How to Support a Loved One With a Substance Addiction

how to help a loved one with substance abuse

Addiction is a profoundly complex disease with substance abuse involving much more than the presence of drugs or alcohol in a person’s system.

Moreover, addiction is widely understood as a family disease affecting individual family members and those outside the family circle.

Helping a loved one with an addiction

It can be challenging to know what to do when someone you love has a problem with substance abuse.

You may worry that anything you do or say might worsen the situation or that your loved one may turn against you.

Supporting your loved one

There’s no way to tell what approach works or doesn’t when attempting to help someone with an addiction, as everyone responds differently.

An open, honest conversation may be the thing that encourages your loved one to seek treatment and support.

However, due to the complex nature of addiction, people often struggle to admit or acknowledge they have a problem, which can create various challenges and roadblocks.

What is the best way to help someone struggling with addiction?

Mother and teenage daughter having an argument

Family and friends often feel at a loss about how to help a loved one struggling with addiction.

There’s often a real sense of despair and confusion for the family and friends of someone with a substance use disorder.

Many will oscillate between wanting to help their loved one and not knowing the best course of action to take; fortunately, there are various support groups and resources for the family and friends of addicts.

How to support your loved one

The research literature has listed various “dos” and “don’ts” about how to support a loved one through addiction recovery.

What not to do

Mental health professionals say that friends or family seeking to help a loved one overcome addiction should try and avoid:

  • Criticising their loved one – criticism often leads to additional feelings of shame.
  • Setting unrealistic expectations – someone’s decision to abstain from alcohol or drug use is ultimately their choice; offering compassion and understanding is critical to supporting a loved one with an addiction.
  • Threatening your loved one or using ultimatums – this approach may only worsen the problem and further push your loved one to want to engage in drug abuse or alcohol addiction.

Things to consider when helping a loved one with an addiction

The research literature states that a family member or friend may experience better results when helping a loved one with a drug addiction or alcohol problem when they:

  • Respect a loved one’s privacy while offering compassion, understanding, and support
  • Concentrate on building trust while keeping the lines of communication open
  • Are honest and open with a loved one about how their substance abuse is affecting them and their relationships 

Substance abuse and mental health services

Various substance abuse and mental health approaches have been developed to treat those with substance use disorder over the years.

Whether your loved one has a drug or alcohol addiction, there are various treatment options for you to consider.

Addiction treatment

It might help if you thought about what approach or treatment method would suit you and your loved one’s needs, goals, and requirements.

Centres for Health and Healing offer various treatment options for those with substance addiction and mental health disorders; speak to a specialist to find out more.

It is widely understood that everyone responds differently to treatment in the addiction community.

However, the most effective treatment options for substance use include the following:

  • Psychotherapy (this may involve cognitive behavioural therapy)
  • Support groups
  • Specific medications
  • Residential treatment programs

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

Mental health professionals often recommend CBT to those with substance use disorders.

CBT helps to change unhelpful thought and behavioural patterns that may lead a person to engage in destructive behaviours such as drug or alcohol abuse.

Addiction treatment programs that use CBT focus on helping individuals understand how their beliefs and feelings influence their behaviours (How to Help an Addict: Resources and Treatment, Verywell mind, Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, Ma, Ph.D., July 25, 2022).

Support groups

Support groups are valuable resources for people with addictions and their family members.

Various methodologies and approaches help to promote sobriety or focus on moderation, which are the core components of a support group.

Peer support groups and twelve-step programs are common approaches to treating those with drug addiction or alcohol misuse.

Support groups are usually offered in person, but online support is also available.

Family therapy and social support are also vital aspects of addiction recovery.

Residential or inpatient treatment programs

Studies show that residential and inpatient treatment programs are the most effective when treating those with substance abuse and addiction.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that only 10% of people with substance addictions get treatment in an appropriate facility.

Substance abuse recovery and statistics

Those who seek treatment for an alcohol or drug addiction have more favourable outcomes than those who don’t.

Successful addiction treatment (and sustained recovery) is dependent on many factors.

Unfortunately, many people eventually relapse after treatment; thus, many rehabilitation facilities offer aftercare support programs to prevent this from happening. Studies show that:

  • 85 to 95% of those who enter an inpatient facility and complete their program are drug-free nine months after rehab (How Effective is Rehab? Addiction Group, September 27, 2022)
  • 80% of people report that their overall health and quality of life have improved after rehab (How Effective is Rehab? Addiction Group, September 27, 2022)
  • Additionally, around 88.64% of those who complete treatment remain alcohol-free after one month (How Effective is Rehab? Addiction Group, September 27, 2022)

The research literature reports that people who enter inpatient treatment may experience the best outcomes, especially those with co-occurring disorders.

Medication

Medications to treat opioid addiction - Centres for Health and Healing

Studies show that specific medication can help treat substance use disorders.

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved several medications that may help treat alcohol addiction and drug use.

Speak to your doctor or licensed mental health professional for more advice and information.

Intervention

Family or friends of someone with a substance use disorder may consider planning an intervention to help a loved one overcome addiction.

Careful planning and a clear understanding of each person’s role are critical to delivering an effective intervention.

What is an intervention?

According to the online dictionary, an intervention is when a person with an addiction (or other behavioural problem) is confronted by a group of family members or friends to persuade them to address the issue.

An intervention is a carefully planned process often facilitated by family or friends, in consultation with a doctor or professional such as a licensed drug or alcohol counselor, or directed by an interventionist (Intervention: Help a loved one overcome addiction, Mayo Clinic, July 20, 2017).

Addiction and denial

Those struggling with an addiction are often in denial about their problem and are unwilling to seek help and support.

The individual’s lack of awareness may mean they cannot recognise how their addiction might affect them and their family members.

An intervention may open your loved one’s eyes, allowing them to seek help and make the necessary changes before things worsen.

An intervention may encourage your loved one to get the help they need.

What happens during an intervention?

Interventions can be complicated.

During an intervention, those involved in the process are usually emotionally charged; this is not surprising since the experience is deeply personal.

Those involved will likely experience a wide range of thoughts and feelings, and things can get heated.

Your loved one may react in various ways to the intervention. For example, it is common for your loved one to feel angry, confused, or betrayed.

Due to the emotional nature of an intervention, you must ensure proper planning and agree with all members involved that each person must remain calm and collected throughout.

Interventions usually involve:

  • A prearranged treatment plan with clear goals, steps, and guidelines
  • A clear understanding of what everyone will do if your loved one refuses treatment
  • Detailed examples of how your loved ones’ destructive behaviours and addiction have impacted family members and friends

Empathy, compassion, and proper planning

Addiction specialists have highlighted the importance of proper intervention planning.

Successful interventions are planned ahead of time and with clear instructions and mutual agreements between family members and friends.

A poorly planned intervention can worsen the situation – your loved one may feel attacked and become isolated or more resistant to treatment (Intervention: Help a loved one overcome addiction, Mayo Clinic, July 20, 2017).

Empathy, compassion, and proper planning are critical aspects of an intervention.

What to expect when helping a loved one with a substance addiction

Bad habits that destroy relationships

It can be challenging to predict how your loved one will respond to any offers of help.

As mentioned, denial is often one of the reasons why many people refuse addiction treatment.

Building trust

Mental health professionals say building trust with your loved one is critical and may help them accept addiction treatment over time.

Avoiding “trust-destroyers”

The researchers also mentioned the impact of ” trust-destroyers ” on the addiction recovery process and how family and friends must avoid specific statements or behaviours.

For example, criticising or nagging your loved one may worsen the problem.

Additionally, engaging in substance abuse yourself, even if done moderately, may be considered hypocrisy. As a result, your loved one may lose trust or think drinking or drug-taking is acceptable (because you are doing it).

Effective communication, patience, and compassion are also effective ways to support a loved one with a substance addiction.

Additionally, researchers say that family and friends should avoid using negative statements.

For example, when talking to your loved one about their addiction problem, you may consider replacing negative statements with more encouraging ones.

For instance, instead of saying, “I can’t stand it when you’re high”, you might get a better response by using more positive statements such as “You’re so much more fun to hang out with when you’re sober”.

Knowing what to say or do when a loved one has an addiction problem can be tricky, but help is always available.

How Centres for Health and Healing can help

Group therapy. Rehab group on psychology support meeting, closeup

We treat various substance addictions and mental health disorders at Centres for Health and Healing.

Furthermore, we understand that addiction is a disease that affects not only the addict but also their family members.

Therefore we offer comprehensive treatment programs designed to treat the whole person and not just their symptoms. In addition, family input is considered a valuable aspect of the addiction recovery process.

If you are worried that your loved one may have an addiction and are unsure what steps to take, contact a specialist who can help.

Additional resources

  1. How to Help an Addict: Resources and Treatment, Verywell mind, Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD, July 25, 2022
  2. Intervention: Help a loved one overcome addiction, Mayo Clinic, July 20, 2017

Lisa Davies - Program Director of Vaughan Recovery and Kirby Estate

About Lisa Davies

Lisa is the Program Director at Centres for Health and Healing. She lived for most of her life in the Durham region, before moving to Peel five years ago.

Lisa is a Master Hypnotist and is certified in Hypnotherapy (2008), Self-Hypnosis and in 5-phase Advanced Therapeutic Healing. As a Member of National Guild of Hypnotists, she is also specialized in hypnosis training in pediatrics, pain management, neuro-linguistic and stage programming.

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