11 Things to Help a Family Member Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol

11 Things to Help a Family Member Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol

It is difficult to know what to do or what to say to a family member when you find out that he or she is addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. There are many suggestions as to how to approach an addicted family member. However, the most important thing is that you learn about what you can do to help and do it. Addiction will not just go away on its own.

What is Drug Addiction?

Drug abuse refers to a deliberate decision to use alcohol or other drugs without concern for the consequences. Drug abuse can lead to addiction. Drug addiction refers to what happens when a person has lost control over their drug use, and cannot stop using drugs or alcohol once they have started. Addiction may also be called “substance use disorder”. Substance use disorders occur when the recurrent use of alcohol and/or drugs causes significant impairment (health problems or failure to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home).

Physical addiction is when a person’s body becomes dependent on a drug. The body needs more and more of the drugs to get the same effect. When a person’s body becomes dependent on a drug, you may notice some of the following symptoms:

  • Sleeping problems
  • Needs more drugs or alcohol for the same effect
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Physical withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug or drinking

Psychological addiction is when a person’s mind craves the feeling that the drug gives them or they feel bad emotionally when they stop using the drug. The person can become overwhelmed by the desire to get more drugs. With psychological addiction, you may notice some of these symptoms:

  • Takes drugs or alcohol in larger and larger amounts
  • Is preoccupied with getting drugs or drinking alcohol
  • Steals or sells their things to buy drugs or alcohol
  • Seems anxious, grouchy, depressed
  • Withdraws from contact with friends and family
  • Loses interest in school, work, or hobbies
  • Socializes with others who abuse drugs or drink to excess
  • Has mood swings
  • Has problems with relationships at work and at home
  • Engages in dangerous behaviors, such as driving while drunk or high-risk sexual behaviors

How to Get Your Loved One to Accept Help

Getting your loved one to accept the fact that they have problem and need help is not easy, but there are a number of steps that can be taken to achieve more effective outcomes.

  • Educate yourself on addiction
  • Educate yourself on the family disease component
  • Find support for you and your family
  • Identify treatment and recovery options
  • Invite your loved one into a conversation about all of the options available for them

How to Talk to Your Family Member

  • Don’t try to talk when your family member is drunk or high.
  • Try to meet in a quiet, neutral place, but not at a bar or any place else that serves alcohol.
  • Talk to your family about the dangers of substance use in your home, during meals, in the car, anywhere outside of the home. Always keep the lines of communication open.
  • Talk about the effect that your family member’s drinking or drug use has had on whatever the person cares about most, such as career or children. Your family member may not be concerned about their own situation, but they may care deeply for their children and what the problem is doing to them. Be prepared for a variety of reactions, from sadness to anger. Think through how you will respond to each reaction, including stopping the conversation if it gets out-of-hand.
  • Learn about what treatment resources are available in your area by calling your state’s Office of Substance Abuse Services or searching their website to determine the treatment programs available.
  • Talk to an experienced professional who specializes in addiction.
  • Be aware of recovery resources available in your community. Find the local/national phone numbers for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
  • Work with a Certified Recovery Peer Advocate who specializes in family recovery (CRPA-F), a Family Recovery Coach, Family Support Navigator, Family Therapist or other Peer Specialist to develop healthy boundaries, effective communication, and wellness strategies for the family.


An intervention is an organized effort made by family and friends, with professional assistance, to provide the opportunity for your loved one to seek professional help for an addiction. An intervention can be direct or indirect, typically involving a “confrontational” meeting with the individual or work with family members to teach them how to be helpful to the addicted person.

For more information, visit http://www.associationofinterventionspecialists.org

Different Levels of Treatment

Like heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses, the type of treatment needed depends on the stage and severity of the disease. The more the illness has progressed, the more intense the treatment needs to be. A trained professional can use a Level of Care determination tool (LOCATR or American Society of Addiction Medicine criteria) to determine the appropriate level of care.

Outpatient Treatment:

Most outpatient clinics are open 5-6 days per week and offer day and evening hours. Services may include:

  • Individual Counseling and Group Counseling
  • Family Recovery Support for Loved Ones
  • Medications (to deter cravings and/or block the effects of drugs
  • Medical appointments with a physician, nurse practitioner or nurse for medication management
  • Random Drug Testing (to document abstinence or help if use continues)
  • Can last three months to a year depending on situation and needs

Inpatient Detoxification

During inpatient treatment, your loved one may need to undergo detoxification (detox), a medical process designed to keep the individual safe and comfortable while the body withdraws from alcohol or other drugs. Withdrawal can be dangerous or life threatening, so medical supervision is recommended.

  • Typically lasts 3-5 days, but may be longer or shorter depending upon the situation
  • Daily monitoring by physicians and nurses
  • Includes medications to alleviate the uncomfortable side effects of withdrawal
  • Addresses and treats other medical issues, as needed
  • Provides information to help the individual begin to understand addiction

Inpatient Rehabilitation:

Some facilities have separate programs for men and women which incorporate some or all of the following:

  • Length of stay can range from 10 – 30 days
  • Rehabilitation Counseling o Individual o Group
  • Education about addiction and this phase of treatment (group, readings, films)
  • A family program to educate and support the family

Residential Treatment

Residential treatment is intended for individuals in need of longer term treatment and can last from 60 – 180 days depending on the needs of the individual.

Advocates and Recovery Coaches

Once your loved one decides to seek treatment, they may need help navigating the drug/alcohol treatment system. Another treatment to consider is from online consultations from online suboxone doctors for people who don’t have the luxury of time to go to rehab every now and then. Certified Recovery Peer Advocates (CRPA) and Certified Addiction Recovery Coaches (CARC) are trained as guides and mentors for both the individual in recovery and their family members. One of their primary roles is to act as a broker of local services and recovery resources. To find a CRPA or CARC, you can contact the following resources:

  • Recovery Community and Outreach Centers
  • Recovery Community Organizations
  • Peer Engagement Specialists
  • Search the internet using the words “Recovery Coach” and “your state or city”.

Mutual Aid Support Groups for Families

Finding and connecting with other families who share the experience of living with addiction can be a very invaluable resource of support and Recovery. Consider getting support for yourself and your family from various networks of support groups for family and friends of people with substance use disorders. The following are some of the mutual aid groups available:

  • Al-Anon Family Groups
  • Ala-teen
  • ACOA – Adult Children of Alcoholics
  • Nar-Anon Family Groups
  • CODA – Codependents Anonymous
  • Families Anonymous
  • SMART Recovery Family & Friends meetings

Michael Herbert has more than 30 years of experience working closely with individuals and families. Michael is a seasoned addiction professional providing all aspects of care from interventions to continued care and beyond. Michael will help you and your family establish long-term goals and access the tools you need for lasting recovery. Get in touch with Michael today at 561-221-7677 to schedule an appointment.

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