How to Approach and Help a Drug Addict or Alcoholic
If you feel unsure about how to express your concerns about your loved one’s addiction to them, or scared that confronting them will push them away, you’re not alone. Learn how addiction works, what your loved one is experiencing and how you can effectively help them get into treatment.
Having a loved one who is an alcoholic or drug addict is one of the most painful situations you can deal with. It’s impossible to remain unaffected while you watch them throw their life away on drugs and alcohol, but knowing what to do and how to help can sometimes be even harder. You may find yourself asking,
Am I sure they’re addicted?
How much help should I give without enabling their addiction?
What’s the best way to approach them so that I don’t end up pushing them further away?
How can I fix this?
Before we answer these questions and look into how you can help your loved one get into addiction treatment, it’s important to consider that there are several factors that increase their risk for addiction in the first place.
Risk Factors for Addiction
1. Biological Factors
Addiction is almost 50% reliant on genes passed from one generation to another. If someone in their family is an addict, your loved one’s chances of developing an addiction increase.
People who suffer from co-occurring mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, ADHD and bipolar are more likely to develop a substance abuse disorder.
2. Environmental Risks and Influences on Drug Addiction
Home and Family
Statistics suggest that children who come from abusive or uncaring households are much more likely to become addicts. As well, a household in which children are frequently exposed to drugs or alcohol can also increase their chances of addiction.
Studies have shown that the younger you are when you are exposed to drugs or alcohol, the more likely you are to develop an addiction.
Addicts are commonly characterised as having poor coping skills, and saying no to their friends who are asking them to try drugs is often extremely difficult.
High levels of stress may drive people to use drugs and alcohol as a means to escape, or a way to get by in everyday life.
3. Drug Type and Administration
Drugs like heroin and crack cocaine are extremely addictive, and someone who uses these kinds of drugs – compared to lower grade drugs like marijuana – is more likely to develop drug dependence down the line.
The route of drug administration affects how quickly and intensely it affects the user. Intravenous drug users, for example, are at increased risk of addiction because of the heightened effects.
7 Signs that a Loved One is Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol
1. Change in Physical Appearance
The most notable changes in physical appearance include rapid weight loss or gain, unusual cuts, bruises or sores, itchy skin, skin rashes and neglected hygiene.
2. Health Problems
Over time, drug and alcohol abuse can lead to serious health problems including heart disease, liver cirrhosis and cancer. Short term, they may experience persistent illness, such as a stuffy nose and cough that won’t go away, nausea and vomiting, flu like symptoms or frequent headaches.
3. Loss of Interest
If your loved one spends less and less time with family without explanation and loses interest in old friends and hobbies, this could be an indicator that addiction is present.
4. Changes in Sleep Patterns and Energy Levels
Different drugs have different effects. Staying up all night (or even for days on end) can be just as indicative as sleeping for days at a time. Take notice of any major changes.
5. Lying and Becoming Secretive
If you feel like you can never get a straight answer from your loved one and they become more secretive about where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing, this could signal an addiction.
6. Mood Swings
Substance abuse affects the brain and emotional state of users and can cause people to become more aggressive, hostile or depressed without notice.
7. Problems at School, Work or with the Law
Addiction will almost inevitably lead to problems in other aspects of life. If your loved one has been arrested, is missing school or work frequently or their grades are falling inexplicably, these are also signs of addiction to take notice of.
Your Guide to Helping an Addicted Loved One
If you do believe that your loved one is addicted, it’s difficult to know how to approach them. The following list is a guide to ways of thinking and actions you can take to encourage your loved one to get the help they need for their alcohol or drug addiction.
1. Understand that you cannot fix it.
Before you approach the drug addict or alcoholic in your life about their disease, it’s important to remember that you are not able to fix it. Many family members dealing with an addict in the family are taught the three Cs of addiction:
You did not cause the addiction.
You cannot control the addiction.
You cannot cure the addiction.
2. Know that it will take time.
Addiction is a chronic, progressive disease, meaning it gets worse and worse over time if untreated. This means, of course, that since the addiction likely took years to get to this point, it could possibly take just as much time to help them into recovery. Even though you can see the negative effects substance abuse is having on your loved one, you must understand that the drug addict does not see it the same way. It may take a long while for them to realise just how bad things are, since your addicted loved one is not only lying to you, but to themselves as well.
3. Educate yourself.
The first key to successfully helping an alcoholic or drug addict is to learn as much as you can about the disease of addiction. The more you know about the disease, the better you will be able to understand how the mind of an addict works, and in turn, help them get treatment. There is a plethora of addiction information online, or you can speak to a professional addictions counsellor for support.
4.Talk to the drug addict alone.
For the first conversation, it is important that you drop all expectations and focus on simply trying to get the addict to take a look at the negative consequences of substance abuse. It is very unlikely that out of this one conversation you will be able to get them into treatment — so just drop that idea full stop. Instead, think of the first conversations as planting a seed, and speak to them with some gentility. Unfortunately, there is no one way to start the conversation, but it is important to create a sense of empathy, love, support and concern above all.
5. Take care of yourself.
The first conversation may have sparked some animosity from your addicted loved one, as it is not uncommon that they will feel attacked even though you are coming out of a place of love. At this point, you need to take care of your own emotions and well-being. Al-anon is a support group for family members affected by addiction – it would be a great idea to attend a meeting in your area.
6. Stop enabling.
This is one of the most difficult parts of caring for a loved one with an addiction. As you watch their life spiral out of control, it is a normal human reaction to want to help them. When they get kicked out of their apartment for not paying the rent, you may want to let them stay with you. When they cancel plans regularly or lie to you, it is often easier to turn a blind eye than start an argument. But many of these behaviours will only show the drug addict or alcoholic that there are no negative consequences for their behaviours, enabling their addiction. For more information on helping vs enabling an addict, see ‘Loving an Addict without Enabling their Addiction’.
7. Stage an intervention.
If the private conversations and lack of enabling have not had the desired effect, staging an intervention may be your next logical plan of action. Be sure to read ‘How to Perform an Intervention’ or watch the video before attempting an intervention of your own.
8. Stay involved.
Sometimes the talks, and even the interventions, don’t work. Sometimes you can watch a drug addict lose their spouse, their kids, their home and their money and they still refuse to get help. It may seem like a lost cause at times, but if you let your loved one know every few weeks or couple of months that you are still there, you still care, and that you still want to help, it may finally sink in.
Effective Addiction Treatment at Shafa Home
If you have a loved one who is suffering from addiction and you need more help with how to approach them and get them into an addiction treatment centre, contact one of our addiction specialists today.
(These articles are the sole property of “The Cabin Chiang Mai”, They are its original authors)