How to Help a Loved One

Helping Love Ones With Their Addictions

Addiction is a progressive and compulsive disorder that can lead to drug use, engagement in other behaviors, and the process of self-soothing, or avoidance of consequences. It’s often challenging to help a loved one struggling with addiction as it causes uncomfortable feelings and tension. Addiction has lasting effects on the body, mind, and relationships. It’s essential to recognize the symptoms of addiction and to take steps to help a loved one in recovery.

Examples of addictions that may warrant intervention or help by a loving family member or friend include:
• Drug or alcohol dependence
• Smoking
• Compulsive gambling
• Eating disorders
• Sexual compulsions
• Obsessive-compulsive behaviors

How Addiction Affects Loved Ones

Addiction affects the family members and loved ones of those struggling with addiction. It’s not easy to reach out for help or to know when enough is enough. There is not usually one indicator to tell if someone is addicted. Users may be in crisis, and they may have signs that take a while to notice. It’s common for loved ones not to see the current challenges and limitations of a loved one’s life. However, it’s essential to recognize the warning signs of addiction, such as:
• Erratic work schedule
• Increased use of mood-altering substances
• Significant weight loss or weight gain
• Denial about the problem or refusal to talk about the problem
• Unexplained physical ailments, such as ulcers
• Neglect in personal grooming and health
• Extreme mood swings, especially between depression and euphoric highs
• Secretive behavior
• Personality changes
• Paranoia

How to Help Someone With a Drug Addiction

It can be challenging for family members and friends who want to learn how to help a loved one struggling with drug addiction. However, family members and friends can help a loved one recover from a drug addiction.

Educate Yourself About Addiction

It’s essential to educate yourself about addiction so that you can spot the symptoms of addiction. Becoming familiar with the signs and symptoms of drug addiction can help you recognize the warning signs in a loved one.

Offer Your Support

Offer support to your loved ones by asking how they are feeling. Be supportive and receptive to their feelings and needs. Be open to listening and suggesting problem-solving solutions through family meetings, counseling, or other support methods. Create an environment where you can express any concerns or fears regarding addiction while encouraging family meetings and other treatment methods.

Encourage the Person to Get Help

When people are addicted to a substance, sometimes it’s difficult for them to ask for help. They might think they will lose their relationship with you if they ask for help. It’s difficult for loved ones with addictions to look objectively at their diseases because self-reflecting is often painful, and they might not be able to make sense of their behaviors at the moment. In addition, they may not believe they have addiction problems. However, there are ways to help a loved one with addiction by helping that person see that there’s an issue.

Try to Understand the Pain

It’s essential to understand why those with an addiction are using. Understand that the pain they’re trying to medicate is often deep and exposes them at their core. Many people with addictions have felt powerless their whole lives. For example, they may have experienced one or more struggles with insecurities, such as poverty, abuse, mental illness, or destructive relationships. Addiction is a way of medicating those insecurities.

Support Recovery as an Ongoing Process

Recovery is an ongoing process. Recovery is not a one-time event, and it’s not a cure. Recovery allows people struggling with addiction to work on their mental, emotional, and physical health throughout their lives. Whereas a cure is the end of something, recovery includes a lifelong commitment to building better skills for dealing with life.

Take Care of Yourself

Taking care of yourself is crucial during the recovery process. It can be hard to recognize your feelings about the situation when a loved one is in recovery. Feeling good about yourself and getting support for your feelings can be challenging. Getting support for your feelings is essential, such as getting counseling when needed. In addition, it’s essential to have activities that you enjoy and that are priorities to you outside of helping someone else.

What to Avoid When Helping a Loved One With Addiction

Don’t Shame or Criticize

Sometimes family members are tempted to shame those struggling with an addiction or to criticize the afflicted individuals when they have made a mistake. Family members should try to understand that the person struggling with addiction is going through an emotional and physical crisis. Often, their loved one’s appearance, behavior, and appearance may seem desperate or embarrassing due to the illness. But don’t judge users by these actions or imagine that they are somehow less important or loved because of their actions.

Don’t Expect Immediate Change

Addiction is a chronic brain disease, and the symptoms of that disease can be mistaken for bad behavior. It can be challenging to understand why a loved one struggles with addiction if you don’t understand that addiction is a disorder. It’s up to those struggling with addiction to decide when and how they want to address their problem. It’s also important not to judge them by your expectations or preconceived notions of what recovery looks like.

Don’t Enable Your Loved One

Sometimes family members enable users’ addictions by providing excuses for their behaviors. It’s important to recognize and understand that addiction is a disease; as such, those struggling with it need professional treatment. Don’t enable their addiction through excuses or inappropriate behavior, such as providing them with money, shelter, or other things they need to maintain their habit. It only helps users continue their habit.

Don’t Give in to Manipulation

Don’t give in to manipulation by those struggling with addiction. You should not allow them to manipulate you or use guilt trips to get you to do what they want. It will make the addiction recovery process more difficult for both of you. When they try to manipulate you, talk with them about how they can ask rather than demand things from you in the future.

Don’t Violate Their Privacy

Make sure you respect your loved one’s privacy. Sometimes family members are so concerned about helping loved ones that they don’t know how to avoid interfering with their privacy. If you’re worried a loved one is engaged in dangerous activities, have an intervention, and be honest about your concerns.

Challenges of Supporting a Person With Addiction

Not Having Healthy Boundaries

Family members are often caught off guard by a loved one suffering from addiction and feel they must help, even when the person seems to think and act irrationally. In addition, you may feel like you have to bail your loved one out of jail even if that person has done something wrong. When family members don’t set limitations, boundary violations can be more challenging to deal with later.


Stress from living with someone who is struggling with addiction can be detrimental to your emotional health. This stress can make it challenging to keep yourself healthy and safe in the household. In addition, family members may start feeling resentful or angry with the person struggling with addiction out of frustration because of the difficulty of the situation.

Neglecting Your Own Needs

Family members are often caught off guard by the demands of caring for someone struggling with addiction. It can make you feel like you don’t have enough time to do what is most important to you in your life. It can also make it more challenging to take care of yourself while simultaneously dealing with the stress of a loved one’s addiction recovery process.

Ignoring Abuse or Neglect

Family members may endure abuse or neglect when caring for someone struggling with addiction. They might feel like they need to ignore the behaviors that get in the way of their goal of helping their loved one get better. It can be challenging to deal with and may require professional counseling.

Relationship Conflict

As a family member of someone who struggles with addiction, you may find that your relationship already had some internal tension built up. You may also find that the recovery process has further strained the relationship. This can be a demanding experience because it can be challenging to understand why conflicts exist when trying to help your loved one recover.

Social Isolation

If you’ve been helping your loved one deal with an addiction, you may feel isolated from the rest of your family and friends. The addiction issue can make it more difficult for you to have a support system in your life. Reaching out to other people struggling with the same situation or going through something similar is essential. Support from others who understand can help manage your stress levels. They can also help guide you.

Treatment Options for Loved Ones With Addiction

Some family members may be hesitant to seek help for a loved one with an addiction. Not all people suffering from addiction need help with their recovery processes in the same way. You can reach out to a treatment specialist or find another way to help your loved one recover. Some of the treatment options that a loved one can try include:


If you are supporting someone with an addiction, you can provide that person with a better recovery experience by learning about all the treatment options available. One treatment option is to help loved ones detox or remove the substance from their body before treating them for addiction.

Inpatient or Residential Treatment

Another treatment option is an inpatient or residential facility. Having your loved one stay at one of these facilities may be beneficial. You can have treatment professionals help you through the process of setting up a suite or living quarters for your loved one to stay in during the addiction treatment program.

Pharmaceutical Treatments

There are other ways to treat addiction and dependency that can be more effective than the 12-step programs. Some of these treatments include medications that deplete the levels of a substance entirely from the body. Some pharmaceuticals are designed to change the brain chemistry of those with an addiction, which can help them with drug cravings.

Peer Support Programs

Peer support programs can be helpful as they allow family members to share experiences and information about addiction recovery and treatment. One option is joining a Nar-Anon meeting, which can be helpful to family members of people with addiction.

Outpatient Treatment

It can be helpful for loved ones as it allows them to stay connected to the addiction recovery process and support their loved ones. It can be a good choice for those who have other essential responsibilities and life commitments that may prevent them from receiving, or needing, inpatient care.

Support Groups

There are many support groups for family members and friends of someone struggling with addiction. Some of these groups can provide members with more information about living with people who have an addiction. Family members can benefit from having a place to vent their emotions and can learn more about how best to help their loved ones when they are recovering from addiction.

Aftercare or Continuing Care

Aftercare is a way to ensure that your loved one continues to receive care after completing an addiction treatment program. It’s vital for your loved one not just to complete the addiction recovery process but to continue receiving the support and resources needed to live a life without drugs or alcohol.

What to Expect When a Loved One Receives Addiction Treatment

Positive Changes in a Loved One’s Behavior

Family members should expect positive changes in their loved ones due to addiction recovery. This can include changes in their appearances and behaviors. For example, family members may see an improvement in the behavior of their loved one or find out that their loved one has stayed clean for an extended period.

Changes in Self-Esteem

When a loved one’s self-esteem increases, family members should notice improvements. The early stages of recovery can be difficult for family as they may see their loved ones struggle with addiction. However, the positive changes in those recovering can help families cope and feel better about the situation.

An intervention is an effective way of how to help a loved one recover from addiction through obtaining treatment. A successful intervention should not threaten the well-being of those who have substance use disorders. It should, instead, let them know they are being supported and encouraged by others trying to help.

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Reviewed By:

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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