Family Addiction – How You Can Help


Often, the lack of accountability is what allows a person’s addictions to continue unimpeded. If those closest to a chronic substance abuser don’t step up and say something, then he or she may only seek treatment after disaster strikes in the form of a legal, medical, personal or financial catastrophe. Your care and concern may be the only thing stronger than your loved one’s addiction. But broaching the topic of family addiction is uncomfortable and easily botched.

Family Addiction: 10 Ways You Can Help a Loved One

There are nearly 22 million Americans addicted to illicit drugs or alcohol, [1] and nearly 50 percent of people in the nation know a person who is addicted to prescription painkillers [2]. Whether it’s a friend, family member or coworker, it’s likely that you will be in contact with at least one person struggling with addiction at some point in your life, if it hasn’t already happened.

When these situations arise, it’s crucial that you take the appropriate actions to get your loved one or colleague the help he or she needs. You’ve noticed that there’s a problem, now it’s time to help. The last thing you want to do is turn a blind-eye to someone you care about. Here is a step-by-step guide of what to do when you determine that someone close to you may have a substance abuse problem.

  1. 1. http://www.samhsa.gov/newsroom/press-announcements/201509170900
  2. 2. https://www.ncadd.org/blogs/in-the-news/44-of-americans-know-someone-who-has-been-addicted-to-prescription-painkillers

1. Continue to Observe Carefully

There is no acceptable level of illegal drug use. The first time you see a loved one using an illicit drug like heroin, cocaine or crystal meth is one time too many. However, when it comes to alcohol, it can be difficult to determine when use has crossed the line into abuse. Everyone has a different tolerance level, and everyone has a different level for what’s acceptable drinking and what’s not based on personal standards. How does one know when it has gone too far?

For example, people may be more inclined to binge drink at a party than they would be in everyday life. A person who is passed out drunk after a wedding may not have a diagnosable substance use disorder (SUD).

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction [1]

  1. 1. https://www.ncadd.org/about-addiction/signs-and-symptoms/signs-and-symptoms
  • Temporary blackouts or memory loss
  • Unexplainable mood swings
  • Recurrent arguments and/or fights with friends and family members
  • Continuing use of alcohol to relax, cheer up and feel normal
  • Headaches, nausea, anxiety and other unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop
  • Need to drink more and more to feel the effects
  • Drinking alone, in the mornings or in secret
  • Continued use despite negative consequences (such as a job loss)
  • Neglect of hygiene and physical appearance

Depending on how close you are to this person and how much time you spend around him or her, you can observe their substance abuse habits more closely. Is he drinking daily? Have there been any noticeable health problems? Is work performance declining? Have you caught him drinking in secret?

2. Learn as Much as You Can

Photo of woman listening intently to a man speakingAs the saying goes, knowledge is power. Just because you suspect something is amiss doesn’t mean that there actually is. The first step you should take when determining what to do about your loved one’s substance abuse problem is to do your research. Learn about the signs and symptoms of abuse for all of the different drugs out there to figure out which substances (if you don’t already know) could be at play.

This will help you confirm your suspicions, ascertain the severity of the problem and perhaps notice any patterns in drug or alcohol abuse. Being informed will also allow you to better educate your friend or family member on the damage their family addiction is causing.

3. Speak Up and Raise Your Concerns

Photo of a couple discussing family addiction at the kitchen tableThings start to get a little more difficult during this step, as problematic substance abuse is never easy to broach. The best thing you can do is show that your concern is based on the fact you care for that person. Refrain from being judgmental, insulting or condescending. In many cases, the person abusing drugs or alcohol may not realize how his or her usage has gotten out of control and the impact it is having.

Some Tips for the Discussion

  • Be sure that your loved one is sober when you bring up the subject
  • Use open-ended questions to create a two-way dialogue and allow the addicted individual to express him or herself thoroughly
  • List the behaviors you’ve observed
  • Don’t expect immediate action

Depending on how long the substance abuse has gone on, your friend or family member may even take this opportunity to correct the problem. Your goal should not be to convince your loved one that he or she has a problem, but rather to let the person know that you think there is a problem.

4. Don’t be an Enabler

Discussing drug and/or alcohol abuse with your loved one may cause him or her to become defensive and lash out in anger. This reaction often leads friends and family members to do whatever they can to remain in the good graces of the substance abuser. While it may seem that you’re just being compassionate to your loved one, this can quickly become enabling and codependent behavior that feeds a family addiction.

Photo of couple hand-cuffed together

Codependent Behaviors

  • Making excuses for substance abuser’s actions
  • Providing transportation or funding for user to get drugs or alcohol
  • Putting the needs of the substance abuser before your own

Once you’ve made it known that you disapprove of your friend’s or family member’s substance abuse, you must remain firm, even if it means you will raise his or her ire.

Codependency is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as ‘relationship addiction’ because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive.[ 1] Most often, codependency is associated with romantic relationships, but it can occur in parent/child relationships as well as many other types of bonds.

  1. 1. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/co-dependency

5. Speak to Other Friends and Family Members

Perhaps you’re not the only one who has noticed what’s going on, but you were the only one who had the courage to say something. By conferring with those closest to the substance abuser, you can create a coalition for change.

Photo of older woman speaking seriously with younger woman on a couch in a living room

Share what you’ve learned from your research and tell them about the substance abusing patterns you’ve noticed. There’s a good chance that they’ve also noticed similar behavior, and it could confirm any suspicions they’ve had. Additionally, the more people who know that there is a problem, the more pressure there will be on your addicted loved one to get help.

6. Contact a Licensed Addiction Treatment Facility

When those closest to your addicted friend or family member can all agree that there is a problem, it’s time to take action. However, unless you’re an addiction care specialist, you likely don’t know what to do next. This is the time to begin exploring treatment options that fit your budget and needs.

Photo of young woman taking notes while on her cell phone

Speaking with professionals from an addiction care facility can answer a lot of questions for you, including the length of stay, the types of therapies and programs available, the cost and the overall success rate of the facility. It’s important to find a facility that provides a wide range of treatment options that account for the mental, physical and spiritual damage caused by chronic substance abuse.

7. Schedule an Intervention

When people hear the word intervention, they often conjure images of Hollywood and television depictions where family members are screaming insults at each other. Interventions don’t have to be combative forums where friends and family members take turns attacking the addicted party. This is a time when everyone can get together to let the addicted person know that they care and they’re concerned about the short- and long-term impact of drug or alcohol use.

Photo of elderly woman confronting teen about a serious issue while sitting on a love seat

The best thing you can do in this situation is enlist the services of a professional interventionist. This is a very emotionally-charged event that can easily go the wrong way, potentially resulting in the substance abuser withdrawing from the family and falling deeper into drugs and/or alcohol. A professional interventionist will coordinate every aspect of the event. Interventions conducted by a trained and experienced professional lead to a 90 percent success rate of the drug or alcohol abuser accepting treatment. [1]

Be sure to have a plan in place in the case that your loved one does not accept treatment for their family addiction and one in the event that he or she does. Your professional interventionist will advise you on this.

  1. 1. https://www.ncadd.org/family-friends/there-is-help/intervention-tips-and-guidelines

8. Provide Support

Photo of man with head in his hands receiving support from a group of people

People in rehab need as much support from friends and family as possible. This means showing up for counseling sessions, visiting, calling and continuing to refrain from judgment. After all, the roots of almost all drug and alcohol problems are often very complex. In many cases, a person’s family addiction habits are connected to preexisting mental health conditions, unresolved trauma, environmental factors and family history. [1]Every person who is close to your addicted loved one can play a valuable role in his or her recovery by being sympathetic and understanding.[2] During rehab, your job is to find out how you can help your loved one be as successful as possible.

  1. 1. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-use-addiction
  2. 2. http://psychcentral.com/lib/family-involvement-is-important-in-substance-abuse-treatment/

9. Remove Drugs and Alcohol from Your Own Life

One of the most difficult things for a person in recovery to do is return to everyday life and fight temptation in the face of other people using drugs and alcohol. If you live with your addicted loved one, you must remove all addictive substances from your home and refrain from using those products yourself. If you’re a close friend or family member, you must be sure that any time spent with him or her is free of any drugs or alcohol. The more these substances are removed from your loved one’s life, the more likely it is that he or she will be successful in recovery. Photo of a pile of prescription pills swept up in a dustpan

People in recovery often deal with a period of grieving, which can be marked by depression. [1] As a friend or family member, you can be instrumental in helping them through this difficult period.

  1. 1. http://psychcentral.com/lib/depression-and-alcoholism-five-tips-for-recovery/

10. Don’t Expect Instant Success

Photo of one young woman placing her hand on the shoulder of another who is suffering

Perhaps the most frustrating part of recovery for the friends and family members of addicted individuals is relapse. The first year is the hardest, as over 50 percent of those who successfully complete rehab will not be able to remain sober for the next year. [1]

Expecting your addicted friend or family member to be completely cured of the disease of addiction after one-three months of treatment may be unrealistic. Your patience, understanding and acceptance will go a long way in making your loved one’s journey to sobriety much smoother.

It’s important to remember that falling off the path of recovery does not mean that the entire attempt to address a family addiction was a failure. This will be a long-term process with a bunch of ups and downs.

  1. 1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/craving/201402/how-often-do-long-term-sober-alcoholics-and-addicts-relapse

Allow Us to Help You Succeed

You can feel lonely and helpless when your husband, wife, child, sibling, parent or friend is destroying his or her life through substance abuse. You want what’s best for your loved one, but he or she may not see that because of the preoccupation with substance abuse that addiction causes. Rather than throwing your hands up in disgust or just giving up, reach out to an addiction care facility that has helped hundreds of substance abusers defeat their addictions and reclaim control over their lives.

We specialize in creating individualized strategies to target, address and resolve the causes and origins of a person’s addiction. Additionally, we have a thorough understanding of the myriad therapies designed to reverse some of the damage caused by substance abuse and to treat any co-occurring disorders.

If you have a friend or family member who is struggling with an addiction, time is running out. Waiting too long to take action can and will lead to a number of disastrous events, including DUI, health complications, job loss, divorce and even death. Contact us today at 561-812-5500 to learn more about how we can help.