How to Help an Addict? Finding Treatment For a Loved One

Last Updated: January 20, 2021

Authored by Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

It can be quite challenging to love a drug addict. Addiction to drugs or alcohol is dangerous for the user but equally hard on those who love him or her. It is always hard to see how the loved ones self-destruct themselves, as well as all the things it is related to what they might have to go through.

A person may love a drug addict, worry over their safety and well-being, and wonder whether they’ll ever get help. One may want to talk to this person about the feelings and concerns but feel like there is never a right time or like they are not listening. If one doesn’t understand the nature of addiction, it is common to feel anger, sadness, and frustration that the partner won’t quit or seems unwilling even to try.

Rest assured that all one is feeling is normal and that the loved one can still have a good outcome, even with a longstanding addiction. There are steps on how to help an addict or polyaddict. If a person feels stressed or confused about what to do or where to turn, keep a few things in mind.

Addiction Is A Physical Disorder As Well As A Mental One

One may feel as though the loved one isn’t trying to change, isn’t listening when one tries to broach the subject of quitting a substance of choice. While it may seem like outright defiance or hesitancy, it probably isn’t. Not understanding addiction affects the drug user on many levels, and simply quitting isn’t usually an option.

Addiction is commonly linked to a physical dependency on a substance. The user’s body reacts badly when the substance isn’t used for sometimes as little as a few hours, usually within a day. Severe and even life-threatening reactions can occur. An addict will do almost anything to acquire their drug of choice before these side effects can take their toll to feel better.

Mental addiction is usually also at play. The addicts feel and truly believe that they need drugs or alcohol. The addict feels as though they have to get more or something bad will happen.

This combination of factors often leaves the person feeling helpless to stop, even if they want to try harder. 

man sitting stressful and depressed.

Why is Addiction Challenging to Overcome?

It may seem like all an addicted person needs to do is to stop using a certain substance, but it is never that simple. Quitting drugs is not about willpower or by choice. This is where understanding addiction comes into play. It comes as a very powerful, compelling force that completely overwhelms the user, prompting them to seek out the drug and use it immediately.

How does this happen? When used, these drugs cause the brain to release certain chemicals that heighten the feeling of happiness and excitement. The downside is that when this feeling wears off, the user will be left with depression, anxiety, sadness, loss of self, and in some cases, painful withdrawal symptoms; these are characteristics of addiction.

The more drugs an addict uses, the more tolerance they develop to the drug until excessive drug use leads to overdose and death. Luckily, there are safe steps on how to help an addict.

You Are Not The Cause Of Their Addiction

Even if a person once poured a glass of wine at a party several years ago or used to smoke pot alongside. No one is the cause of another person’s addiction. In the end, only the addict decided to start using the substance to the point of addiction. This is rarely done with the concept of addiction or dependency in mind, but they still choose a light first joint, inject that first dose, or take that first pill.

In some cases, this may be due to chronic pain and the use of prescription medications. In other cases, illegal drugs are the culprit. In either event, one was not the cause.

african American couple swearing.

The addict may try to make one feel as though they are partly to blame. They may blame other people for the stress they are experiencing. They may get angry or even violent if they try and stop them from using drugs. Remember that it’s the addiction talking, not the truth.

One cannot be proactive  in helping a partner recover from being wracked with their own unjustified guilt. It is quite true that addiction always affects the lives of both the addict and the family in general. However, there is a need to come to terms with certain facts to make progress; the addict by self must accept responsibility for their actions and consent to getting professional help with addiction while family members should admit to themselves that the addiction wasn’t as a result of their own actions and inactions.

Accepting these feelings is the first step to seeking a solution to understanding addiction. Here’s how to help an addict and not enable them.

How to Start the Initial Conversation?

What is the appropriate way to get a partner to seek help with addiction? People differ in their way of approaching a problem, and in many situations, there is a tendency to want to lay blames and escalate a problem in the bid to make the other party see reason. The addict themselves may be latching on to past events, triggers, and problems that may have contributed to their developing an addiction. Once there is a miscommunication and an impasse is reached, it may become difficult to broach that topic again with the addict. Therefore one must devise means to have the conversation in a way that is peaceful, supportive, and yet firm enough to let the addict know the long-term effects of the addiction in their lives and that of their loved ones. There is always an option to call an intervention specialist to assist in such conversations.

intervention with a drug addict.

Approach with Concern

Approach someone with addiction with love and concern so as to successfully convince them to seek professional help. Don’t approach the addict with accusations and blame, as this might only lead to further depression.

Even though one is probably angry and feels let down by the addict, do not approach them with accusations and blame. Odds are, they already feel horrible about the way their life has turned out, and blaming them for their actions will only lead to further depression. If a goal is for them to get professional help, then approach them with love and concern. It is critical to communicate to an addict that the best option is treatment and that support is always here during recovery. One may tell an addict how the addiction has changed them and the worries one has. Do this during a time when they seem receptive, if possible. If it isn’t, then be compassionate and honest. One may have to approach them several times before they agree to seek treatment.

Understand the Rehabilitation Process

Rehabilitation process has to be well planned out if your partner does not fancy the idea of seeking treatment for long-term recovery. The first line of action is to convince addicted people that they need help and cannot do it alone. If all advice fails, then the best step to take is to stage an intervention.

Staging an Intervention

In some cases, employing the aid of a professional interventionist as well as a few family and friends to help with an intervention is the best way to let an addict know that their actions affect everyone else, including themselves. It is found to be very effective in encouraging addicts to seek help.

Detox

There are different levels of addiction. Addicts with severe addictions are provided with medical-assist to help quell the overwhelming negative effects of addiction, such as painful withdrawal symptoms. This is done with pharmaceuticals, and the process is referred to as detoxification.

former addict during detoxification.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT is a widely practiced treatment technique that educates the addict on the negatives of addiction and how to cope with the physical, mental and emotional aspects of their addictions to take control of their lives. CBT is used in many rehab centers for drugs and alcohol.

Choosing an Inpatient or an Outpatient Drug or Alcohol Rehab

Many rehab centers specialize in outpatient and inpatient programs with a 24-hour care service that one could choose from, depending on the level of the addiction and the recommendation of the doctor.

The outpatient program allows the flexibility of walk-in treatment on a daily basis, which enables the patient to come from home. In contrast, the inpatient program is an extensive 24-hour program that mandates the patient to live in the facility for proper care and management by medical experts.

More than likely, one won’t be able to contact the loved one during the initial stages of rehab treatment. Even though one wants to be there to help, this is a good thing. Although one may be close, having one around would create an unneeded distraction during the most crucial parts of his recovery and detoxification. Rest assured that an addict is in good hands and that one has chosen the right rehab facility to meet his needs, even specialized ones like co-occurring diseases.

After the initial phases are over, one will probably be asked to visit, and an addict may be asked to attend family counseling sessions. This will give a chance to discuss any issues one may have or talk about how addiction has affected one’s life.

Become a Support System

One can support a recovering addict by helping them to avoid temptations, talking, and listening to them, or doing fun and relaxing activities with them. Help and support throughout their adjustment to a sober life are essential for them to maintain lifelong sobriety.

When someone leaves rehab, having a strong and committed support network is vital for recovery. Adjusting to life without drugs or alcohol outside the confines of a rehabilitation center is often disorienting for recovering addicts, and it may take time to develop a schedule and routine to maintain healthy habits learned while inside. One should be available to talk, listen, and support the loved one during this transition and throughout the relationship. One can also help him avoid temptation in some cases. This may mean bypassing that glass of wine one would normally have with dinner on the anniversary or planning relaxing and fun activities to do during his downtime, so they are not tempted to form relationships with user friends.

Rehab professional talking to mother and daughter.

Stay Optimistic About Addiction Treatment

Relapses happen. Spending time in an inpatient facility lowers the risk, but there is no guarantee that the loved one will stay the course. They may feel guilt or shame by this, but one can offer gentle encouragement and direction to get them back on track. A relapse doesn’t have to mean permanent failure. If they got clean once, they could do it again. With one by their side throughout the process, success will be far more likely.

Protect Oneself

Although one’s support is necessary and crucial for recovery, do not let oneself be pulled into the addict’s world. Mental health is also important. If one feels threatened, used, manipulated, or otherwise endangered while in the presence of the addict, one should seek professional counseling and distance oneself until one can re-engage safely. There are many ways loving an addict can be of danger or negative influence on the family. One could use several techniques to ensure the safety of the family. Here are a few ways to keep one’s self and family safe from the influence of loving an addict.

Create an Emergency Plan

It is important to have the contacts to close friends of the addict, as well as family members, therapists, doctors, drug and law enforcers, and other people that may be of help if the addiction causes any form of uncontrollable physical or emotional outbursts.

Cut all Financial Support

Addiction causes the user to spend recklessly on drugs. They may go as far as lying and making up stories to secure funds for their addiction. The first line of action is to cut off access to any bank accounts, credit cards, and avoid opening up joint accounts. Once all financial support is cut off, they would be more willing to seek medical help.

Set Healthy Boundaries and House Rules

It is important to lay out the rules and regulations of the house, as well as expected conduct. The addict has to know that there will be consequences for their actions. Otherwise, they could take decisions that might endanger the family and themselves.

Insist on Treatment

An addict may live in denial or get emotional, claiming that they have control over their cravings, and yet their behavior and actions may speak otherwise. Some people may be scared of wrecking the relationship with their loved one, who is an addict. However, it is in the interest of the individual loving an addict to insist on finding the addict some professional help with addiction before it leads to severe health issues that may be irreversible.

Join a Support Program

The beauty of a support program is that it is a safe haven for many individuals who are going through the same issues with a partner. In 2016 alone, over 20 million individuals aged 12 and above were diagnosed with substance use disorder in the US. Support groups are available to provide immediate help and counseling to people whose loved ones need help with addiction.

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Page Sources

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  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Step by Step Guides to Finding Treatment for Drug Use Disorders. If Your Adult Friend or Loved One Has a Problem with Drugs https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/step-by-step-guides-to-finding-treatment-drug-use-disorders/if-your-adult-friend-or-loved-one-has-problem-drugs

Published on: November 2nd, 2015

Updated on: January 20th, 2021

About Author

Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Nena Messina is a specialist in drug-related domestic violence. She devoted her life to the study of the connection between crime, mental health, and substance abuse. Apart from her work as management at addiction center, Nena regularly takes part in the educational program as a lecturer.

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.