College Skills: How to Have a Drug Intervention

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My university was well-known for its drinking culture. While 60% of college students drink nationally, I’m confident that we were well above that. There were anti-alcohol posters everywhere along campus. I had several friends confess to an alcohol problem. However, for several of them, that wasn’t their only vice.

Prescription pills usually changed hands frequently without so much as a single warning poster.  My friends knew their drinking was a problem enough to go cold turkey, but they maintained that pill popping wasn’t even an issue.


While doctors commonly prescribe for ADD or ADHD, college students frequently use drugs like Adderall as tools to stay awake and study.  My university wasn’t even top tier, and I knew exactly where to go if I wanted to get strung out.  The pressure to succeed can really get to forward-thinking students. So much so, that they’re willing to take drugs to see results.  When conventional study habits don’t work, these students will resort to anything.

Prescription drugs are being used under the false belief that they are safer than other substances.  Stimulants like Adderall might seem harmless- they’re prescribed by a doctor, right?- but they have serious side effects.  These drugs are prescribed in specific doses for specific people, and consuming them outside of that scope is particularly dangerous.  Not just by itself, but prescription drug abusers are more likely to move on to “harder” substances, like heroin.

drug side effects

So, how do you handle it when your friend believes prescription drugs are no big deal?  How do you get your friends to drop the habit without coming across like an after-school special?

Make Sure You’re in a Safe Space

Okay, “safe space” definitely makes it sound like an after school special.  You don’t have to call it that.  You can call it a “neutral setting where your friend would commonly feel comfortable sharing personal issues.”  So don’t confront them in the middle of the food court or the library.  Try something more private.  One of your dorm rooms is alright, but it’d be better if it’s some sort of common area.

Also, make sure it’s during a safe time too.  Not right before their midterm!  That might be when they’re most likely to use stimulants, but their stress will make it counterproductive.

drug intervention

Don’t Accuse Them

It’s important that you avoid stigmatizing language.  Your friends know what the stereotypes for a drug addict are, and they don’t want to believe that you’d associate them with that.  Even when it’s blazingly obvious, people like to cling to denial.  You need to use “I messages” instead of more accusatory language.

For example, instead of saying, “You’ve been taking a lot of Adderall lately,” try something more focused on how you feel about the issue: “Hey, I’m worried about how much you’ve been using Adderall to study.”  The latter is letting your friend know that you’re concerned about them, but it doesn’t put them immediately on the defensive.

Know Your Stuff

Be well-versed in the risks that your friend is taking and the potential side effects.  You’ve already started on this one by reading this article!  Otherwise, this is how that conversation with go:

You: “Hey, I’m worried about how much you’ve been using Adderall to study.”

Them: “Um, why?”

You: “It’s dangerous.”

Them: “Um, why?”

You: …

See how that’s less than convincing?  Even though alcohol is legal, people are more aware that drinking excessively is a problem.  Your friend might not be aware of the dangers.  So, make sure that you’re educated.  Also, don’t just focus on how it will affect their physical health.  Relate it back to their academic performance, social life, and future.  If they think it might be worth the risk, they don’t fully understand the consequences.

drug stuff

Access the Situation

How did they react?  If it’s hostile, don’t take the bait.  They might retaliate by insulting you, but it’s only because they’re on the defensive.  Stress that you’re only looking out for them, but don’t overdo it.  You risk sounding patronizing.

On the other hand, if they seem open, then let them know that you’ll help them with whatever they need.  Recommend that they seek counseling.  It might seem like a drastic step, but even one or two sessions can aid recovery.  Counselors are trained to deal with drug abuse, and their expertise can help in ways that family and friends can’t.  Your university probably provides counseling at a reduced cost or even for free!

Realize that it might take a couple of these “interventions” before they start to respond.  At the end of the day, you can only look out for your friend.  You can’t control them.  Letting them know the real risk of prescription drugs can make you look like the nagging mom of the friend group, but if you’re in this situation, then your friend probably needs it.  Tons of college kids don’t know how to handle the sudden lack of parental oversight, and some peer policing might be exactly what they need.