How to check up on someone struggling with addictive behaviours

8 Sep 2022

Today is R U Okay Day, which is a day where we are all encouraged to check in on our friends and family members and have conversations to help them through difficult times. We can also use R U Okay Day as a chance to check in on someone we know who is currently struggling with, or has struggled with, alcohol and other drugs.


These types of conversations can be difficult, but Turning Point’s Clinical Psychologist, Dr Adam Rubenis has provided some tips on how to navigate these talks.

Be observant

Knowing when to have a conversation with someone about their drug and alcohol usage can be a tough call to make, but Dr Rubenis says there are signs you can look out for that may indicate if they are using.

“If you notice they are acting out of the ordinary, it’s always good to check in.”

“Withdrawing from relationships, being more distant and secretive than usual are a few signs of someone using or re-using drugs and alcohol. Being less communicative and having more frequent and more intense fluctuations in mood are other signs to look out for.”

If you notice some of these behaviours in someone, then it might be a good time to initiate a conversation about their relationship with drugs and alcohol.

Picking the right time to talk

Conversations about drug and alcohol usage are not ones you can have five minutes before you start work or rushing from one place to the next.

Even if it is just a check in, you need to account for the time the other person will need to open up and share what they are going through.

“Picking the right time to do any kind of a check in is always important. Make sure you do it when you have enough time to talk and unpack and make sure everyone is in a relaxed state.”

“A lot of people appreciate regular general check-ins and having them allows you to learn about their usage or other issues going on in their lives that could potentially lead to a lapse.”

Use non-judgemental language

When starting a conversation about someone's drug and alcohol usage, Dr Rubenis encourages people to make sure they use non-judgemental language.

“Whatever questions you ask, do it in a non-judgemental way. Trying to be as neutral as possible in language is the best way possible to prevent the conversation from escalating.”

Similarly if someone you know comes to you about their drug and alcohol usage make sure to you are empathetic and listen to what they are saying rather than shaming them.

“If you just lecture someone who has come to you about their drug and alcohol usage, they are likely to become defensive and this will prevent them from trying to resolve the issue.”

Be Patient

Overcoming addictive behaviours is not a linear road and there are often many bumps in the roads.

Therefore, it is important to be patient with people and let them come to their own solution in their own time.

“Be patient and willing to explore ideas and how they’re feeling, rather than finding a quick resolution,” Dr Rubenis said.

“Don’t try to solve problems immediately. If someone comes to you and shares that they are having a problem with drugs and alcohol again, they’ve probably already thought about a bunch of different ways to address it. They’ll normally be coming to you to seek support and if they want solutions, they’ll probably ask you.”

“If the person is engaging in behaviour again and they start to talk about making change, it can be okay to encourage them to take action on that change.”