If you have friends or family members who are depressed, you may have noticed that they try to feel better by self-medicating, using alcohol, prescription drugs or illegal narcotics to relieve the feelings of helplessness that depression triggers.

Self-medicating can exacerbate depression and increase the risk of substance abuse or addiction. Alcohol also increases the risk of someone engaging in dangerous behaviors, and it may cause complications with, or reduce the effectiveness of, prescription medications. 

It's difficult to watch someone you care about hurting. Here are a few tips to help you cope when a loved one is self-medicating.

Be supportive. Don't judge or pressure the person. Encourage him or her to seek professional help for depression or other mental health disorders. If your loved one rejects your help, experts suggest you continue to provide consistent support while discussing your feelings with the person. Focus on the depression and discuss how treatment can help. Enlist the support of your family physician or other health professional if possible.

Seek therapy. If the person self-medicating is a family member, consider family therapy. Therapy may improve troubled relationships, and you will learn about depression and how best to help.

Take care of yourself. You cannot force someone to seek help against his or her will; you can only control how you respond to the person in need. Create a support system for yourself. If appropriate, contact Al-Anon, Alcoholics Anonymous, or your community mental health center to access their support services. When you're dealing with a child who is self-medicating, or you fear the person may harm himself or others, you may need to take bold steps to secure treatment.

Hold an intervention. An intervention is a carefully planned process in which family members, friends, spiritual advisors, or others join a trained professional to confront someone regarding the consequences of their addiction or other mental health problem and to ask them to accept treatment. When self-medicating behavior becomes serious, an intervention may be appropriate. 

If you are the parent of a teen and you suspect your child is depressed or possibly self-medicating, you need to take aggressive action and seek help from a mental professional. When teens self-medicate, it can make depression worse and cause serious mental illness. Pay close attention to your teen's behavior and recognize the signs of drug use and dependence: carelessness with grooming, change in behaviors or friends, loss of interest in daily activities and withdrawal.