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5 Ways You Can Help a Loved One Who Has an Addiction

Two senior women hug while sitting at a small library table.It can be emotionally devastating to watch someone you love experience addiction. Here are five ways you can show your loved one support while protecting your own mental health.


Despite the epidemic scope of drug addiction in this country, the telltale signs of addiction can go largely unnoticed by people that could otherwise help if they knew their loved one, coworker, or friend had a problem. While friends and families may not always be tuned into the clinical symptoms of addiction, there are some overt warning signs that are a lot easier to identify. They include:

Sudden or drastic changes in behavior.  For example, someone who has always been very punctual and reliable is now showing up late to important events, missing work, or disappearing for long periods of time.

Rapid mood swings. The individual may look depressed and lethargic one day and then appear euphoric and energetic the next. They might also be more argumentative and have less patience than normal.

Financial difficulty or attempts to conceal spending. You may notice bills are past due or certain valuables around the house have gone missing. Addiction thrives in secrecy and often makes people do things they would never have done before to obtain more drugs and keep from feeling sick. That person you have always known to be honest and principled may, due to their addiction, lie, borrow, or steal to continue supporting their habit and keep you from noticing.

Legal consequences. Is someone you know having an unusually high number of drug-related incidents lately (such as a DUI or possession of a controlled substance)? The explanations might seem plausible enough, but you find it hard to believe that this is just a streak of bad luck. Your instincts are probably correct.


Getting someone you care about into treatment isn’t always that easy. While the issue may be painfully obvious to all those around them, it is very common for an individual to minimize the severity of their addiction and try to hold onto whatever sense of control they still have over the situation. They might be afraid of change, hesitant to try something new, or downright opposed to the idea of going to treatment.

Here are a few tips to convince someone to seek treatment:

Act urgently. The more time that passes, the harder it is to convince someone to get into treatment. Have everything set up BEFORE you intervene with the person you want to help. Identify a treatment center that is prepared to admit your loved one right away, set up travel, arrange for bills to be paid, set up child-care, pack a suitcase, etc. Try to eliminate any reasons that someone might have to delay getting treatment.

Don’t go it alone. Enlist the help of a professional who has experience doing interventions. Some treatment centers may even assist you with the intervention. Consider getting others involved, such as family members, close friends, and other supports. Identify the leverage that each person holds.

Identify and include the “enabler” in the process. Nearly every family has one. The “enabler” is the person who may be funding the addiction or always making excuses, allowing the person with an addiction to avoid growth and change. The “enabler” needs to be on board or else they could undermine everything you are trying to do.


Recovering from an addiction is a big undertaking. You can help your loved one be more successful by offering support in any way that you can. This can include:

  • Financial support for treatment
  • Emotional support
  • Practical assistance with things that might otherwise distract someone from treatment


A question I am always asked by family members is, “How can I help?” Families often feel helpless and frustrated in the face of addiction. Family members tend to vacillate between the extremes of being overly involved or pulling away altogether in order to deal with their own emotions.

My answer is to do neither. I always recommend families to be present and stay involved but also have their own program of recovery. They may attend Al-Anon meetings each week and/or seek individual or family counseling to work through any emotional issues they might be having about the addiction. Counseling can also teach family members how to be a supportive figure in the individual’s recovery rather than a codependent one.

With addiction, it is not true that “time heals all wounds”. The severe and chronic nature of the condition requires individual dedication. It also requires the involvement of any person, family member, employer, or friend who is affected by the problem or has a sincere desire for the individual’s well-being. Everyone involved needs to be dedicated to the goals of recovery and be willing to devote the necessary time to do the therapeutic work to heal.


The addiction did not start overnight. Recovery won’t be immediate either. There will bumps along the road.

This is to be expected, as it is the chronic nature of addiction for there to be setbacks and relapses. It may seem at times that the situation is hopeless. But if you continue to stay firm in your resolution to be a positive support and “stay in recovery,” then your loved one will have a much greater chance of doing the same.

You and your loved one can find a counselor for addiction here.

If you believe your loved one requires rehab, you can find a residential treatment center here.

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