Overheard On Campus: I found out my best friend is using cocaine. What can I do to stop her?

Contributed by Melissa Kelley, M.S., C.H.E.S., Rebecca Smith, M.A., L.C.P.C., C.S.A.T., & Daniel Gittins, M.A.
Introduction by Tyler Achilles, B.A.

Just from watching A&E’s Intervention, I understand that this is not going to be an easy task, but hopefully the situation hasn’t evolved into addiction yet. You may still be able to influence your friend positively, but my guess is that there will be little you can do to actually stop her. Let’s put this question, taken from MyStudentBody’s Advice corner, through the ringer and see what our experts have to say on the issue:

Melissa Kelley, a health educator at the University of Rochester, says …

While your first reaction might be to try and stop any friend who is choosing to use drugs, that isn’t always the best approach. A person may choose to use a drug for many reasons, and while we may know that it is harmful for them, telling them to stop may not work. So, here are some helpful options:

Talk about it. If your friend is willing to talk, ask him/her why they are using cocaine. Sometimes people turn to substance use to escape the realities of problems or troubles they are having. If that is the case, try and encourage them to seek help from the counseling center on campus or from a trusted resource like an RA or even a professor.

Be supportive. Even though you may not agree with their decision to use drugs, they need someone to be there for them. Try to find ways to spend time together that doesn’t involve the use of any substances.

Get help for yourself. It can be a lot of pressure trying to look out for the well-being of a friend. Talk to someone you trust like a counselor or an RA about the situation.

For more information about cocaine and its harmful effects, check out http://www.nida.nih.gov/infofacts/cocaine.html.

Rebecca Smith, a counselor at Aurora University, says …

I understand your desire to want to stop her. However, it is impossible to make anyone do anything they don’t want to do. I suggest finding a time to sit down and tell her your concerns. Stay as calm as you can because if you try to intimidate or threaten her, it most likely will backfire.

Girl ignoring her friendsYou have a right to tell her your fears and how much this may affect you and your friendship. Hopefully, knowing that you care will help her want to stop. You can also give her information about places she can go to get help. Having other friends and her family join you in the discussion can be helpful if you all have the same goal of expressing your concern in a calm, controlled manner.

A lot will depend on how long she has been using. If she has just started, it may be easier to convince her to stop. If she has been using for a while and lying to you about it, it may be a lot harder to get through to her. If she now has a new group of friends that have a negative influence on her, it will be even harder.

Definitely, don’t give up trying, but know that you can’t control the choices she is going to make. Hopefully, she knows how lucky she is to have a friend like you on her side.

Daniel Gittins, coordinator of drug and alcohol programs at Duquesne University, says …

This indeed is a tough situation. While we can care very much for another person and think he or she should stop their use of a substance (in this case, cocaine), in reality we cannot control his or her choice to use or not use. Ultimately, this is up to the other person.

With that in mind, it’s important to take the time to talk with your friend about your perception of her use. Explain the patterns that are alarming to you and how you think the drug use is having a negative impact. Certainly, you should also take the time to explain how it’s affecting your friendship. Hopefully, by having this discussion, she will be motivated to alter her use patterns.

However, she might not be ready for the discussion and might feel defensive about it. She’ll probably say it’s not negatively impacting her at all and might even say it’s helping her. Keep in mind you may need to have a series of discussions with her over a period of time. If it’s a friendship worth saving, then it’s worth taking the risk to have these talks.

If she’s not willing to change over a period of time, unfortunately you might need to discontinue the friendship. Hopefully, if you are sincere in your approach and your friend is not yet addicted, then she will listen to you and will be motivated enough to change that behavior and stop using.

Good luck. Be a good friend. Sometimes being a good friend means not accepting and excusing problem behavior.

Share your own advice in the comments or tell us a story about when this happened to you. What did you do?

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