Step-by-Step Guide On How to Help an Addict

eBook on how to help an addict

Written By: Geraldine Orentas

Geraldine is Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Digital Marketing Manager. She has a Bachelor’s in Journalism and experience in the digital media industry. Geraldine’s writing allows her to share valuable information about mental health, wellness, and drug addiction facts, hoping to shed light on the importance of therapy and ending the stigma.
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Geraldine. "Step-by-Step Guide On How to Help an Addict." Lighthouse Recovery Institute., Last updated Nov 11, 2020 at 2:05PM | Published on Nov 11, 2020, https://lighthouserecoveryinstitute.com/step-by-step-guide-on-how-to-help-an-addict/.

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Last updated Nov 11, 2020 at 2:05PM | Published on Nov 11, 2020 | Get Help For A Loved One, Health and Wellness

Having a friend or family member that struggles with addiction is never easy. Often, those around the addict feel hopeless and lost when finding ways to help them. To help you, we’ve created this complete guide on how to help an addict. It includes everything you need to know about how to approach the situation without damaging your relationship with your loved one and without letting the situation take a toll on your mental health. 



First Educate Yourself

Before you can help an addict, you have to educate yourself about addiction. However, most of us have prejudices and misconceptions about addiction that are not true. People like to think that someone chooses to become an addict, completely ignoring the science behind the disease of addiction. It can be easier to help someone when you fully understand what they’re going through, so take this opportunity to learn more about addiction.

Learn About the Disease of Addiction

Lots of researchers and experts categorize addiction as a chronic disease of the brain. Most of these statements are based on the fact that addiction changes the way the brain functions. Researchers look at how our body releases dopamine and how certain substances, like addictive drugs, can potentially lead to a brain disease that feeds these addictive behaviors.

Furthermore, scientists and researchers recognize that cravings, increased tolerance, and relapse are symptoms of a malfunctioning brain system that result in genuine mental pain and suffering. Once someone has developed an addiction, “just saying no” can seem impossible, despite the consequences.

Various organizations recognize addiction as a disease, including:

  • The American Medical Association
  • The American Society of Addiction Medicine
  • American Psychiatry Association
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Even surveys confirm that most people look at addiction as a disease. Besides, roughly 53% of Americans agree that drug addiction is a medical problem. Unfortunately, only one in five people associate drug addiction with a friend, co-worker, or neighbor, thinking it cannot happen to their loved ones. 

Understand the Signs and Symptoms

Your family member or loved one will reach out for help for their substance abuse disorder in a perfect world. However, most of the time, they dismiss they have a problem. It’s critical for those around them to understand the signs and symptoms of addiction. Some addictions can be easier to spot than others; it all depends on the severity, type of drug abused, and co-occurring disorders. 

Physical Signs:

  • Dilated pupils and red eyes
  • Overly or underlie active 
  • Excessive sniffing and runny nose
  • Pale skin or looking undernourished
  • Weight loss
  • Change in eating habits
  • Unusual body odors due to lack of personal hygiene
  • Shaking
  • Track marks

Behavioral Signs:

  • Missing school or work
  • Problems at school or work
  • Missing important events
  • Isolating and becoming overly secretive
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Relationship problems
  • Financial problems

Emotional Signs:

  • Irritability
  • Defensiveness
  • Inability to deal with stress
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Confused easily
  • Diversion 
  • Rationalizing bad behavior
  • Blaming others for problems
  • Minimization of the problem

Research Treatment Programs

By far, treatment is the best way to help someone get off drugs and overcome their addiction. It’s a safe space for addicts to discover why they turned to drugs in the first place and learn healthy coping skills that encourage sobriety.

While there are several different options for drug and alcohol treatment, the most common treatment options include:

  • Addiction Therapy – this is similar to support groups but a bit more specialized. Addiction therapy is when an addict receives ongoing counseling from a trained addiction specialist.
  • Outpatient Drug Treatment – is when an addict attends addiction counseling groups and individual sessions with a primary therapist each week. They’re also regularly drug tested and often required to participate in twelve-step meetings.
  • Partial Hospitalization – this is one step above intensive outpatient drug rehab. It’s when an addict attends eight hours of addiction treatment per day, five days a week.
  • Inpatient Rehab – this is the most well-known type of treatment. When an addict lives at a treatment center, attends several groups and individual counseling sessions each day, and participates in extracurricular recovery activities at night.

Get Help for Yourself

Taking care of yourself is an often overlooked way to help someone overcome their addiction. Addiction affects your self-esteem, confidence, trust, and even the way you feel about your other relationships. It’s essential to take the time to care for yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Make sure to take time to practice self-care and cater to your mental health while you choose to help a loved one. 

Speak with a Therapist

If you’re looking to help an addict, you should consider seeking counseling yourself. Speaking with a therapist can help you understand more about what’s going on in your loved one’s life and the best way to offer support. It can also help take care of your mental health. Most people are surprised to realize how badly their loved one’s addiction has affected them mentally and personally. Speaking with a therapist can help you learn how to set healthy boundaries that protect you from getting hurt. 

Attend Group Support Meetings

You’re probably familiar with AA meetings and AN meetings for recovering addicts. However, there are also group support meetings for family and friends of someone struggling with addiction. Addiction affects everyone in the family and around the person struggling. These family programs, such as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon, are fantastic resources to start finding support to help you navigate through the issues. 

Stop Enabling the Addict

Believe it or not, most family members enable the addict. Without realizing, some of your behaviors actually allow your loved one to continue using drugs or alcohol. It can be challenging to realize this is happening, but it’s vital to help an addict. 

Passive Enabler (Provides Comfort):

  • Allowing the addict to stay in your home if they are using
  • Tolerating destructive behaviors
  • Denying, rationalizing, and or minimizing on their behalf
  • Avoiding confronting harmful behavior
  • Not calling the police when they have committed a crime

Active Enabler (Removes Consequences):

  • Accepting their financial responsibilities
  • Blaming yourself or others for their behavior
  • Taking the negative consequences on yourself sparing the loved one
  • Giving the addict free rent, money, food, or clothes

Encouraging Enabler (Encourages Addiction):

  • Giving money to support the addict’s drug abuse
  • Using with the person engaged in drug abuse
  • Putting yourself in jeopardy by allowing drug activities in the home
  • Providing transportation for the addict to the bar or drug dealers

How to Set Healthy Boundaries

To protect yourself, it’s paramount that you learn how to set healthy boundaries. They can help you maintain good mental and emotional health, avoid burnout, and give you the strength to help your loved one. To set healthy boundaries, there are four easy steps you can follow:

  • Define: Identify the type of boundary you can implement.
  • Communicate: Say what you need.
  • Stay Simple: Don’t over explain why you need this boundary.
  • Set Consequences: Say what will happen if these boundaries are broken.

For example, a healthy boundary could be something like: “I won’t allow any drug-using friends in the house. If I see them here, I’ll kick them out.” Or something like, “If you get arrested, I will not bail you out or pay for a lawyer; you’ll have to see what to do.” 

Stage an Intervention

Firstly, interventions should never happen at the spur of the moment. If you want the intervention to be successful, you have to plan and set it up in a way that will yield a positive outcome. Try to follow these steps to stage an intervention:

  • Get professional help to set up the intervention
  • Gather your intervention team of friends and family members that will participate
  • Gather as much information as possible about your loved one’s addiction
  • Create a plan
  • Have impact statements ready
  • Offer your help
  • Set healthy boundaries going forward
  • Manage your expectations
  • Remember to follow up 

Moving forward, as you’re planning your intervention, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help. It might be more productive and effective when a counselor, social worker, or therapist is involved. Also, they can help you figure out the type of intervention you want to choose, for example:

  • Crisis Intervention: These involve a police officer giving social and medical resources to those struggling with drug abuse or mental health issues.
  • Brief Intervention: These types of interventions are one-on-one discussions between an addict and a medical professional or counselor.
  • Family Intervention: This style of intervention focuses on the entire family, not just the struggling addict.

Become Active Supporters in Their Recovery Journey

Being there for an addict emotionally is invaluable. As mentioned above, you can stop enabling their behavior and still maintain a strong relationship with them. That’s where helping them on an emotional and mental level enters the picture. Addicts’ personalities are a strange mix of ego and self-pity, grandiosity, and low self-esteem. Help them find a middle ground. Help them find balance.

But, your support should not end the moment they enter rehab. Make sure you’re actively participating in their recovery journey. Addiction recovery can be scary and isolating. Knowing they have your full support will help them tremendously. Some treatment centers will let family members visit those in inpatient rehab. Others incorporate the family through family therapy. Thus everyone gets to heal from the addiction. 

Even when they complete their treatment, addicts know their fight with addiction is a lifelong battle. Be there to support them and encourage them in their journey. Having your support can help prevent relapse. Ask your loved one how you can support them and what you can do to help them in their recovery journey. 

Finding Addiction Treatments Near You

It often helps to reach out to addiction treatment centers near you to understand the best treatment options for a loved one. At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, we’re more than glad to help family members and friends navigate the ins and outs of addiction treatment. Feel free to reach out to our admissions office to learn more about how to get a loved one into rehab, what to expect, and more. We‘ll help you understand the requirements, verify your insurance information, discuss financing options, and more. If you’re coming from out of state, we can also assist in making this happen for your loved one. 

Finally, we know how challenging this moment in your life can be. Our caring clinical staff and therapists are here to support you and your loved one through these times. Together, we can help your family win the battle against addiction and find long-term recovery. Don’t wait another day to seek help. Addiction doesn’t wait to ruin your life; the sooner you start the process, the better. 

Written By: Geraldine Orentas

Geraldine is Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Digital Marketing Manager. She has a Bachelor’s in Journalism and experience in the digital media industry. Geraldine’s writing allows her to share valuable information about mental health, wellness, and drug addiction facts, hoping to shed light on the importance of therapy and ending the stigma.

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