How to ‘interview’ a relative about drug use

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on October 14th, 2009 - Last updated: November 21st, 2023
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I wondered if you might answer a couple questions for me. I think that a close family member of mine may have a problem with cocaine. I know that she uses the drug on social occasions….I think it may be more than social. My question is….aside from the obvious signs of cocaine use…dilated pupils…runny nose etc. etc. etc. are there any other signs that I could look for. She has a lot of skin problems recently…on her hands and face. Could that have anything to do with cocaine use?

Any help would be much appreciated.

Thank you


Dear Raquel:

I don’t look for signs of cocaine USE — I look for signs of life dislocation.

There is also always the possibility of “interviewing” your relative about her drug use. Consider the following:

What’s your relationship like with her? Is there trust? Does she believe that you understand them, or at least can listen to her, and that you have her best interests at heart? If not, it will be hard for you to interact with her in a helpful way. If this is the case, in order to help them with a drug problem, first establish a trusting and helpful relationship.

To accomplish this, avoid all accusations and statements of distrust. Ask questions (avoid statements about her life). Rather than asking about drug use, ask about her life. Ask questions honestly, but non-accusingly. Ask about the things likely to mean something to her:

NOT “Are you taking a lot of drugs?” or “What are you and your friends up to?”

BUT “What is your biggest worry right now?” “Do you have close friends?” “How do you feel about your career prospects?” “What’s the thing you like best in your life?”

You can talk about you own concerns in life — this is what is meant by a relationship. You can make statements like, “I want to be part of your life.” If you can’t make this statement honestly, then she may well ask, “What’s your concern in speaking to me — to prove yourself right?” This is the key issue in what people call “denial” — when the object of your concern sees you as pursuing your own agenda.

Best, S

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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