How to Help an Addicted Friend or Relative

If you know someone struggling with an addiction, you may wonder how to help. Do you confront them, have an intervention involving others, or just help them one-on-one? The further they fall into the addiction, the more frustrated you become, not knowing what to do or how to discuss their addiction. The decision to try and get help for someone you care about who has an addiction is never easy. Fortunately, with your support, they have a greater chance of overcoming their addiction. Although each situation is different, with many variables, there are some general guidelines that will help you approach your task.

From the moment you choose to try and help, expect difficulties. They may not admit they have a problem, or not see their addiction as a problem. They may fear losing their job if they get help, possibly losing their status in the community, or feel embarrassed for all the pain they have caused. There’s no one way of overcoming addiction that works for everyone; it requires will power and determination to make a change and follow a new path, but there are steps you can take to make the outcome a positive one.

Building Trust

If possible, establish a trust with the addict, one which goes both ways. Although it is easy to do, don’t slip into nagging, criticizing, lecturing, or possibly engaging in addictive behaviors yourself, making you look like a hypocrite. For example, if your loved one has a problem with alcohol, don’t meet for a drink to talk about their problem. Addicts often turn the tables on those trying to help them, and this situation can easily turn into “Before you help me with my drinking, you might want to get help yourself.”  To an addict, help can often feel like you are trying to control them, leading to their going deeper into the addiction.

Don’t Lose Yourself in the Process

When you are in a relationship with an addict, whether they are a friend or a relative, it is stressful. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be of any help to the person you are trying to help. There are support groups to help you along the way, like Parents of Addicted Loved Ones.  PAL meets at Clemmons United Methodist Church in Clemmons, NC. Deborah Capps, a Clemmons UMC member and facilitator for the PAL group, says, “We never tell anyone dealing with an addict what they should do, but we do offer suggestions. Everyone experiences this journey at their own pace and is supported by the group, regardless.”

Honest Communication

It would be really easy just to lay your thoughts out on the table with your loved one and tell them that their addiction is a problem and that they need to change, but the decision to change is theirs, not yours. For the addict to get help and remain clean, they have to make the commitment. Change is much more likely to come about if your discussions are honest, but in a tone that isn’t threatening and demeaning to the addict.

Getting Treatment

Depending on the addiction, the treatment process will vary. If this part of their recovery can be helped with you being involved, you have to look at things honestly. Share your feelings about how the addiction has affected you and your relationship with the addict, don’t blame or criticize the addict during counseling and try to listen with an open mind. Many times addicts will try and place the blame on the person who suggested they get treatment, so don’t take it personally.

If it’s decided that treatment is to be done alone with a therapist or counselor, respect their privacy. Do not share their journey with others; that’s their decision to make, not yours. Do not initiate a conversation about how their treatment is going, again that is the addict’s decision to share or not to share. Do not push them to talk. There are many different approaches to the challenge of helping addicts, but keep in mind that change does not happen overnight. Becoming an addict didn’t happen overnight, so neither will change. Recovery is a marathon, not a sprint, a journey, not a destination. Be there to support your loved one, through the ups and downs, realizing there will be more downs than ups, but that the goal is a healthier person, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.



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