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Ways of Helping Someone With Drug or Alcohol Addiction

It can be frustrating to see a loved one struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, especially if one feels as though they should be helping their loved one find treatment or recovery. Many may try to help their addicted loved ones by encouraging them to seek help, only to find their attempts unsuccessful. Ultimately, the decision to attend treatment and seek recovery relies on the individual, but there are steps you can take to help facilitate the decision. Understanding what addiction is, how it manifests, and ways to help somebody who is struggling with drug addiction while maintaining healthy boundaries can help prepare you for assisting your loved one in their journey to recovery.

Seeking Help for Drug Addiction

If you have a loved one who is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, it can be difficult to watch them. You may be wondering how to help them with their substance abuse issues. They might be ready to quit and wondering where to get help for substance abuse. There are several ways to help a drug addict. Here, we will talk about the signs of drug and alcohol use disorders, what you can expect when your loved one is dealing with a substance use disorder, how to handle the difficulties of trying to help them, and how having a loved one with a drug or alcohol addiction affects you.

How to Help a Drug Addict

The first thing that you need to know is that the difficulties involved with stopping substance use are complex. Using drugs or alcohol affects areas of the brain associated with self-control. As an individual keeps using drugs or alcohol, the way these areas of the brain function is changed, making it difficult to stop or otherwise control compulsive substance use.1 It is also important to know that it is unlikely that you alone can make them quit using drugs. However, loved ones of drug addicts can help them get off drugs by supporting their motivation to change.

Encouraging your loved one that seeking some form of professional help for addiction is a positive step towards recovering from drug and alcohol abuse can put them on the path toward a sober life. Whether you are seeking help for a problem with alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, heroin, crystal methamphetamine, or any other addiction, recovery is possible.

Signs You May Need to Get Help for Addiction

There are signs and symptoms to look for that could indicate your loved one needs help with a substance use disorder or addiction. Mental health professionals outline the criteria used to diagnose someone with a substance use disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5). If your loved one meets at least 2 of the following criteria over the last 12 months, they may meet the criteria to be diagnosed with a substance use disorder:2

  • The person takes more of the substance than originally intended.
  • The person uses substances in high-risk situations, such as driving.
  • The person has increased interpersonal conflict over the use of substances.
  • The person neglects their responsibilities at home or work due to using substances.
  • The person gives up hobbies or other interests to use substances.
  • The person tries unsuccessfully to stop using or cut back on substances.
  • The person spends a lot of time and resources seeking the substance out and using it.
  • The person keeps taking the substance, even while knowing it causes harm to their physical or mental health.
  • The person has cravings to use the substance.
  • The person develops a tolerance to the substance, meaning that he or she needs more and more of the substance to keep feeling the desired effects.
  • The person experiences withdrawal symptoms when stopping or significantly reducing their use of the substance.

Other behavioral signs that someone needs help with substance abuse can include being secretive and lying about the use of substances or stealing money to obtain them. If the drug being misused is a prescription drug, the individual might have multiple prescriptions from different doctors, attempt to fill prescriptions before the refill date, or use the medication in a way other than how it was prescribed.3

How Can I Help an Addict?

Addiction is a chronic disease that causes significant changes in the way the brain functions and how a person behaves. It is characterized by the compulsive misuse of a substance, even though it brings about significant negative consequences. Addiction can be treated and managed successfully through evidence-based behavioral therapies and, in some cases, medication.4 Some rehab centers use alternative therapies in treating addiction.

Addiction develops after a person uses or misuses substances and then loses their ability to control their use, negatively affecting their home, work, school, and/or family life.4 This loss of control is often fueled by the way the body adapts to regular exposure to a substance: tolerance and physical dependence.

Tolerance is characterized by the need to take more of a drug (higher doses or with greater frequency) to keep feeling the desired effects.5 As an individual exposes their body to regular use of certain drugs, the body adapts to its constant presence. When the drug is taken away (or the dose significantly reduced) withdrawal symptoms emerge as the body re-adjusts to not having the drug anymore. This can lead to strong cravings for the substance to relieve uncomfortable or distressing withdrawal symptoms and may result in an individual struggling to quit using and relapsing or returning to substance use.

It is important to note that a person can develop tolerance and/or physical dependence when using a medication that is prescribed by a doctor, even when that substance is taken as directed. This is normal and does not necessarily mean a person is addicted.  When an individual has an addiction, they will exhibit a pattern of compulsive substance seeking and use despite experiencing negative consequences such as failing to meet their obligations at work, home, or school.5

Treatment for drug and alcohol addiction focuses on the management of the disorder, much like the process of managing other chronic diseases, including asthma or heart disease.6

You may be wondering how long treatment programs last. The length of treatment is contingent on several factors, including the severity of an individual’s addiction. Treatment usually consists of behavioral therapy and, in some cases, medication. Since a substance use disorder impacts many aspects of a person’s life, including employment and family relationships, a comprehensive, individualized alcohol or drug treatment program is designed to address such areas as needed.6 You may be in search of 12-Step or faith-based programs.

How Can I Help Someone Struggling With Alcohol or Drug Addiction?

Helping a person who is struggling with an alcohol or drug addiction can be a difficult thing to do. Remember that you cannot control a person’s substance use, nor can you make them do anything. However, you can voice your concerns and offer your support, including offering to go to a treatment assessment with them or encouraging them to attend a self-help meeting such as Alcoholics Anonymous.7 If your friend or family member expresses hesitation, fearing that treatment won’t work, assure them that rehabilitation treatment to help people quit does indeed work and that substance use disorders can be successfully managed. It is important to emphasize that treatment is necessary to repair damage to brain function that was caused by and promotes compulsive, repetitive substance use.8

How to Talk to Someone With a Substance Use Disorder

When you talk with your loved one about their substance use, there are things that you can do and not do that can help the conversation be more productive and potentially result in a positive outcome.7,8


  • Express your concerns and state facts, not opinions.
  • Be patient.
  • Offer help, including information about treatment, how it works, and how it can help them get off drugs.
  • Offer to go with them to the doctor or to an appointment.


  • Judge or criticize.
  • Neglect your own needs. Take care of yourself, regardless of the outcome.
  • Don’t yell or act angry.
  • Enable the person.

What Are the Effects of Addiction on Family And Friends?

Alcohol and drug addiction is a widespread concern in our society, with an estimated 50% of all Americans having a family member or close friend who has struggled with a substance use disorder.9 In fact, more than 1 in 10 children in the United States live with at least 1 adult who has a substance use disorder.10 The long-term impact of alcohol and drug abuse on family members can be profound. For example, children who grow up in a home with a caregiver who has addiction or substance abuse issues are more likely to have social, emotional, academic, or behavioral issues.10 Other consequences in families where one member has a substance use disorder can include poor communication, increased risk of interpersonal violence, and overall impairment of emotional connections.10

When you live with someone who has a substance use disorder, you may engage in unhealthy behavior patterns such as codependency and enabling. Codependency is a pattern of behavior in which you seek to fix others and are unable to state your own needs and wants. If you are a person who displays codependent behaviors, you may value your loyalty to others over your own needs, even when doing so is harmful to you.11 Codependent behavior can result in enabling your loved one’s drug or alcohol use, allowing them to carry on without facing consequences for using drugs and/or alcohol.12 An example of enabling behavior is calling your loved one’s boss and telling them your loved one is sick when they are actually hung over.

Sometimes, when you are close to someone with substance abuse issues, you can suffer from caregiver stress and feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities, and you may suffer from depression or anxiety.13

Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Programs

You can start looking for help for a drug or alcohol addiction by speaking with a doctor, doing research on what help is available, and discussing these options with your friend or loved one. Factors that can play a role in deciding where to go for drug or alcohol addiction treatment and what kind of program you choose include the reputation of the rehab facility and the type of care you are seeking.

Typically, when an individual enters drug addiction treatment, it will occur in stages that include:14

  • Medical detoxification, where a person clears substances out of their body in a safe, supervised atmosphere. Detox treatment alone is rarely sufficient in achieving long-term abstinence from a substance, but it is an important first step.
  • Treatment, or rehab, addresses a person’s motivation to change, helps a person identify triggers that lead to substance use and teaches people ways to cope with stress or other triggers that do not involve turning to substances. Treatment typically includes individual therapy, group therapy, peer support programs, and, in some cases, medication.
  • Aftercare provides continued support for a person’s recovery after formal treatment. This can include attending mutual help groups (e.g. Narcotics Anonymous) and individual counseling or therapy, as well as continuing medications that were started during treatment.

Family therapy may also be a component in treatment or a part of aftercare for a person with a substance use disorder. During family therapy, family members learn what to do and what not to do to help best support their loved one during recovery from drug addiction. In addition, family therapy can offer you the support you need to cope with the situation with your loved one as they work on recovery from substance abuse.15

How to Pay for Drug Addiction Treatment

Oftentimes cost can be a significant factor when seeking drug addiction treatment. Luckily, the Affordable Care Act mandates that insurance plans provide some degree of coverage for the medically necessary treatment of mental and behavioral health disorders. Drug and alcohol addiction often falls under this classification, meaning that insurance may cover some or all of the cost of treatment. This can also be true of public insurance plans like Medicare, Medicaid, or veterans insurance.

Those without insurance may be able to take advantage of free or state-funded rehab centers to cover the cost of drug addiction treatment. Additionally, many rehabs may offer sliding scale fees, scholarships, and other programs to help minimize the cost of treatment for those who do not have insurance.

Where to Get Help for Drug Addiction Near Me

If you want to help your loved one recover and they agree to go to treatment, your next question may be where to find the drug addiction help your loved one needs. You might be in search of short-term detox programs near you or more long-term inpatient treatment. You can talk to a doctor or treatment specialist or research online resources, including treatment directories.

You may also benefit from accessing one of our online rehab directories. Our directories can help you find drug addiction treatment centers specialized to your needs. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of addiction treatment programs and has trusted rehab facilities across the country. We can help you find the best drug and alcohol treatment facilities near you and understand your options. Contact us free at . You can also check your insurance coverage online now.

American Addiction Centers Can Help is a subsidiary of American Addiction Centers (AAC), a leading provider of outpatient programs, drug and alcohol detox care, and inpatient rehab programs. If you are struggling with addiction and considering detox or rehab, please call our team to help you find the treatment you need. You can reach us free at .

American Addiction Centers accepts many insurance plans and can work with you on a manageable payment plan. Find out if your insurance coverage includes addiction rehab and treatment by verifying your insurance instantly or visiting the links below:

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