they may be using, doing some research may help prepare you for any future conversations.

It can help you understand the side effects and equip you to have a conversation about it when you’re ready.

While medical and rehabilitation services are important, for many people they aren’t the only answer. Often early intervention and support can avoid the need for these kinds of services altogether. It may be that counselling services, activities within a local community group or even strengthening a sense of belonging will help.

If you search ‘Path2Help’, the tool asks you the right questions and steers you towards a range of local services that offer exactly what you need – you don’t need to know what you are looking for, the portal’s built-in algorithm does it all for you.

Decide how you want to approach the conversation with a loved one

Having a conversation about alcohol and other drugs with someone you care about can be pretty daunting.

Maintaining trust and open dialogue, free from judgement and accusation, will help you stay on their side.  Ask open-ended questions to help you understand what’s going on in their life.

Don’t let stigma stop you

Stigma around alcohol and other drugs is still one of the biggest barriers to people reaching out for support.

One in five (19%) people report feeling too embarrassed to reach out for help or being worried about what people may think about their family or friend (18%). These fears are common so it’s understandable that being discrete is important, not only to the person struggling with alcohol and other drugs but also to their friends and family.

If you’re worried that the person you want to help will see you researching online before you’re ready to approach them, Path2Help is anonymous and confidential. The portal even has a ‘quick exit’ button and does not store any personal information or data.

Take time to find support yourself

Helping someone through their challenges can also be draining for you. 

Make sure you’re also supported throughout this process – you’ll find counselling and peer support services specifically for family and friends through Path2Help too.

Be persistent

If you’re met with resistance on your first attempt to reach out to someone, don’t be put off.

Accepting help can be difficult, so find ways to connect with the person, such as check-ins, or including them in family get-togethers and celebrations.

Many people experiencing challenges can’t turn things around on their own. Making them feel loved and supported is important, even if they aren’t initially receptive.

Path2Help is free and confidential. Visit

For information and support, people can visit the Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s website or call the DrugInfo line on 1300 85 85 84.

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