7 Tips for Helping Someone With a Drug Addiction
When your loved one struggles with drug addiction, it can take a toll on your mental and physical health. From worrying day in and day out to dealing with them during a drunken stupor, we understand that watching someone you love struggle with substance abuse can make seeking help even harder.
It’s likely that you’ve tried repeatedly to get your loved one the help they need, but they’ve pushed back at every attempt you’ve made. A person struggling with drug addiction or alcohol use disorder may be unable to see all the negative consequences around them.
They may not have a real grasp on the dangerousness of the situation, even when faced with violence and risky situations. Truthfully, a person cannot get help if they don’t want it.
While you can encourage your loved one to seek help, you cannot force them into treatment programs. It has to be something that they’ve decided to do on their own, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help.
Everyone has a different response to addiction and will need their own specific care to enter into recovery. Simply showing up every day and offering them help might be enough to finally push them over the edge and seek out help.
Here are seven tips for you to use to help out someone you love that is struggling with substance use disorder.
What Is Drug Addiction?
Drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing disorder that happens as a result of compulsive drug-seeking behaviors. People with drug addiction continue to use even though they are aware of the negative consequences of drug use. Addiction has an impact on both a person’s physical and mental health, where it affects the brain and makes quitting feel impossible.
Addiction is not a choice. People do not choose to become addicted to substances; it can happen when a person uses substances even as little as once. It is considered a brain disorder because it involves functional changes to the brain circuits and impacts stress, the reward center, and a person’s self-control.
Drug addiction involves the inability to stop using, the feeling of being unable to function without it in your system, and a constant craving for the substance. People with addictions are willing to do anything to get their hands on drugs, which can cause rifts between friends and families.
Drug addiction truly changes the course of a person’s life, but addiction treatment is available, and seeking out help is the best way to see positive results.
What Are the Signs of Drug Addiction?
People can become addicted to various kinds of drugs, including alcohol, cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, meth, prescription drugs, and even marijuana. Each drug can impact a person differently, and their symptoms and side effects might look different depending on what they’re struggling with.
In most cases, a person with drug addiction or alcohol addiction will show signs of struggling mentally, physically, financially, and socially.
Mental health issues might begin to surface due to their drug addiction. Some signs that you can look out for are:
Changes in their mood
Unexplained personality and attitude problems
Anxious and paranoid behavior
Irritability and lashing out
Becoming more depressed
Becoming spaced out
Sometimes recognizing the physical changes a person undergoes during drug addiction is more obvious.
If you’re concerned about a loved one’s drug use, look out for the following:
Unexplained weight loss
Lack of hygiene
Clumsiness and confusion
Bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils
Undergoing withdrawal symptoms
People with drug addiction may struggle more with their finances and ability to maintain a job to provide for themselves.
Signs to look out for in regard to their finances are:
Asking to borrow money
Inability to maintain a job
Spending all of their money on drugs and neglecting things like food, clothing, and housing
Stealing money from loved ones
While mental, physical, and financial signs of drug use help to identify the problem, sometimes it’s an addict’s behavior that really cues a person into their loved one’s substance misuse and mental health problems.
Signs that you should be concerned might look like:
Losing touch with good friends and family members
Missing out on social events
Hanging around with a new group of people
Not showing up for work, school, or other responsibilities
Becoming more secretive
Lying about their whereabouts
How Does Drug Addiction Affect Relationships?
When your loved one has a drug addiction, it can put major stress on relationships in their life. They might begin to feel unwelcome at family events, no longer be safe around their nieces and nephews, and neglect their own family members.
If you know something is wrong, it can strain your relationship with that person when you try to offer help. People aren’t always going to respond positively to someone confronting them about their drug habits.
More conflicts arise when there is someone around you dealing with drug addiction. For many, it’s hard to understand what someone is going through if you’ve never been addicted to drugs yourself. You cannot generalize someone’s experience with drugs. This can also make seeking help tricky, as not everyone needs the same kind of assistance.
How Do I Help Someone With a Drug Addiction?
If you’re looking to help someone you love with their drug addiction, you need to consider a few different factors. Who is this person to you, what drug are they addicted to, and how comfortable are you with them? Not everyone will appreciate you offering help at first, so the process of recovery can be long and difficult.
Luckily, there are some things that you can do to work towards helping someone with their drug addiction. Even if things don’t work out the way you intended, as long as you come from a good place, you can have peace of mind knowing that you tried your best.
1. Recognize Drug Abuse
If you feel someone is abusing drugs, you should look for the signs listed above. It might feel like you are watching their every move, but it may be necessary to better understand their habits and behaviors before reaching out to them.
You don’t want to jump to conclusions as that might trigger that person into defensive mode. Instead, collect information on your own that gives you a cause for concern so that you are prepared when you go to talk with your loved one.
2. Educate Yourself
All drugs impact people differently. Treatment for someone with marijuana use disorder will look very different from those addicted to methamphetamines. People who struggle with substance use don’t want to be grouped into one category because no one can understand what they are going through to them.
And this is true to an extent. You may not get what they’re going through, but you can try to educate yourself on their specific addiction to be a better supporter.
Do your own research on what certain drugs can do to people and how addiction happens. This will allow you to develop more empathy for their situation while educating yourself on what the outcomes might look like. If you appear knowledgeable about their addiction and take it seriously, your loved one might be more likely to open up to you.
3. Don’t Enable Them
This is one of the hardest things to do. So often, we want to cater to a person’s every need when they need help, but this isn’t the case when helping someone with an addiction.
Enabling them can look like giving them money when they don’t have any, bailing them out of jail, paying their rent, and offering rides home after using substances. While we don’t want harm to our loved ones, the more we rescue them, the less they learn about the true consequences of addiction.
As hard as it may be, we must let our loved ones experience the negative consequences, or they may never learn about the danger they are putting themselves into. Many family members and friends will end up financially supporting their loved ones, giving them the freedom to use their own money for what they truly want – drugs.
Cutting them off while still showing support is the best way to help them, even though it’s a hard truth to swallow.
4. Establish Boundaries and Take Care of Yourself
Remember to take care of yourself when helping a loved one with addiction. Start by establishing boundaries with your loved one.
This plays into not enabling them because you are letting them know what you are and are not willing to do for them. This helps to protect your own mental and physical health as well. When you don’t set boundaries, you put yourself at risk for a decline in your well-being.
If saying ‘no’ and avoiding your loved one when they are acting belligerent helps to keep you safe, then do so. You aren't required to come every time they call for you.
You need to maintain peace within yourself in order to be as helpful as possible. If you spread yourself too thin, you will burn out before any real change even comes about.
5. Avoid Blaming Them and Listen
When we talk to our loved ones about their drug use, we have to be very particular about how we go about it. We don’t want them to feel attacked or blamed for their actions.
Your loved one likely has intense feelings of shame and guilt about their addiction, but they don’t know how to express that. You want them to feel comfortable enough to come to you with their concerns.
Using language that shows concern rather than anger can invite a more open discussion. If you blame them and make them feel guilty, they may not feel comfortable talking to you and asking for help in the future.
Allow your loved one to talk to you about their thoughts and feelings, so you don’t overpower the conversation. Knowing their concerns can help focus you on what they specifically need.
6. Find Outside Support
You don’t have to put all of the weight of helping your loved one onto your shoulders. Groups like Narcotics Anonymous (NA, or “Nar-Anon”) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA, or “Al-Anon”) are excellent treatment options that help provide resources and support to both the addict and their loved ones.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) helpline is another great first step to getting referrals to mental health professionals and treatment centers and offering support and professional help.
You can join support groups in person and in online communities to get a better understanding of what your loved one is going through as well.
Offer to attend family group therapy sessions, so they don’t have to go alone and find support through the therapists you meet. There are plenty of people in the world that want to help you; you just have to find the right community.
7. Seek Out Community
People with drug addiction are bound to feel lonely. They may not feel understood by family and friends that haven’t gone through a similar addiction. With Sober Sidekick, you can help your loved one gain access to a community of sober-seeking individuals who want to provide support and receive it from people in the same situation.
Support With Sober Sidekick
Signing your loved one up for Sober Sidekick on their iPhone or Android can allow them to connect with other substance users who want help. Community is so important in recovery, and it can be the thing that changes the course of a person’s sobriety.
With access to 24/7 AA meetings, medical professionals, and many resources, Sober Sidekick helps people struggling get back on their feet and feel good again. Don’t wait another minute and download the app now to get your loved one started on their path to recovery.
Drug Misuse and Addiction | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Warning Signs of Drug Abuse | Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services
Substance Abuse and Intimate Relationships | American Association For Marriage And Family Therapy