Family members can play an important role in a person’s journey toward addiction recovery. Helping a family member overcome addiction may require patience, learning more about addiction, and seeking outside help as necessary from an addiction specialist.
Embarking on the road to recovery from addiction isn’t typically a journey that someone takes alone.
Family members, and other loved ones, can play an important role in a person’s decision to get help, stay in treatment, and to build an addiction-free life in recovery.
Still, it can be hard to know how best to help a loved one. To help with this, here are some tips and strategies for helping a loved one overcome addiction.
Learn more about how to help a loved one with addiction.
Recognize The Signs
One common question people have about addiction is when it’s become a problem and when it’s time to start looking for help. To start, it can be useful to know what drug addiction is.
Drug addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing condition in which a person experiences strong, uncontrollable urges to use drugs (including alcohol) despite negative consequences.
For instance, a person might be addicted if they:
- use drugs very frequently
- increase the amount and frequency of their substance use
- continue to use drugs even when it is causing harm
- think about drugs or alcohol most or all of the time
- take multiple drugs to counteract or enhance drug effects
- hide or lie about their drug use
- experience withdrawal symptoms (e.g. tremors, sweating, severe anxiety)
- have overdosed on drugs
Addiction doesn’t discriminate by age, gender, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. Often, addiction will be progressive, getting worse over time, and can become life-threatening.
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Talking To Your Loved One
If you believe a family member has a substance abuse problem, one of the most important things you can do to show your support is talk to them. Communicate with them — not angrily, but with compassion.
Tips for talking to a loved one:
- find a quiet, private place to talk
- talk to them when they’re sober
- highlight your concern for them
- be straightforward and honest
- ask them how they’re feeling
- give them space to talk freely
- offer to help them find treatment
What to avoid:
- getting upset
- lecturing them
- making threats
- talking to them when they’re time-crunched
- confronting them in public
- talking to them when you’re intoxicated yourself
- not allowing them space to talk
- talking over them
Starting The Conversation
Another challenge, of course, is simply starting the conversation.
Consider the following conversation starters: “I’m concerned about you. Can we talk?” or “You haven’t seemed like yourself lately. Do you want to tell me what’s been going on?”
Ask them if it’s a good time. If it’s not, ask them when would be a good time.
It’s important not to force or coerce a loved one into talking about their substance use. That can create tension, and may reduce the likelihood that they’ll be attentive and receptive.
It’s hard to support a person on their journey if you don’t have an informed idea of what they’re going through. Addiction is complex. It can be helpful to know what you’re up against.
Ways to educate yourself might include:
- reading books or scientific articles about addiction
- talking to an addiction treatment specialist
- attending a family addiction support group
- searching for credible information about addiction online
- finding an online discussion forum for families of addicted individuals
When it comes to supporting a loved one with an addiction, having knowledge about what you and your loved one are up against is power.
See more about substance abuse education to support your loved one’s recovery.
Seek Outside Help
Getting help for a loved one isn’t something you have to do alone. In fact, it may be most helpful to consult your family physician or an addiction treatment professional, such as a counselor.
Family support groups, and others who have similarly had their lives touched by addiction, can also be important sources of information and support.
For emotional support, consider talking to other family members or friends about the problem. Ask for help and guidance. There’s no need to carry the weight of this alone.
Be Realistic With Your Expectations
Overcoming drug or alcohol addiction doesn’t happen in a day, nor does it happen the moment a person decides to seek help or begins a rehab program.
Addiction recovery is a journey. It’s important to be realistic with your expectations and expect that there may be difficulty ahead.
For instance, they might deny they have a problem and refuse to seek help. Or, they may find treatment and then leave after detox, and relapse. These are all common—and they don’t spell out a hopeless cause.
Prepare for a long road ahead. Be ready to be there with them on that road. And be honest with them about where you’re at—as you’d like for them to be with you—each step of the way.
Treatment for addiction isn’t always voluntary. There are cases in which treatment can be mandated by court. But receiving treatment isn’t the same as overcoming an addiction.
Overcoming addiction must be something a person is able to do for themselves, freely. The best way for them to be able to do so is by voluntarily choosing to get help.
Don’t make threats. Offer your support. Encourage them to seek professional help, and to help them find available treatment services.
Consider A Family Intervention
If you’re having trouble getting through to your family member, consider planning an intervention with family, their close friends, or other loved ones.
There’s power in numbers. In addition, bringing others together can show your loved one that there are multiple people who care for them, are concerned, and want to help.
Look Into Treatment Options
When someone is in the throes of addiction, it can be difficult to imagine a way out, or to find the energy or motivation to look for available treatment options.
This might include:
- inpatient rehab
- residential rehab
- medication-assisted treatment
- outpatient rehab
- drug or alcohol counseling
This is where a family member, spouse, or friend can come in to help. Consider searching for treatment options, so you can present these to your loved one.
This way, talking to them openly and honestly about their substance use won’t just be identifying the problem. It will also be able to involve providing actionable steps forward.
How Do I Know When My Loved One Needs Help For Drug Or Alcohol Use?
Someone with a serious drug or alcohol problem may not always ask for help.
But if they’re drinking or using drugs more often, in higher quantities, or are experiencing negative consequences as a result of their substance use, this may be a sign they need help.
How Do I Get Help For Someone With A Drug Or Alcohol Addiction?
There are several options family members have for helping a family member find treatment for addiction.
For instance, you might begin with talking to a doctor, finding an addiction treatment specialist, or contacting a treatment center directly for more information.
See more about getting help for a loved one with a drug or alcohol addiction.
Find Addiction Treatment For A Loved One Today
Don’t wait to start looking into treatment options for someone you love who’s struggling with substance abuse.
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Written by the Addiction Resource Editorial Staff
This page does not provide medical advice. See moreArticle resources
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Resources for Families Coping with Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders
- U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) — Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help
- U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — Step by Step Guides to Finding Treatment for Drug Use Disorders
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