Helping a Family Member or Friend with Drug Addiction

If you have a loved one struggling with drug addiction, you’re probably feeling a range of emotions: heartbreak, fear, worry, anger, or despair. But no matter how overwhelming it feels, you can still help. Addiction is a complex disease that won’t resolve on its own and can’t be fixed with easy solutions—understanding it from an outsider’s perspective is even more challenging. But with a solid foundation in compassion, you can be a valuable asset in your loved one’s recovery.

Benefits of early recognition

Some substance abusers are adept at hiding their drug use, so the first step in helping your loved one is recognizing the problem. Aside from frequency and quantity of consumption, signs of addiction include an inability to quit or cut down, negative effects on work/home/school responsibilities and relationships, and an unwillingness to discuss the problem.

But unlike portrayals of addiction in movies and books, addicts don’t need to “hit bottom” before they can be helped. Research shows that early identification leads to more effective recovery efforts, and treatment in the early stages of substance abuse is less intense and disruptive to your loved one’s life.

Starting a dialogue

Many people worry that discussing a substance abuse problem with a loved one will make the situation worse, causing a volatile reaction, increased drug use, or isolation. But not saying anything can lead to severe consequences, so at the very least, you can carve out ample time to talk in a quiet, welcoming space and list your concerned observations without blame or argument.

But while starting a dialogue and making your loved one aware of your concerns is important, you can’t move onto the next step in helping until your loved one admits that a problem exists. This has to come from within, so until that point, experts recommend repeating a consistent, positive message such as, “We care about you and want you to get help.”

Encouraging personalized treatment

Substance abuse treatment is not limited to detox or long-term rehab facilities. While those are viable options for severe chemical dependency or addictive disorders, some treatments can involve as little as a brief intervention with the primary goals of sustained reduction in drug use and increased social function.

All treatments start with a screening process, performed by a medical professional, clinical social worker, or licensed substance abuse counselor to assess the severity of the problem. From there, your loved one might be referred to a support group, a treatment facility, or something in between, but it’s important to remember that help for substance abuse is not one-size-fits-all and it might take several attempts to find the right approach.

The right—and wrong—kind of support

No matter how compassionate your intentions, it’s important to understand that not all support is supportive. At all stages of dialogue and treatment, avoid preaching, moralizing, or using emotional appeals. And even if you think it’s helpful, don’t assume responsibilities that protect your loved one from consequences or make excuses for their behavior to others. 

You might be dealing with your own feelings of guilt and responsibility, but don’t let that distract from your commitment to help. Keep your ears and arms open and never stop repeating how much you care.

We can help

If someone you love is struggling with drug addiction and you need additional support, we are here for you. At Alvarado Parkway Institute in San Diego, we provide chemical dependency help and intervention for substance abuse through treatment and recovery programs designed to support those suffering from addiction. In addition, we offer family support groups and education programs, and we promote family involvement in patient care. At Alvarado Parkway, our patients and their families know they don’t have to face this alone. We’re in it together. 

For more information about our programs and services, please reach out via the contact form on our website. Or call our 24-hour referral and crisis line at 619-667-6125.