How to Help a Loved One With Addiction

Do you love someone who is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol? If so, you know just how devastating the disease can be not only to your loved one but to all their close family members and friends.

Addiction is commonly called a “family disease” because of the way that substance abuse ravages the entire family system, changes the normal dynamics of the family members, and causes excessive and prolonged worry, strain, and anxiety in those who are concerned about and want to help the addicted person. If you have a family member or close friend who is abusing substances, you are not alone.

Resources for Helping Family & Friends With Addiction

Use the following resource guides to discover actionable steps you can take to help a loved one with addiction.

Watch our full series on “How to Talk to a Family Member with an Addiction.”

How Do I Know if a Family Member Is Struggling With Addiction?

Friends hugging

Knowing that your father, sister, child, or other family member has developed an addiction can be difficult because your family member may have gotten very good at lying to others and even themselves.

If you ask your mother about her drinking, for example, she might minimize the amount and the frequency of use in a very convincing way. She may also hide the evidence to make her behaviors more challenging to uncover.

Several potential signs could point to a family member using drugs or alcohol, such as:1,2,3

  • Unexplained weight loss or gain.
  • Decline in dental health.
  • Eyes that appear red or glassy, extreme pupil size changes.
  • Neglect of appearance/personal hygiene.
  • Short-tempered/quick to anger.
  • Sadness and depression.
  • Seeing or hearing things that are not there.
  • Expressing strange or odd thoughts.
  • Appearing more anxious than usual.
  • Increased isolation.
  • Changes in social groups.
  • Changes in energy and sleeping patterns.
  • Lying or appearing secretive.
  • Failing to pay bills.
  • Criminal involvement.

The above signs may be warning signs but do not necessarily indicate addiction or mean that you need to immediately help your family member get into rehab. The following are some of the diagnostic criteria professionals use to assess whether a person suffers from a substance use disorder, the clinical term for a drug or alcohol addiction:1

  • Using more of the drug than they intended or for longer than they intended to.
  • Spending a big portion of time in getting, using, or recovering from their drug of choice.
  • Trying to quit or cut back but failing in those attempts.
  • Failing to keep up with their work, schoolwork, or responsibilities at home due to prioritizing drug use.
  • Struggling to maintain happy relationships because of their drug use.
  • Using the drug even when they expect it to impact their health, finances, and legal status.
  • Feeling a strong desire for the substance when none is around.
  • Increasing the dose to achieve the same effects (i.e., tolerance).
  • Feeling ill or unwell without the drug in their system (i.e., withdrawal).

If your family member is displaying some of these signs, their substance abuse may be progressing, or has progressed, from casual use to compulsive use that they may no longer be able to control.1 If this is the case, continue reading to learn how to help a family member with addiction.

Difference Between Helping & Enabling a Loved One’s Addiction

Enabling actions are those that help your family member avoid natural consequences and continue down a destructive path of substance use. If your action helps only in the short-term, it might be enabling. For example, if you pay this month’s rent and your child keeps spending his money on drugs, you may be enabling.4 Helping actions are those that may lead to positive change in the long term (but may make your loved one upset in the short term), such as initiating a conversation about treatment or setting clear personal boundaries.

Differentiating between enabling and helping a loved one with addiction is complex because the intention behind both is usually good.

Examples of enabling behaviors include:5

  • Lending money over and over, paying legal fees, or otherwise protecting them from the repercussions of their actions.
  • Making excuses for or lying for them.
  • Ignoring their drug use/denying there’s a problem.
  • Avoiding problems or conflict and keeping your feelings inside.
  • Allowing them to use in front of you/in your home (e.g., so you can make sure they’re safe). 

To fight back against the urge to enable:

  • Acknowledge that you are not responsible for their drug use or for their recovery.
  • Communicating your expectations clearly and concisely.
  • Establish and enforce clear boundaries and follow through on consequences for violating them.
  • Offering plenty of love and support for healthy, sober choices.
  • Allowing your family member to endure the uncomfortable consequences of their drug use.
  • Encouraging professional treatment on a regular basis.

Caring for Yourself Through a Loved One’s Addiction

Having a family member who is using drugs or alcohol can be tremendously taxing on your well-being. Over time, your mental health and physical health may suffer under the weight of your family member’s addiction.

There are many ways to practice self-care; these include methods to take care of your physical health and your mental health:6,7,8

  • Practice good sleep hygiene. Getting enough sleep is essential to feeling good, and exhaustion can lead you to become angry more quickly and make poor decisions.
  • Focus on eating nutritious meals. Eating poor quality foods or skipping meals may only make you feel worse and can contribute to low energy.
  • Move your body. Prioritizing physical activity may seem silly when a loved one is struggling with addiction, but exercise is one of the best ways to improve your mood and relieve stress.
  • Prioritize relaxation. Watching someone you love suffer is extremely stressful, so trying relaxation techniques will be key to staying healthy mentally and emotionally. Relaxation involves more than coming home and popping on the TV. Try deep breathing, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, or yoga.
  • Do things you like. Constantly thinking about addiction will wear you down. Give yourself permission to be distracted by going for a walk, turning on music, taking a long bath, or participating in any other activity you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Navigating a close relationship with an addicted family member is intensely isolating for many. Make time to connect with friends and other loved ones who can support you and with whom you can share your feelings.
  • Try therapy. Going to therapy yourself and/or participating in family therapy with your loved one can go a long way toward healing the wounds created by addiction in the family.
  • Get support. Try finding and taking part in a support group for family members like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon.

Find Addiction Treatment for a Family Member

Addiction comes with the baggage of shame and isolation, so an angry confrontation that places blame on your loved one may only push him further away. Instead, try coming from a place of love, support, and understanding when talking to them. It may take many talks for your family member to finally accept that they need help, but keep trying. Along the way, look into treatment options, so you will be prepared with programs they can enter quickly when they finally express interest in treatment.

Choosing the Right Drug & Alcohol Rehab for a Family Member

Each treatment center will provide a unique set of services. Look for ones that offer:9

  • Expert staff with the right training and many years of experience.
  • Accreditation from the Joint Commission or the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.
  • Proven treatment approaches (evidence-based therapies).
  • Individualized care to target the exact needs of your loved one.
  • Aftercare programming or diligent aftercare planning to help prevent relapse once treatment ends.

There are many types of addiction treatment. To avoid becoming overwhelmed with your options, you can follow the recommendation of a trusted treatment professional. They may suggest:10

  • Inpatient/ residential treatment – Options that offer 24-hour care in a controlled environment for severe addictions and/or co-occurring disorders.
  • Outpatient care – Options that allow the person to live at home while attending scheduled treatment sessions.
  • Group therapy – Sessions with other people in recovery that allow for collective learning and sharing and a safe environment to practice new skills.
  • Detoxification – A monitored program for the safe withdrawal from drugs and/or alcohol.
  • Medications – Medication may be used at all stages of treatment to treat withdrawal symptoms, alleviate cravings, manage underlying psychological disorders, and prevent relapse.

At our rehab facility near Dallas, Texas, we offer a full spectrum of care. Many people begin with a more structured and intensive level of care like inpatient or residential rehabilitation before stepping down to various outpatient treatment settings. Completing several different levels of treatment can help you continue receiving professional support while gaining increased freedom and real-world chances to practice newfound coping skills.

New Resource: Family Support Team

At Greenhouse, program graduates gain access to the American Addiction Centers recovery app. Recently we added a new digital feature that allows family members of current patients and alumni to join our community and get added resources.

Our new Family Support Team gives family members the option to:

  • Post content and engage with other families.
  • Track milestones during their loved one’s recovery.
  • Record positive reflections in a gratitude journal.
  • Read and view inspirational content, including videos and podcasts.

Note: Our family track is separate from our alumni track, so family members and alumni can be open and honest in our support channels while continuing to maintain their privacy.

The Role of Family Therapy in Addiction Treatment

Family therapy refers to any form of treatment that involves you, your addicted family member, and potentially other family members in a session with the therapist.9

Family-based treatments can occur in the home or treatment center. They seek to improve communication and problem-solving skills in the family unit. Dysfunction within the family that is not addressed may lead to relapse in the recovering family member and continued stress and anxiety in the rest of the family.

Seeing your parent, sibling, child, or spouse struggle with addiction can be immensely difficult and confusing. If you find yourself being negatively influenced by the addiction of someone in your family, reach out to us for more information about starting the treatment process. The path to recovery can start today.

If you need to speak with someone right away, we’re here whenever you’re ready. Admissions Navigators at our Dallas rehab facility are available at  at any time to speak with you confidentially about the best ways to get help for your loved one.

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