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How to Help a Drug Addict at All Stages

In this article, we offer practical and immediate support strategies that family and friends can implement as they work together to help their addicted loved one make their way down the path to recovery. 

Struggling with Addiction? Get Help Now

It is not easy for the family and friends when a loved one is struggling with addiction. For many families, the focus is solely on helping the addicted person, but in order to be successful in that endeavor, it is essential to prioritize the well-being of everyone in the home. 

A Step-by-Step Guide to Helping a Drug Addict 

When you discover that someone you love is living with an active drug addiction, it is important to take positive action. This means avoiding choices that alienate your loved one or enable their behaviors and make it easier for them to continue using. Instead, actively work to help them understand the need for immediate treatment. 

Here are the steps to take to help your loved one:

1. Have an Honest Discussion

It’s important to express your concern about your loved one’s addictive behaviors but to do so in a way that is non-confrontational. This means having an open and honest conversation about the facts that support your belief that they are living with an addiction, the losses they have incurred thus far as a result, and your concerns about what the future holds for their health and well-being if they do not seek treatment. 


  • Stay calm.
  • Try to wait for them to be sober and rested. 
  • Do not accuse or blame. 
  • If they do not see your viewpoint, agree to disagree and move on to the next step. 

2. Avoid Enabling Behaviors 

Enabling behaviors include any choice you make that makes it easier for your loved one to continue to use drugs or avoid the consequences of their drug use.[1] 

An example may be paying any of their bills, enabling them to spend their money on drugs. Another example is lying to their boss so they are not fired or lying to the police so they don’t end up in jail due to their behavior while under the influence. 


  • Do not give your loved one money for any reason.
  • Agree to support dependents (such as your loved one’s child) but not the person living with the addiction. 
  • Do not give in to threats or begging. 
  • Choose your boundaries with the support of a therapist or support group. Then, make them clear to your loved one and do not cross those boundaries for any reason. 

3. Celebrate Progress 

If your loved one makes an attempt to move toward recovery or abstinence, celebrate that with them. Try to be a positive source of support rather than someone who only points out the negative or comes off as judgmental and blaming.


  • Avoid belittling or judging your loved one if they attempt to avoid drug use and end up relapsing. Addiction is a disorder that requires treatment, and relapse is often part of the long-term recovery journey. 
  • Celebrate without crossing boundaries. For example, avoid giving expensive gifts they could sell for quick cash.
  • Lead with love. Let them know that you love them no matter what and you respect their movement toward recovery.

4. Encourage Professional Treatment

Though your loved one will likely promise that they can stop using or cut down on drug use at any time, the truth is that addiction is a psychological as well as a physical disorder. Medical supervision plus behavioral counseling are usually needed to break free of addictive behaviors.[2] 

The good news is that there are a number of treatment options available to your loved one. The one that will work best for their situation will be based on the following:

  • Their past attempts at treatment 
  • Their drug of choice
  • Insurance coverage
  • Ability to pay co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs
  • Your loved one’s goals for treatment 
  • Whether or not they have a safe and sober place to live during treatment 

Here is a breakdown of different addiction treatment options:[3-6]

Treatment OptionProsCons
Inpatient TreatmentA safe and sober living environment24/7 medical and emotional supportLess ability to relapse or be exposed to people drinking or getting highIntensive therapy and addiction treatment programsGood fit for people who are unable to thrive in an outpatient setting and/ or require round-the-clock careCan be expensiveMay not be covered by insurance if outpatient treatment hasn’t been tried firstRequires time away from work, family, and other responsibilitiesLess independence for the person in treatment, which may make it harder to transition into sober living outside of treatment 
Outpatient TreatmentAllows patients to live at homeFlexible schedule for work or schoolUsually less expensive than inpatient treatmentGood fit for mild to moderate casesMay be able to maintain personal life and responsibilitiesMay be more likely to be covered by insuranceLess structured than inpatient careGreater risk of exposure to triggers that may lead to relapse or leaving recovery entirelyRelies heavily on the person’s ability to manage their own schedule, ask for help when they need it, and show up for themselves
Medical DetoxMedical supervision for safe management of withdrawal symptomsA strong first step toward long-term treatmentOption to use medication to relieve withdrawal symptomsDoes not comprise a comprehensive treatment programCan be dangerous if undertaken outside of a medically supervised facilityTypically followed by further treatment
Therapy & CounselingPersonalized therapy and supportHelps to work through the underlying causes of addictionCan be one-on-one, family-focused, or group therapyCan be combined with other treatmentsRequires commitment to regular sessionsFinding the right therapist can be challengingEmotional work can be intense and difficult, arguably harder to navigate than detox but with essential long-term results
Medication-assisted TreatmentCan help with management of withdrawal symptoms or to treat co-occurring disordersSome medications can reduce cravings during detoxUsed as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for someMonitored by healthcare professionalsSome medications have side effectsNot a standalone treatment for addictionRequires medical supervision to manage and adjust doses
Peer Support Group MeetingsProvides a sense of community and belongingA place to vent and share experiences with people who understandVariety of options available Can be freeCan complement other forms of treatmentQuality and focus of groups can varyNot a substitute for professional medical or psychological counseling or addiction treatmentSome people may not be comfortable sharing personal experiences in a group setting

5. Offer Emotional Support

It is important to make it clear to your loved one that you are on their side. Too often, any confrontation regarding someone’s active addiction can come off as blaming or judgmental, which automatically puts the person on the defensive. 

Spend time making it clear that you are empathetic to the challenges that addiction creates and that they are emotionally safe in sharing with you. You are on their team and want to see them succeed in recovery. 

6. Educate Yourself on the Nature of Addiction & Recovery

You know firsthand what it is like to love and live with someone who is living with an addiction, but you may not be fully aware of the nature of addiction. Long-term exposure to drugs and alcohol actually changes the size and shape of cells in the brain, which in turn changes behavior.[7] This means that stopping the use of drugs is not a matter of willpower. It requires medical treatment and long-term care that should be specific to your loved one’s needs. 

The more you can learn about the options that will be most viable for your loved one and what to expect as they recover, the better it will be for you and for them. 

7. Stage an Intervention 

An intervention is more than just asking someone to stop using drugs. Effective interventions begin with working with a professional interventionist and end with asking the person to leave immediately for treatment. 

If the person refuses, there needs to be consequences for that choice. Family members and friends will need to set strong boundaries, share them with the addicted person, and then stand strong, making it clear that they will no longer support their ongoing addiction. Sometimes, multiple interventions are needed before someone actually seeks help, but each step toward that decision is important.

How to Help a Drug Addict Who Is Ready to Change

If your loved one is ready to enter treatment and accepting of the idea that they not only have a problem but that treatment is the only means to recovery, intervention and the transition into recovery can be a far simpler process. 

How to Help a Recovering Drug Addict Who Is Already in Treatment

If your loved one is already in treatment, your job is not over. There are a number of things you can do to support them and improve their odds of avoiding relapse in recovery. These are some of them:

  • Attend support group meetings to get advice on what is normal, what is not, and what resources are available. 
  • Learn more about your loved one’s addiction and any co-occurring disorders as well.
  • Offer to take part in family therapy with them if appropriate. 
  • Be supportive and positive.
  • Ask for advice from addiction treatment professionals on how you can best maintain a safe and sober living situation for them when they come home.

How to Help a Drug Addict Who Doesn’t Want Help

If your loved one refuses treatment and is not interested in getting help, it will likely be a longer process to help them transition into recovery, but it is not a dead end. You have options, including refusing to support their ability to continue drinking and using and providing encouragement (not judgment) to start making positive choices in their life.

Support Groups for Friends & Family Members of a Loved One Refusing Treatment

If your loved one is refusing treatment, there will be stress on you and others in the household.[8] It’s important to prioritize your well-being and seek out support from groups of others who are in the same boat. Some options include the following: 

  • Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families
  • Al-Anon Family Groups
  • Families Anonymous
  • NAMI Family Support Group
  • Nar-Anon Family Groups
  • SMART Recovery Family and Friends

Tips for Taking Care of Yourself

No matter which choices your loved one makes now or in the future, it is important that you prioritize caring for yourself. If you are rundown, disconnected from friends and family, or unable to maintain employment, you will not be able to take care of yourself, much less anyone else.[9] 

Some of the ways to take care of yourself when dealing with a drug addict include the following: 

  • Make positive lifestyle choices every day, such as getting good sleep, eating healthy, and drinking lots of water.
  • See a therapist. If you have a drug addict in your life, it brings a lot of stress and issues that you can work through in therapy.
  • Spend time with friends and family who are supportive of you. This can be vital to your emotional wellness.
  • Prioritize your own goals and hobbies. As much as you want to help your loved one, you can’t sacrifice yourself in the process.
  • Ask for help when you need it. You don’t have to bear everything alone.
  • Visit support groups. In these groups, you can build a community of peers who can support you.[10]
Profile image for Dr. Alison Tarlow
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated February 21, 2024
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  2. Evidence-based practices for substance use disorders. McGovern MP, Carroll KM. The Psychiatric clinics of North America. 2003;26(4):991-1010.
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  6. The Advantages and disadvantages of medication-assisted treatment in primary care offices. Padgett TM. Journal of Addictions Nursing. 2019;30(4):238-241.
  7. Imaging the addicted human brain. Fowler JS, Volkow ND, Kassed CA, Chang L. Science & Practice Perspectives. 2007;3(2):4-16. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
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  9. Challenges in addiction-affected families: A systematic review of qualitative studies. Mostafa Mardani, Alipour F, Rafiey H, Masoud Fallahi-Khoshknab, Maliheh Arshi. BMC Psychiatry. 2023;23(1).
  10. Online peer-led support program for affected family members of people living with addiction: A mixed methods study. Peart A, Horn F, Grigg J, Manning V, Campbell RM, Lubman DI. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. Published May 31, 2023.
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