Loving an Addict or Alcoholic: How to Help Someone with Addiction


Published On: September 30, 2023

Watching a friend or family member struggle with addiction can be heart-breaking and make you feel powerless, frightened and alone.

It can be difficult to know the best way to help, but there are things you can do to both protect yourself and successfully encourage your loved one to seek professional addiction treatment.

What Are The Symptoms of Addiction that I Should Look Out For?

A group of people saying cheers with various drinks

If your friend or family member is struggling with an addiction, you may be able to spot the signs over time.

Common symptoms of addiction include:

  • Lying, stealing and being dishonest about substance use
  • Spending time with a new group of people who use drugs or alcohol
  • Getting into trouble at work or school
  • All activities revolving around drugs or alcohol
  • Spending a lot of time alone
  • Using drugs or alcohol at inappropriate or dangerous times
  • Possessing substance use paraphernalia
  • Frequent mood swings,
  • Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
  • Being unable to control or limit their substance use

Many people can hide the above signs at first, but over time it will become clear that they have a problem.

How Do I Speak to my Loved One About Their Addiction?

Two women talking
Support

Addressing the topic of addiction with a friend or family member can be difficult.

They may feel defensive, embarrassed, shocked or angry and may react in ways that can surprise you.

You may also feel a range of emotions around this topic, such as anger, guilt, worry, frustration and fear.

Although it can be difficult, it’s important to speak openly and honestly with your loved one about your concerns.

Do your best to remain calm and non-judgemental, as anger and blame are the quickest way to cause someone to shut down. [1]

Make sure you are listening to what they say instead of planning what you will say next, and don’t pressure them to give you a response straight away.

It is recommended that you hold this conversation in a private space away from other people but ensure your safety. If you feel uncomfortable or threatened at any time, remember that you should walk away.

How Do I Know if I’m Overreacting to the Problem?

man sat on sofa pouring a glass of wine

It’s easy to second-guess yourself when it comes to friends and family members’ substance use.

Many people normalise the use of drugs and alcohol, so you may believe that you are overreacting if you are concerned about their behaviour.

Addiction can cause many noticeable problems in someone’s physical and mental health, career, finances and relationships.

If you notice that your loved one seems to be spending all their money (or money they don’t have) on substances, this can be cause for concern.

If their relationships are becoming strained or they are struggling at work due to substance use, this is another reason to step in.

In these cases, you are likely not overreacting, despite what your loved one may say.

If you are still unsure, speak to your doctor for a professional viewpoint on the situation.

How to Hold an Intervention

Intervention

You don’t have to go through this alone.

Holding an intervention along with other friends and family members can be an effective way to persuade your loved one to seek professional help for their addiction.

We recommend using the services of a professional interventionist or experienced counsellor to run the intervention.

It can be a difficult and emotional event, so having a professional there to guide you through it and ensure that the intervention runs smoothly can be invaluable.

You should also choose the right time and place to hold the intervention. Avoid times when you know the affected person will be intoxicated, as this can prevent them from fully understanding what is happening.

Make sure you are prepared for the intervention – educate yourself about addiction, research treatment centres and come prepared with the facts.

Additionally, try to remain as calm as possible. This can be difficult during such an emotional event, but it will be more effective in the long term.

How Can I Support My Loved One in Their Recovery?

group of teens

Your role does not end just because your loved one has entered treatment and started their recovery.

There are many things that you can do to support and help them through this process, make them feel less alone and assist them practically.

  • Make sure they know that you are there for them and want to support them
  • Allow them to share their feelings and emotions in a safe and non-judgemental space
  • Visit them at rehab if they want to see you and if visitors are allowed
  • Learn as much as you can about addiction to give you a greater understanding
  • Remove all substance-related items from their home, such as bottles of alcohol or drug paraphernalia
  • Let them know how proud of them you are

Remember, feelings of loneliness and isolation are one of the main factors of addiction.

Being supportive and proactive can go a long way in reducing these feelings and helping your loved one to achieve long-term recovery.

What Should I Do If My Loved One Refuses To Seek Help For Their Addiction?

alcoholic spouse

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your loved one may be in denial that they have a problem and refuse to seek help for their addiction.

This can be extremely painful to those that care about them, and you may feel completely powerless.

However, there are some steps that you can take if you find yourself in this situation.

  • Set healthy boundaries to protect yourself, which can help you to feel a greater sense of control and stability in your own life.
  • Educate yourself about addiction and their specific type of addiction as much as possible, as this can help you to better understand the situation.
  • If you set consequences, stick to them and follow through. This may include, ‘If you continue to use drugs, you will not be allowed to care for our children.’
  • Make sure that you are not enabling your loved one – you can learn more about enabling further in this article.
  • Offer your support, but not at the expense of your physical, mental, emotional or financial health
  • Get counselling for yourself, as this can help you to process your feelings in a healthy way

Even if your loved one is currently refusing to seek help, this may not always be the case.

If they know that you will be there to support them once they are ready to seek help, they may feel more comfortable doing so.

How Addiction Can Affect Family And Friends

pain

When someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, the effects can radiate throughout their entire family and friend circle.

Below are just some of the ways that addiction can affect family and friends.

1. Addiction can cause conflict within a household

Arguments raised voices, and slamming doors become the norm, and each member of the family may feel as though they are constantly walking on eggshells waiting for the next argument to begin.

2. Addiction can cause trust issues

A secretive and isolating disease, addiction can cause sufferers to be dishonest with friends and family members. They may even steal from their loved ones to fund their substance use, and this can lead to trust issues. [2]

3. Addiction can take an emotional toll

Many friends and family members of people with addictions report feeling anxious and depressed due to the stress and sadness of the situation, particularly when they feel helpless to make a change.

4. Addiction can lead to physical, mental and emotional abuse

While not everyone suffering from an addiction will become violent or abusive, a large number of friends and family members will experience some form of abuse at their hands.

5. Addiction can take a toll on children

Having a loved one with an addiction is hard for anyone, but it can take a particular toll on children who may not fully understand what is happening. They may become anxious, and withdrawn, struggle to focus on schoolwork and even avoid spending time with their friends. [3]

Am I Enabling My Loved One With Their Addiction?

Two people holding hands across a table

If you are enabling someone with their addiction, you are taking actions that make it possible for them to continue their substance use. [4]

This may seem confusing, as you likely want them to stop using drugs or alcohol and seek professional help. But are your actions contributing to the problem?

When you engage in the following behaviours, you may believe that you are helping your loved one. However, you are feeding the addiction.

Signs that you are enabling your loved one with their addiction include:

  • Calling in sick to work for them if they are unable to attend due to substance use
  • Giving them money, even when you know they may spend it on drugs or alcohol
  • Allowing them to continue living with you despite their substance use
  • Lying to others on their behalf
  • Making excuses for their behaviour
  • Covering up any damage or other consequences of their substance use
  • Downplaying their behaviour and normalising the issue

Enabling someone with an addiction does not mean that you are a bad person. It is a natural response to want to help the ones you love, but it’s important to do it in a way that helps them long-term.

This may involve taking actions that feel difficult at the moment, such as cutting them off financially or allowing them to face the consequences of their actions.

Is It Better To Take Action Early, Or Should I Wait For The Problem To Get Worse?

Two people talking

There is a common misconception that the best way to help someone with an addiction is to wait for them to hit ‘rock bottom‘ before stepping in.

Early intervention is one of the most effective ways to break the cycle of addiction and begin a successful recovery journey.

Taking action as soon as you notice the first signs of addiction can prevent the problem from becoming worse over time.

The body can quickly build up a tolerance to a substance such as alcohol, requiring more of it to get the same effects. This means that withdrawal is more difficult and even dangerous, and the chances of overdosing increase each day.

It can also be harder to break free from the psychological hold of addiction if the behaviour continues over a long period.

In short, stepping in and taking action early can help your loved one to recover more effectively, and it may even save their life.

How Can I Help Someone With Addiction If I Am Also Struggling With Addiction?

Two men talking at a table

If you want to help a friend or family member while also struggling with addiction yourself, the best thing you can do is to seek help for yourself.

This may be in the form of counselling, a stay at rehab, a supervised home detox or support from a local drug and alcohol group.

You can’t help your friend or family member until you help yourself.

Attempting to help another person may push you further into your addiction due to the emotional toll that it can take on you.

Once you have experienced the benefits of professional addiction treatment for yourself, you will be better placed to recommend it to others.

It’s important to remember that once you are in recovery from your addiction, engaging with your affected friend or family member may become a trigger for you that could cause you to relapse.

You may need to accept that you are not the best person to help them and instead refer them to a doctor or rehab clinic.

How Can I Help a Teenager With Addiction?

Teen 2

Many teenagers experiment with drugs or alcohol as they make the transition between childhood and adulthood, but they may not be aware that they are putting themselves at risk of developing an addiction.

As a parent, guardian, sibling or friend, it can be devastating to watch a teenager become trapped in the cycle of addiction.

Thankfully, there are some things that you can do to help.

One of the most effective things you can do is speak with them about the addiction. Try your best to remain calm and respond with love, as they may be defensive or dishonest about their substance use.

Becoming angry or judgemental may push your teenager away and deeper into their addiction.

Additionally, you should involve a professional as soon as you notice the problem. This may be a counsellor, doctor or a treatment programme at a rehab clinic.

Finally, make sure to get support for yourself. Speak to a trusted friend or family member, or attend counselling sessions with a therapist who specialises in this area.

Call us on 0800 111 4108 for more help and information.

References

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3725219/

[2] https://shura.shu.ac.uk/18890/1/FinalReport_0149.pdf

[3] https://www.samhsa.gov/families

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6419765/

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