How To Best Support A Loved One Struggling With Addiction

By Dominica


Last Updated: March 14, 2021

Do you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction?

If so, I imagine it’s tough for you at times because you have it in your heart to help them, but they may not want your help.  You may have talked to them multiple times, letting them know your concerns, yet they just keep abusing whatever it is they are addicted to.

We live in a world where there are plenty of things people can get addicted to. From technology to prescription medication to recreational to illegal drugs, there’s no shortage of things that boost dopamine in the brain.

If you have a loved one that you feel is addicted to alcohol or drugs, you’re probably wondering what you can do to help that person. The first thing you can do is become a bit educated about addiction so you can better determine if your loved one really has a problem or not.

Understanding Substance Abuse

Not everyone who tries alcohol or drugs becomes addicted. Many people simply experiment or go through a season of life where they use (and sometimes abuse) a drug.  However, when they’re done, they can usually quit without a problem.

Think of the many college kids who party during their college years, but quit once they’ve gone through that “party phase”. They go on to get jobs, settle down, and simply choose not to drink or take drugs anymore. Or, they do so once in a while without problem, such as social drinking.

Others are not so fortunate.  They may not be able to just up and quit drinking or taking their drug of choice.  They may also face start to face some dire consequences.  A prime sign that one has a problem with alcohol or drugs is when problems begin occurring directly due to the use of such.

Substance abuse experts state that some people become addicted due to their genes, environment, traumatic experiences in childhood, mental disorders, or the type of drug used. For example, crack is one of the easiest drugs to become addicted to regardless of someone’s past or issues they currently have. Heroin is another high risk, addictive drug. You can get addicted to such drugs even after just one time using them.

How Drugs Affect The Brain

Alcohol and drug use affect the brain after repeated use, as it can change the way the structure and functions.  For example, if someone takes a drug, the dopamine level in the brain increases, which makes that person feel euphoric. Once the brain gets a taste for that drug, it begins craving it more and more. In fact, the brain may want the drug so badly that a person cannot think clearly and will do whatever he can to obtain more of the drug.

Some experts state it’s the survival part of the brain that gets activated when addictive drugs are introduced to the body.  Once that part of the brain is activated, it will produce cravings for more of that drug, as the brain literally thinks it will die without more of it.  This may be why some people continue using alcohol or drugs even when they suffer negative consequences.  The intense cravings go beyond their logic, right to the survival part of their brain. They do not feel in control of such urges.

How Drug Abuse Occurs

Using recreational drugs for some is simply a way to release some steam and have some fun. However, for those addicted to alcohol or a drug, it can become a dark prison.  Sure, initially it may be all fun and games and they may be able to control their intake. But before long, the cravings become intense and they begin to base their life around the drug.

They may miss days of work, neglect family and friends, become agitated, or get into some legal trouble.  They didn’t mean to become addicted, but they do.  Maybe they are dealing with incredible inner pain and like the way drugs temporarily numb that pain.  Or maybe they just don’t care anymore about life, so they choose to reach for drugs to try to find some sense of relief.

How To Approach A Loved One Who Is Abusing Drugs

If you believe your loved one is an addicted to alcohol or a drug, chances are they may not believe they are just yet. Oftentimes they must hit rock bottom before they are willing to admit the fact that they are addicted to a substance.

Before approaching your loved one, understand that they may not want to hear what you have to say. They may become quite defensive and get angry with you.  Be prepared for such.

Lovingly approach your loved one with a heartfelt conversation. Tell them that you are genuinely concerned about their drug use and you would like them to consider getting help.  You can even hand them a list of resources that they can utilize for help, such as 12 step meetings, counselors, detox centers, etc.  Let them know that you care, and you are willing to support and encourage them in their recovery efforts.

Set Boundaries

This is your first step toward helping a loved one who has an addiction problem.  If they refuse help, be sure to set some boundaries if they live at home with you to ensure that you are not assisting or enabling them to continue. This means that if you are giving your loved one money and they are using that money for drugs, stop giving out that money.

Attend A Support Group

Having a loved one who struggles with ongoing addiction can be tough on you.  Whether it’s your child (teen or adult), partner, spouse, family member, or friend, it can be tough to know what to say or what to do.  You want them to stop abusing the drug so badly, and you may try plenty of things to help them.

You may also feel powerless at the same time. You can talk to them till the cows come home, yet they continue to abuse their drug of choice. It can certainly become disheartening and cause you to experience a roller coaster ride of emotions.

Fortunately, there are support groups available for you if your loved one is struggling with addiction, such as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon.  There you will find support and encouragement on your journey living with a friend or loved on who is caught up in addiction.  You’ll be able to meet others who are dealing with similar circumstances, who can give you some support.  Addiction affects more than just the person addicted. It affects the whole family and many times, friends too.

If you’re in need of some emotional support, be sure to look into attending a support group. There are also groups designed for teenagers who need support, such as Al-Ateen.

Their Life, Their Lessons, Their Timing

There’s a phrase I use when contending with loved ones who struggle with addiction:

“It’s their life, their lessons, their timing”.

This helps remind me that my loved one’s addiction is not mine to fix or cure. The reality is that I can’t. I can show up and be loving and supportive, but I can’t force them to stop drinking or drugging.

It helps me to remind myself that I’m powerless over them. I quietly say, “It’s their life, their lessons, and their timing”.  I can pray that they see the truth of their addiction soon and reach out for help if they need help quitting. I can let them know I care about them. I can hold my boundaries in a loving way if and when they come to me looking to enable them. I can still associate with them on my terms, if they are able to respect me and my boundaries.

Having a loved one with an addiction problem can be tough. It’s helpful when we learn how we can best support them, while taking care of ourselves too. A few books have helped me over the years in learning how I can best show up for my loved ones. Feel free to check them out, as it helps to hear what others have to share through their experiences.


Get Your Loved One Sober: Alternatives to Nagging, Pleading, and Threatening

Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help Change People

Don’t Let Your Kids Kill You by Charles Rubin


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash


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