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How to Help an Addict When They Think They Don’t Need Help

Last Updated: June 10, 2022

Authored by Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Experts differ on how to help an addict overcome their substance abuse disorder and how to get them into recovery. Treatment does not have to be voluntary to be successful. Someone being enticed, forced or pressured into rehab by family members, employers, and legal authorities does not mean that they will drop out. But one of the key predictors of a successful rehabilitation stay is a patient’s belief in their ability to achieve success. Friends and family can reinforce this belief with a measured and compassionate approach to helping someone acknowledge their addiction and getting help.

Real-World Tips on How to Help an Addict

Addiction is the one disease where the afflicted person does not want to recognize they are sick. It is, however, those around them – friends, family, co-workers – who see most clearly how addiction has taken over their lives. As such, it often falls upon those closest to an addict to step in and help them acknowledge their problem.

Having a conversation about addiction and treatment with an addicted friend or loved one is not easy.

Do: Empathize and Listen.  Start the Conversation, But Let Them Talk

Speaking directly to them should always be on a list of how to help an addict. This is a precursor to a more formal and organized intervention, which could be the next step. But talking one-on-one with a friend or loved one with an addiction problem could also start them on the road to recovery.

Ideally, a person should schedule a specific time or place to speak to their addicted loved one without telling them the reason for the meeting. They should choose a quiet, familiar place that feels safe for both parties. If the person arrives intoxicated, they should be allowed to sober themselves up or, if possible, reschedule the meeting for a different time when they will not be able to take alcohol first.

The conversation should be frank but compassionate. Explain that your worry stems from a genuine concern for their health, safety, and well-being. Tell them how their substance abuse problem has affected their relationships and their everyday lives. Avoid judgments and anger. Tell them that you are willing to help and that they can always count on your support.

If you or your loved ones want to start a conversation with someone suffering from addiction, read our new book Breaking the Cycle of Substance Abuse.

It helps you understand the nature of addiction, gives helpful tips and strategies from healthcare professionals, and shows places to start the treatment.

Hands with book.

Do: Be Patient. Recovery Is a Long Process

Even someone who has never been in recovery understands that it is a long and trying process. There is no guarantee that if and when a person enters rehab that their treatment process will be successful. There are so many unknown factors that push someone to relapse. Even people who have all the positive signs for preventing remission (stable social network, extensive time in rehab, etc.) can fall prey to their past behaviors.

Recovery is a journey with many stops and starts. Anyone looking to get their friend or loved one into a program should recognize this fact and prepare for the aftermath of a possible relapse. However, they should not be quick to condemn, punish or judge. They should instead realize that the way forward often takes a detour and even their treatment goes backward sometimes.

“Recovery is a process. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes everything you’ve got.”

Do: Get Help Yourself. Take Care of You Too

Dealing with drug or alcohol addiction of a close personal friend or family member can be taxing on anyone’s mental health and well-being. Relationships can and have fractured under the enormous weight of a loved one’s substance abuse. It is crucial then to maintain a sense of calm and composure amid the stress of dealing with addiction.

Regardless of whether that person has decided to enter recovery, anyone who needs to talk about their situation should get professional help and support if they need it. Talking to others in the same situation can foster a sense of community and belonging, rather than instilling feelings of isolation and alienation common to those who are part of an addict’s personal life.

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”Ralph Waldo Emerson

Do: Consult With Professionals. Get Advice from a Knowledgeable Source

Getting support, counseling, and advice from a professional on how to help an addict is vital to support someone becoming educated on the ups and downs of dealing with addiction. A person may not know where to begin when trying to get their friend or loved one drug addiction help.

They could go about it the wrong way and even deepen the rift between them and their addicted friend. Finding out the best methods and understanding the more profound nature of addiction are key ways to help your friend get into a program. By understanding how addicts negotiate, manipulate, and try to avoid their situation, their inner circle can better respond to their tactics and finally reason with them.

How to talk to an addict.

Things To Avoid When Talking About Drug Addiction Help

There is a right way and a wrong way to get someone you know drug addiction help. The above list was some practical resources on talking to someone dealing with addiction. The below list are some don’ts that people should avoid when trying to get someone help with addiction. The complexities of addiction mean that there is a fine line between being compassionate and being an enabler, the latter of which is something to avoid entirely and is the first tip.

Don’t: Be an Enabler. Know When and Where To Draw the Line

Substance abusers become skilled in negotiation and manipulation after a while. It is these qualities that allow them to navigate the many obstacles between them and continuing to abuse. There will always be excuses, lies, and bargaining that an addict will try to get people to continue enabling their habit, which can be anything from giving them money, asking them for rides, or letting them stay a few nights on someone’s couch.

Friends and family are especially prey to these machinations, when dealing with addiction. It will be difficult not to try to “help” someone who is abusing, but they will always define “help” as something that enables them to feed their addiction and never to get professional support.

Don’t: Be Impatient. There Will Be Failures

Addiction experts know that relapses are built-in to the recovery process. It is a common occurrence in a patient’s attempt to get clean. While there are ways and signs to look out for to prevent a relapse, they can occur at any rehabilitation stage, from days after beginning abstinence to after years of sobriety.

It is important to handle these setbacks with acceptance and determination. The person who relapses may be experiencing several different emotional responses at once. This could cause even further damage and drive them into a shame spiral, so it is important to not condemn or judge someone for undergoing a misstep along the way to recovery.

Don’t: Be Aggressive. Stand Firm, but Be Kind

Bearing witness to someone struggling with addiction can be a traumatic and aggravating experience. It can lead to the build-up of many negative thoughts and emotions that could find expression in aggressive behavior, whether verbally or physically. It is essential for everyone involved that negative emotions are left out of getting someone drug addiction help.

An addict will respond to lectures and tongue-lashing with more shame, self-hatred, and self-abuse. They will use it as justification to avoid getting treatment, as they will claim they feel attacked, even threatened or reason that they do not need help with addiction. Despite the best of intentions, anger and yelling will only make things worse.

Don’t: Be Unprepared. Be Ready With Options

Getting someone with alcohol or drug addiction help is not only a matter of reasoning and bargaining. Any attempt to get someone into recovery should be supported by actionable information like nearby treatment options or licensed detox centers. Then, if there is a breakthrough and someone actively asks or seeks out help, their loved ones should be ready to translate that into an actual act.

Before talking to someone about treatment, research the options available in the surrounding area that could be a good fit for the addicted person, which can make it easier on how to talk to a drug addict. Treatment centers are not all the same. Some take an evidence-based, medical approach while others offer alternative treatments that are effective for some but not for others.

It helps to know which rehab offers what so that there is no time wasted between someone admitting they have a problem and asking for help. It may take a long time for someone to let themselves be helped, but it’s a good idea to have options ready when that time finally does come.

How to act with an addict.

Understanding The Nature of Addiction

For a long time, addiction was treated as a moral or spiritual failing of the addicted person. There was a perception that anyone who abused drugs or alcohol lacked discipline and self-control and did not deserve help with addiction. But years of scientific and medical research have revealed that addiction is much more complex than previously thought.

In short, addiction changes the way the brain understands pleasure. The “reward circuit” in the brain is altered when drug use begins. Initial drug-taking is voluntary, and not everyone who takes a substance becomes addicted, which is due to several different factors, from genetics and biology to a person’s environment.

As drug use continues, however, the brain becomes used to these dopamine surges, a pleasure-inducing chemical brought on by drug use. As a result, it seeks out these experiences more and more, which only encourages more drug-taking.

Addiction does change a person physically (due to prolonged drug use), but the most destructive changes are the cognitive and behavioral changes that propagate addiction. With that said, the people closest to a drug-addicted person may not recognize their problem right away or even after it has started.

Only with time will someone’s substance abuse become evident to those around them, which is usually manifested by the following behaviors: 

  • Increased preoccupation with taking alcohol, drugs or other substances
  • Heightened anxiety and restlessness when not on drugs
  • Increase in compulsive and impulsive behavior
  • Disinterest in other aspects of their life (work, family, school)
  • Unwillingness to admit to their problem or change their behavior

The Last Word On How to Get Help for an Addict

This article has covered the many different ways (correct and incorrect) to get drug addiction help and how to talk to a drug addict. Every case of addiction is different, however. The people around an addict may need to adjust their approach based on things like a person’s history, their mental state or other comorbidities, and how long they’ve been using to get them help with addiction.

The steps listed here are guides on how to get started. Still, it is important that people refer to professionals (social workers, drug counselors, healthcare experts) if they are serious about getting their loved one into recovery. It is also essential to recognize that getting someone into rehab, while an essential first step, is not a cure-all.

“Fall seven times, stand up eight.”Japanese proverb

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Page Sources

  1. National Institutes on Drug Abuse. Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition) Principles of Effective Treatment. 2018. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment
  2. Prangley, T., Pit, S. W., Rees, T., & Nealon, J. (2018). Factors influencing early withdrawal from a drug and alcohol treatment program and client perceptions of successful recovery and employment: a qualitative study. BMC psychiatry, 18(1), 301. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-018-1864-y
  3. Moos, R. H., & Moos, B. S. (2006). Rates and predictors of relapse after natural and treated remission from alcohol use disorders. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 101(2), 212–222. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1360-0443.2006.01310.x
  4. Melemis S. M. (2015). Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery. The Yale journal of biology and medicine, 88(3), 325–332.
  5. National Institutes of Drug Abuse. Understanding Drug Use and Addiction Drug Facts. 2018. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-use-addiction

Published on: August 5th, 2021

Updated on: June 10th, 2022

About Author

Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Dr. Ahmed Zayed has degrees in Medicine and Surgery and is a graduate of The University of Alexandria. Dr. Ahmed Zayed has a passion for writing medical and healthcare articles and focuses on providing engaging and trustworthy information to readers.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.

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