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How to Help a Drug Addict

  1. Table of ContentsPrint
  2. Help for Illicit Drug Addiction
  3. Help for Prescription Drug Addiction
  4. What to Understand Before Talking to a Loved One
  5. Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
  6. Drug Addiction Treatment
  7. Can Addiction Be Cured?

comforting a friend

If you think that someone you love is addicted to drugs, it's important to handle the situation carefully. Select any of the substances below to learn the best ways to find help when someone you love is struggling with addiction to that drug.

Help for Illicit Drug Addiction

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Help for Prescription Drug Addiction

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What to Understand Before Talking to a Loved One

Before you talk to your loved one about treatment options, you need to approach them about the problem. It's important that you don't confront your loved one in a way that will cause an argument. It's common for those abusing drugs to get angry and defensive easily, so you need to approach the situation with care.1

It's natural to be afraid to approach your loved one about drug use, because of the uncertainty of how they will react. However, it could be a life-changing effort for you to overcome your apprehensions and have the conversation. You can approach your loved one with compassion and empathy and ask if they will consider getting the help they need.1

A variety of addiction treatment centers and therapeutic approaches exist to best match the specific needs of each individual. Whether you're looking for inpatient or outpatient treatment, there are many options out there for anyone looking to take their life back from addiction.

Are You the Parent of an Addict?

When you have a child struggling with substance abuse, attempting to handle it on your own can be extremely overwhelming and can eventually become your first and only priority. It may also be difficult to take the first step because addressing the problem is disruptive of school and extracurricular activities.2 However, addiction is far more disruptive to your child's life in the end, and treatment can work. Taking the time now to get help can save your child's life.

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

People who are addicted to drugs tend to show signs of the disease in every aspect of their lives. The symptoms of addiction are varied, but common signs of a problem with substance abuse include:3,4

  • Needing to use drugs to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
  • Needing more drugs to get the effects (tolerance).
  • Continued use of drugs even with the awareness of the harm it causes.
  • Neglecting family obligations and financial issues.
  • Decline in physical appearance and health.
  • Losing interest in hobbies.
  • Rapidly shifting moods.
  • Odd sleep schedule.
  • Changes in eating habits (eating more or less than usual).

Drug Addiction Treatment

People beat their addictions every day, using both inpatient treatment programs and outpatient programs.

A typical day at an inpatient facility might include:

  • Group therapy sessions.
  • Individual therapy sessions.
  • Educational lectures.
  • Recovery support groups.
  • Skills training.

When you're trying to find drug addiction help, it's important to look into all of your options and choose the program that is right for you. People beat their addictions every day, using both inpatient treatment programs and outpatient programs.

The type of program you choose should depend entirely on your personal needs.

Outpatient treatment programs give you more freedom so that you can work and be home with your family at night. With more freedom, however, may come more risk, as you'll remain in your substance-using home environment at the tenuous beginning stage of recovery. This helps keep you on track during the recovery process. There are varying levels of outpatient treatment, with some involving several hours of therapy per day and others involving only 1-2 hours per week.5Inpatient treatment programs require the patient to live at the facility for the duration—typically 30, 60 or 90 days—of treatment. The process often starts with detoxification. During this time, withdrawal symptoms are managed in a safe environment by qualified medical staff.  Medications may be administered to alleviate or prevent serious symptoms. Medical detox is essential for drugs like alcohol and sedatives, which are associated with withdrawal syndromes that may bring on seizures. Inpatient medical detox is also common for opioid withdrawal, which may be very painful.6 Once the detox process is over, your regular treatment begins.

There are many different types of treatment to choose from. For help discovering the right type, visit our Drug Treatment Program Glossary.

Can Addiction Be Cured?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is a "chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences."7  There is no simple cure for addiction; however, effective treatment can help you become and stay sober.7  You will have to manage your addiction throughout your life, the same way a diabetic has to manage their condition with ongoing efforts like a proper diet and exercise.8

While some recovering drug users will experience cravings for months or years, treatment gives you the tools you'll need to live a happy and healthy life without substance abuse.


  1. American Addiction Centers. 2018.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). What to Do If Your Teen or Young Adult Has a Problem with Drugs.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). What are some signs and symptoms of someone with a drug use problem?
  4. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Treatment Settings.
  6. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13­4131. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2006.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction: The Basics.
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Treatment and Recovery
Last updated on December 5, 2018
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