Drugs advice for professionals

It can be hard to tell if a patient, client or person you’re supporting is misusing drugs.

We’ve put together some advice on how to spot the signs of drug taking and misuse, and what you can do to help.

Spotting the signs

It’s not always easy to spot when someone is struggling with drugs. Any drug can become problematic, whether it’s something illegal like cocaine or cannabis, or prescription painkillers. They don’t have to be taking it every day, either. Dependence on a drug can be physical, psychological, or both.

Some of the warning signs to look out for include:

  • drug seeking behaviour. This might be someone asking for an increase in their medication dosage without a good reason, or reporting pain that you can’t find any evidence of.
  • asking for additional medications when there’s no medical need. If someone asks for a specific strong medication, or an opiate based medication, it might be a sign of a dependency.
  • changes in behaviour, mood and personality. They may be acting more aggressive, anxious or have become depressed.
  • poor hygiene and not taking care of their appearance.
  • issues in their personal life and relationships.
  • making choices that mean they get hurt or get into trouble.

Get advice from our online team now

How to start a conversation about drugs

  • Start by finding out more. Ask them about their habits with drugs, as well as their health, relationships and work. This will help you to build up a picture of what’s going on with them.
  • Ask open questions that don’t have a yes or no answer. ‘How are you feeling?’ instead of ‘Are you feeling okay?’ is a simple example.
  • Explain your concerns. Try to open up a discussion by explaining a bit more about the things that have given you cause for concern. Be specific and give examples.
  • Listen to what they have to say. It's important to show you're making an effort to understand how they’re feeling.
  • Talk about next steps. Ask them if they want to get some help, rather than telling them what to do. If they do want help, talk to them about what they want.

Keep in mind that people are sometimes in denial, and might not be open to your advice. If someone isn’t willing to talk at all, remember that it’s not your fault. They might not feel ready to talk about it now, but you may have made them more likely to open up in the future.

How to help someone

You can suggest some of the self-help ideas on our ‘Tips for cutting down or stopping your drug use’ page. These include simple steps like keeping a diary of their drug use, and using mindfulness to distract from cravings.

If someone has built up a tolerance to their prescribed pain medication, you can get in touch with a prescriber or other medical professional at your local Change Grow Live service. Your patient will stay under your care, but we will be able to advise on the best prescribing plan for that person.

You can also refer someone to Change Grow Live if we have a service in your area. Our services provide a whole range of help and treatment options for people struggling with drugs, from peer support, to detox and rehab.

You can also recommend them the resources listed below.


Useful websites and apps

al anon website preview


Support groups for families and friends of people with an alcohol addiction.
Visit the site
aa website preview

Alcoholics Anonymous

Regular support groups all over the country for people with an addiction to alcohol.
Visit the site
breaking free online preview

Breaking Free Online

Free, online treatment and recovery program for anyone addicted to alcohol or drugs. Speak to any member of staff or volunteer at your local service to get access.
Visit the site
Download the app from
  • Download from the app store
  • Download from google play
aa 12 steps app screenshot in a phone

AA 12 Steps app

Companion app for AA’s 12 step programme.
Download the app from
  • Download from the app store
  • Download from google play
smart recovery website preview

SMART Recovery

Self-help recovery programmes that include help with alcohol and drug addiction.
Visit the site
drinks meter app screenshot

Drinks Meter app

Keep track of your drinking and get instant feedback and advice.
Download the app from
  • Download from the app store
  • Download from google play
sober grid app screenshot in a phone

Sober Grid app

Connect and chat anonymously with other people in recovery from around the world.
Download the app from
  • Download from the app store
  • Download from google play
happify app screenshot in a phone

Happify app

Activities and games to help reduce stress and improve your mental health.
Download the app from
  • Download from the app store
  • Download from google play
sam app screenshot in a phone

SAM app

Understand and manage your anxiety with self-help exercises.
Download the app from
  • Download from the app store
  • Download from google play
The apps above are produced and owned by third parties. We make no guarantees that the information within them is accurate or up to date. Please get professional healthcare advice before taking any action.