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My friend is popping pills


Dear Life Coach,

I am very concerned about my friend who is abusing over-the-counter drugs. He lost his girlfriend over six months ago. Initially, I thought he was doing okay,{{more}} but after a while I realized that something was wrong. More than once I caught him popping pills and when I tried to find out what he was taking, he did not give me a straight answer. Instead, he complained of being unable to sleep and being anxious. Recently he stopped going to work and has just been hanging out at home. To tell the truth, he does not look too well. I am concerned, but he keeps telling me that he is alright; but I know for a fact that he is not. I have known him all my life and I can tell that something is definitely off. How can I help him?

Worried Friend (WF)

Dear WF,

It is heartbreaking for you to see your best friend suffering with his loss and you feel you can do nothing to help him.

Your Situation:

Several factors appear to be at work here: grief and loss, substance abuse, insomnia, anxiety and possibly depression, among others. I will address each briefly.


Grief is a mental and emotional reaction to a significant loss (e.g. of a loved one). While grief is a normal and healthy response, it becomes unhealthy if it is prolonged and if it prevents the individual from functioning normally over time.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is the use of substances or drugs in amounts, or by methods that are not approved or supervised by a medical professional for more than one month, and which leads to impairment in functioning.


Insomnia is the inability to obtain a satisfactory amount of sleep. Insomnia may be caused by various factors, including sorrow, and may in turn result in or increase other conditions such as anxiety, lethargy and other emotional problems.


Depression is a condition in which an individual experiences, prolonged unhappiness which is accompanied by physical symptoms (such as increased or reduced appetite and increased or reduced sleep), emotional symptoms (such as feelings of guilt) and cognitive symptoms (such as demoralization, and self-degradation).

What to Do:

Let Grief Take its Course

Grieving is a normal process that results in emotional healing from a loss. It will take time for your friend to heal and adjust to his loss, so give him time and space to grieve in his own way. If after 18 months he has not begun to make the adjustments, then you may have some cause for concern.

Encourage Your Friend to Talk

It is clear that your friend is bottling his anguish and attempting to be strong on his own. When he is ready, encourage him to talk about his loss. Talking will help to relieve some of the emotional pressure that he is experiencing.

Gentle but Firm Confrontation

Tell your friend that you are aware of his non-prescription drug abuse and offer to assist and support him in seeking help. Let your friend know that he cannot deal with his grief alone and that you are there for him. Inform him that substance abuse can result in damage to his internal organs (e.g. kidneys) in the long run, as well as create other negative side effects.


Refer your friend to a medical doctor for an evaluation of his physical condition. Also refer your friend to a drug counsellor for assessment and management of his non-prescription drug addiction.

Encourage Your Friend to Grieve Appropriately

Help your friend to understand that grieving may be unhealthy (e.g. using pills to escape stress) or healthy (e.g. visiting his girlfriend’s grave site and talking to her, continuing something that she started, looking at her picture and remembering the good times, talking with you about her, or honouring her in some way and keeping her memory alive, etc).

Accountability Partner

Talk with your friend about becoming his accountability partner. That is, ask your friend to sign a written contract with you, including the following: 1. He will talk with you whenever he feels the urge to use non-prescription/prescription drugs to soothe his pain. 2. He will allow you to do random checks and remove all non-prescription/prescription drugs. 3. He will allow you to monitor the use of all prescription/non-prescription drugs until he has recovered fully.

Grief Group

Encourage your friend to join a grief group, where he will be able to share with individuals, as well as support and be supported by others with similar experiences.

Keep Him Active

Individuals who experience a significant loss may be susceptible to depression and, as such, have no interest in things that once were appealing to them. Seek to keep your friend as active as possible, so that he will be distracted from his loss and have less time to focus on self and wallow in his sorrows.

WF, a friend loves at all times and it is heartwarming to note your care and concern for you friend in his time of need. A loss is never easy and it is my prayer that your friend will be able to make a positive adjustment over time.

Life Coach