How Families Can Handle a Loved One’s Addiction  Solemn, Pensive, Upset, Doubt, Depressed

So you’re ready for your loved one to get help for addiction, but he or she isn’t open to the idea. You’re not alone. Most addicts are unwilling patients. Usually, a life-altering event – such as a court order, divorce, loss of job, or hospitalization – pushes the addict into seeking treatment. There are ways that family and friends can help their loved one realize they need treatment before such devastating events occur.


From the Addict’s Point of View

The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.” The addiction changes the structure of the brain and how it works, leaving addicts powerless and unable to make rational decisions and realize the severity of their disease. Addicts depend on drugs to function and make excuses to justify even their worst actions. Even in the face of losing a job, ruining relationships, and other negative consequences, addicts may still deny a problem exists and may resist treatment.

While the initial decision to try drugs or alcohol may be voluntary, when addiction takes over, the person’s ability to exercise self-control becomes significantly impaired. Through brain-imaging studies on addicts, experts have shown how drugs physically change the areas of the brain that are necessary for judgment, decision making, learning, memory, and behavior control.

From the Family’s Point of View

Addiction affects family and friends as much as it affects the addict. Family and friends may grow resentful of the addict or live in fear of the addict. Relationships with significant others and children are often in conflict. Many couples argue over money because the addict may lose his or her job, miss hours at work, make poor financial decisions, or spend a lot of money on drugs or alcohol.

Friends and family can suffer emotional trauma as the addict may yell, talk down to, insult, or manipulate them. Physical violence can occur in the household of an addict. Addicts may also engage in infidelity. All of these issues can lead to breakups, legal separation, or divorce.

How to Help

The first way to help your loved one is to get educated about addiction. Realize that addiction is a debilitating disease, and treat it as such. Educating yourself can help you provide support, patience, and understanding. Get support from groups or individual sessions with a mental health professional.

You can’t control your loved one’s behavior, but you can control how you react to the addiction and ensure you’re not enabling him or her. While you should certainly help your loved one in positive ways, such as looking for a job or choosing a treatment center, set clear boundaries around behaviors you deem unacceptable. For example, don’t allow him or her to hang around when they’re high or drunk. Likewise, don’t allow the addict to borrow money.

“Setting and enforcing boundaries not only allows loved ones to resume control of their lives, practice healthy detachment, and safeguard their own health and well-being but also helps the addict face the natural consequences of their actions,” says Psych Central. Staging an intervention works in many cases and can be a highly effective way to break through the addict’s denial and get him or her to agree to treatment.


Through intervention, friends and family get the addict’s attention and help their loved one understand the consequences of his or her destructive behavior before more serious consequences arise. A professional known as an interventionist helps to assess the situation, recommend treatment facilities and long-term after care plans, and ensure that the process remains productive and healing. There are specific steps that should be taken before, during, and after an intervention.

Your loved one may agree to receive treatment, but you and your family still need to seek professional help as well. Living with an addict can cause emotional trauma, especially in children, and as such, families of addicts should seek counseling. Each individual can attend counseling, or everyone can attend counseling as a family. When addiction recovery and therapy begin, the family can begin to heal and move toward a brighter, healthier, and happier future.

Guest author Adam Cook was happy to answer this important question.

Mr. Cook is the founder of Addiction Hub, which locates and catalogs addiction resources. He is interested in helping people find the necessary resources to save their lives from addiction. Adam’s mission is to provide people struggling with substance abuse with resources to help them recover.

Sharon Valentino, Psychotherapist, Behavioral Health
Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.
Valentino Therapy
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (51746)
Serving individuals & couples in the San Francisco Bay Area
Psychotherapist, Registered Addiction Specialist, Certified Addiction Treatment Counselor, Masters Counseling Psychology,
Stress, Anxiety, Relationships, Depression, PTSD, Pain, Family & Couples Issues, Parenting Teens and Pre-Teens. Tech execs & engineers.
p: 415.215.5363
a: 3030 Bridgeway, Suite 108, Sausalito, CA 94965
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