How to Help a Family Member with Addiction 

It’s not going to be easy, but it’s important to reach out to your family if you suspect someone has developed a drug addiction. Substance abuse is a difficult challenge to overcome, but the more involved you are as a family member, the better.

In this article, you will discover how to help a family member with addiction.

How to Help a Family Member with Addiction

Watching a loved one go down the path of addiction can be incredibly stressful and heartbreaking. You may end up feeling hurt and betrayed by this person that you care so much for, and you may be worried about the potential future. While no one can be expected to react in a completely objective way when matters of the heart are involved, you can increase your chances of providing genuine help – and can avoid contributing to further damage – through arming yourself with knowledge and tactics for approaching the situation in the best way possible.

Here’s how to help a family member with addiction.

Educate Yourself

Your first clue that a family member is involved in addiction will probably be a gut feeling. Follow that feeling up with some head knowledge about what signs to look for. While not everyone in addiction will follow the same patterns of behavior, there are some standards that typically apply. Common warning signals include your loved one changing in personality and physical appearance, neglecting responsibilities, practicing deceit, and developing a new circle of friends. These symptoms can also be present when a person is suffering from a mental health disorder, so be careful about rushing to conclusions.

You will also benefit from educating yourself about the stage of change that your addicted loved one is in.  These stages of addiction run the gamut from complete denial to wanting a change and not knowing how to start, to actually taking steps to escape the addiction. The level of acknowledgment of the addiction, and the intention to change it, will affect what type of response your family member is likely to have to any form of expressed concern or offered help.

Share Your Concerns

It takes guts to bring up your observations and concerns with a loved one whom you suspect is trapped in addiction. Depending on the stage of change, a person may respond negatively, such as through accusing you of a lack of trust or through becoming angry and defensive. He or she may also break down and reveal the pain and suffering that is surrounding the addiction. Be prepared to offer support to your loved one, while simultaneously not setting yourself up for disappointment. 

The fact that your loved one is destroying his or her life through substance abuse may be confounding to you, but harping on that fact isn’t likely to produce change. People who are determined to feed their addiction do not tend to respond well to threats, ultimatums, or bargaining. Make your best effort to approach the situation with empathy and genuine concern for your addicted family member. If possible, use this interaction as a time to provide your family member with valuable information about addiction treatment, when he or she is ready.

Consult With Other Family Members or Friends

Having the support of other family members and trusted friends is a vital part of maintaining our own mental health. Once you have determined that your loved one is in the stages of addiction, share your concerns with others who have a vested interest in the wellness of the addicted family member. Not only will you be able to obtain validation for your observations, you will also be providing others with the opportunity to apply their own skills toward assisting.

Holding the type of family intervention parties that were made popular for television is typically not advisable. Anyone who has watched those episodes all the way through will be able to note that the relapse rate, following some period of time after the show airs, is a coin toss. Part of the reason for the low success rate has to do with the lack of empathy mentioned, above. People in addiction are often hurting just as much – or even more – than the ones who love them. Being forced to focus on how much pain the addiction is causing other people may only add to the negative feelings that prompt the escape through substance use, in the first place. If you do decide to hold an intervention, make sure that it is under the guidance of a trained, and vetted, mental health professional.

Create a Safety Plan

As much as we may wish that we could reach in and stop the substance abuse for our loved one, that isn’t how life works. A person in addiction will find a way to continue it until they reach their own point of wanting change. Often, the best we can do for our addicted family member is to help him or her to create a plan for receiving assistance in the case that things get out of hand. Ensure that your loved one keeps a list of emergency numbers and knows who to call in the event of an emergency. Depending on the situation, providing a list of housing and food resources may also be part of the care plan. You want your loved one to be able to stay alive long enough to reach the point of wanting recovery.

Set Boundaries

You can’t control your addicted loved one, but you can control your own space.  Save yourself some pointless arguing with an addicted loved one through determining what your own boundaries are, and then sticking to them. Developing personal boundaries in a healthy way is both an art, and a science. Your goal will be to find a way to communicate to your family member that you still love and want the best for him or her, while simultaneously making it clear that you have a duty to protect the wellbeing of yourself and those you are responsible for. 

Determine what is both acceptable, and unacceptable, when it comes to matters involving interaction with your addicted family member, and communicate those boundaries. Some ideas for boundaries include not permitting the addicted person into your home while intoxicated, not providing money or salable items to your loved one while the addiction persists, or calling the police if your loved one doesn’t respond to your wellness checks. Whatever boundaries you decide upon, make sure to also include a way for your loved one to continue communication, and provide options for making progress toward improving the relationship.