What to Do If a Family Member Has an Addiction Problem

Monday, October 24, 2016 | By JP Emerald Coast

How to help an addicted family member

Addiction is known as a “family disease” because of how deeply it affects everyone within a family unit. All it takes is one family member to have an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol for the functionality of a family to go down the tubes. Many families struggle to talk about their loved one’s addiction and how it is impacting them, as it is not easy to discuss such personal topics. However, not taking the time to address a family member’s addiction and the impact it is having on the rest of the family can be a recipe for disaster.

Does My Family Member Have an Addiction?

Addiction is a disease that has the power to infiltrate all areas of the lives it touches. Despite the pervasiveness and insidiousness of this disease, however, it can be easy for family members of a loved one to not realize the severity of his or her substance abuse. If you have a family member who is openly struggling with addiction, it can be a blessing in disguise for many reasons. For starters, you are not left conflicted about whether or not your family member has an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. You are also less likely to be in denial about his or her addiction, as the symptoms are so obvious that there is no denying it. Because you are not clouded by doubt, you are in a better position to rise above the most common complications that come along with addiction.

Unfortunately, many people who have questions about their family member’s drinking and/or drug abuse struggle to figure out how severe the problem is. It can be easy to make excuses for certain behaviors and actions in an effort to normalize the family member’s substance abuse and/or deny that it is as serious as it is. But, if you know what the signs and symptoms of addiction are, you can identify it if it is occurring. 

The kinds of symptoms your family member will show if he or she is addicted to drugs or alcohol will depend on several various factors, including:

  • What substance is being abused
  • How much of a substance is being abused
  • How frequently abuse is occurring
  • What mental/physical health conditions are preexisting 
  • If substances are being combined

behavioral signs of addiction

Typically, the more a person abuses drugs or alcohol, the more severe the symptoms become. But that is not to say that people with severe substance use disorders always appear out of control and obviously under the influence. That is because there are people who are highly functional in their substance abuse, making it very difficult for onlookers to see that there is a problem. Generally, however, all individuals who abuse drugs and/or alcohol display many baseline symptoms, including but not limited to, the following:

Becoming Secretive

Those suffering from addiction often are ashamed of their behavior, so they try to hide it, although they cannot stop. Loo for secretive behavior, such as being dishonest about whereabouts, sneaking in and out of the house to obtain or use drugs/alcohol, and hiding paraphernalia

Anti-Social Behavior

When someone suffers from addiction, they tend to withdraw from family and friends. Look for them becoming socially withdrawn by no longer participating in previously enjoyed activities, spending less time with family and friends, or making minimal contact with the outside world

Risk-Taking Behaviors

Addiction naturally increases a person’s risk-taking behaviors. Look for them developing risk-taking behaviors, like driving while under the influence, using despite having health problems, stealing in order to fund their acquisition of drugs/alcohol

Patterns of Behavior Changes

Changes in behaviors, such as sleeping and eating more/less, being regularly irritable, displaying impulsivity, and experiencing symptoms of anxiety and/or depression

Developing Relationship Problems

There are a lot of reasons why people struggle with relationships, but addiction amplifies the problems. Problems with relationships, like those with their parents, children, co-workers, significant others, and friends indicate an addiction problem.

Struggling with Money

Having financial problems that include needing to ask others for money, missing monthly payments on bills, not paying the rent/mortgage, being unable to provide for themselves or others

Struggling to maintain a good standing at work or school, often resulting in demotion, job loss, detentions, or expulsion

Neglecting Responsibilities

Failing to uphold responsibilities at home, like going grocery shopping, cleaning, keeping up with laundry, helping kids with their homework, being emotionally available to a spouse or significant other, etc. 

If your family member is displaying any of these symptoms, it is likely that he or she is addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. Coming to this realization can be extremely difficult, however, being aware of what is occurring in your family member’s life can help you help them. 

4 ways to help an addicted family member

How to Help an Addicted Family Member

A proper guide to helping a family member face their addiction begins with what not to do. When there is a crisis, it is common to want to blame someone. Placing blame helps you to reduce your own personal sense of responsibility for the problem, but it does not facilitate a solution. In the case of addiction, blame usually exacerbates the situation.

If you want to play the blame game when it comes to addiction, you’ll need a very wide circle. You can start with the source of the substance of choice — a dealer, a friend or a doctor — and follow the trail right up to a society that embraces quick fixes, tolerates drug-induced bad behavior, and shuns people with any type of mental disorder.

Blaming anyone is at the top of the list of things not to do when trying to help a family member who is struggling with addiction. Some other no-no’s include fighting, shaming and shunning. Keeping secrets and becoming complicit in the addictive behavior round out that list.

Practice good self-care

First thing is first — you have to take care of yourself if you want to be able to help your family member. Addiction is not a joke or something to make light of. It is a serious disease that can affect your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing even if you are not the one who is using. Because of this, it is critical that you practice good self-care. Common self-care approaches include:

  • Eating healthy
  • Exercising
  • Participating in activities that bring you enjoyment
  • Getting enough rest
  • Talking about your emotions as opposed to bottling them up (e.g. with friends, other family members, or a therapist)
  • Setting boundaries that allow you to maintain as much control of your life as possible

Self-care can look different for everyone, however taking care of your basic needs and then some is vital if you want to remain healthy yourself. It is nearly impossible to help a family member make such a life-altering change if you are not well. Neglecting your needs and wants also leaves you vulnerable to enabling behaviors, which will only fuel your family member’s addiction and in turn, continue to create chaos in your life.

Know what you are talking about

It is not enough to tell your family member that you think he or she needs help. Chances are he or she has already been told this. It is most beneficial and effective when you are educated on the disease of addiction and what treatment options are available for your family member. It might seem like a daunting task to gather all that info on your own, but it is fairly simple. To begin getting informed about addiction and treatment options, you can:

When you arm yourself by taking care of yourself, leading with empathy, and obtaining an education on addiction and treatment options, you are allowing yourself the ability to affect real change in your loved one’s life. And while for many people, this does help their loved ones get into treatment, it might not work for you. Every single person who is addicted to drugs and alcohol is different from the next. So, while more conservative approaches like those listed above might be effective for some, others might need a more aggressive take, such as an intervention.

Offer Assistance Through Empathy

Addiction is so deeply invasive and persistent that it can cause you to become an emotional wreck, especially when it’s your family member who is struggling. Your feelings of anger, frustration, disappointment, and resentment can be so powerful that you feel like there is no hope for your family member or the rest of your family. But, despite how painful active addiction can be, there are many things that you can do to help him or her get the appropriate, effective treatment.

If you truly want to help someone struggling with addiction, you need to adopt a position of empathy. Addiction can happen to anyone. It is not a sign of poor character or low intelligence. No one wants to suffer from an addiction. If they could change their behavior on their own, they would. Your loved one needs help to overcome addiction, and they are probably afraid to admit it.

People who are struggling with addiction are ashamed and frightened. They see themselves doing things that are out of character, but they feel powerless to stop. Sometimes they don’t even realize why they are behaving so strangely. They feel isolated and alone, afraid if they reach out for help:

  • Their loved ones will leave them
  • They will lose their jobs
  • Their lives will be over

Some people struggling with addiction are so afraid to face their emotional terrors they would rather destroy themselves with substances. They use those drugs to bury emotions that seem too big to handle and have convinced themselves that feeling nothing, or not remembering the night before, is better than experiencing the emotional pain waiting for them in recovery.

When you understand the pain your loved one is going through, you can see how important it is to approach the subject of their addiction delicately and with love. They need to see you do not blame them for the addiction and they will have plenty of support for their recovery.

Check your ego and your attitude at the door

It can be extremely easy for you to become resentful of your addicted loved one and begin judging them for their actions as he or she continues to use drugs or alcohol. Whether these feelings are floating right at the surface or hiding deep in your subconscious, it can skew your interactions with him or her. You might be quick to blame your family member for everything and/or treat him or her disrespectfully (such as through yelling or name-calling). Your feelings are not invalid, however, you have to check them at the door in order to help your loved one get sober. This sounds much easier said than done because it is. Doing this is not easy, however, when you are able to control your ego and your attitude, you put yourself in a better position to help. This is because doing so encourages him or her to:

  • Build a sense of trust with you 
  • Feel heard and understood
  • Begin realizing the severity of the situation

Approaching your loved one with empathy can make a world of difference, as it allows for these benefits to come to fruition. Letting other emotions stand in the way of that can be the difference between life and death.

an intervention

The Right Way to Plan an Intervention

Interventions are typically the last-ditch effort in trying to get someone into treatment. They are enacted when other approaches have been unsuccessful or if the individual is too unpredictable to speak to without a professional mediator. 

If you and your family deem it appropriate to hold an intervention for your loved one, there are some things that you can do to not only set that up but also to make it as effective as possible. Consider the following:

Consult a Professional for Guidance

The most beneficial part of holding an intervention is having a professional there to keep things clear and concise. By the time you are looking to hold an intervention, you and your family are likely worn out from your loved one’s addiction. The interventionist can breathe new life into your family so that you can develop and execute a solid plan to get your loved one into treatment.

Decide Who Will Be Involved

You might think that getting everyone who is concerned about your family member involved in the intervention is the best way to enforce how important it is for him or her to get help. While there is power in numbers, in some interventions, it is better to only include those loved ones who do not make the situation worse. For example, if your family member has a tumultuous history with another family member and historically bumps heads with him or her, leaving that family member out of the intervention may be more helpful than harmful. You want all individuals involved in the intervention to be clear-headed, even-tempered, and able to take direction well.

Prepare Your Information

Interventions don’t work if the participants are not able to provide examples and information that supports their loved one’s addictive tendencies, so be sure to have that information. Also, work with your interventionist to be informed as much as possible about the disease of addiction and how it impacts families. Doing so will allow you to be confident in what you say and how you behave during the actual intervention. 

Rehearse With Your Intervention Team

Once you have determined who will be a part of the intervention, your interventionist will help you layout the steps of your intervention. When those steps are put in place, rehearsing how the intervention will be carried out is imperative. Something as serious as an intervention deserves a solid run through or two to ensure that everyone knows what to do.

Get the Facts Straight

You will need to present evidence you have observed from this addiction, otherwise, your family member might just deny it. If they do not admit there is an addiction, they certainly will not commit to getting help. Make sure you have some specific incidents you can relay, with dates and times, to demonstrate the problem.

Be Gentle but Firm

Do not use the intervention as a time to vent your anger about recent events. Everyone at the intervention should express their compassion for the subject and a willingness to support them through addiction recovery. Do not back down on your position, though, that they need help. If necessary, you might describe some changes you will enact in your relationship if they do not get into recovery.

Present Options

Your interventionist will play a vital role in helping you and your family prepare options for your loved one if he or she accepts treatment. This includes locating treatment centers that can take your loved one in if and when he or she accepts treatment.

An intervention does not solve the problem of addiction, but it can be an important first step. When carried out in conjunction with a trained professional, interventions are at least 90 percent successful in moving people to commit to getting help for their addiction.

Throughout the intervention, it is important to stick to the plan set forth by your interventionist. Follow his or her lead and remain calm and empathetic throughout. Staying focused on that goal can save his or her life.

Finding the Right Treatment Program

Addiction recovery usually includes three steps: detox, rehabilitation, and aftercare. Detox is a medical service that helps remove all addictive substances from the body and controls withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the substance that is being abused, the severity of the addiction, and the underlying physical and mental health of the user, detoxing can be dangerous and should not be done without medical supervision.

Once detox is completed, the therapeutic elements of recovery can begin. Detox eliminates addictive substances and helps with some of one’s physical issues, but it does not address the psychological components of addiction. Therefore, therapy works to create mental and behavioral changes that will stop one’s desire to keep using drugs. These changes come from addressing the psychological and emotional issues that are leaving the individual vulnerable to continuing to use. When these issues are addressed, it becomes easier to abstain from using and to focus on maintaining recovery.

While this is the general breakdown of many treatment programs throughout the country, there are programs that are designed to help those with more specific needs. Being sure to find a program that fits with the needs of your loved one is critical to his or her success, so it is important to have a professional identify what his or her needs are. Knowing what your loved one is going to require will help you find the most appropriate recovery program.


Treatment is a different experience for each patient, as everyone has a unique set of needs. Therefore, the length of your loved one’s treatment will be dependent on a number of things, including:

  • The severity of his or her substance use disorder
  • How much he or she has been abusing
  • How frequently his or her use has been occurring
  • How many times he or she has tried to get sober
  • His or her mental health at the time of admission
  • What availability he or she has to dedicate to treatment

In general, treatment for substance use disorders can range anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. In some instances, treatment lasts for more than a year. A major deciding factor in the length of time a person spends in treatment is how much they progress during their treatment. Those who make bigger strides in their recovery are more likely to spend less time in treatment, while those who have a slower progression will likely operate at a slower pace, keeping them in treatment for longer. 

Keep in mind that when your loved one begins treatment, he or she might be given a temporary timeline for how long he or she might be in treatment. It is not uncommon for treatment centers to require patients to stay for at least 30 days before determining if they should stay longer or leave after those 30 days are up. 


One of the best ways that you can help your loved one after treatment is by getting involved in their program while they are in treatment. Most treatment centers offer family services, such as educational and therapeutic workshops. Participating in these can help you learn more about addiction as a disease, develop coping skills, sort out feelings of resentment and frustration, and learn how to support your family member in recovery. 

When your family member completes treatment and returns home, it is going to be a time of transition for everyone. It is completely normal to feel nervous, unsure, and emotional during this time, as the changes your loved one has made are drastic. However, with the skills that both your family member and you have learned during the treatment phase, you can enact healthy behaviors and actions that support sobriety and proper family functioning.

Transition can be difficult for everyone, but with some thinking ahead, you can lay the groundwork for success in your family. Some of the things that you can do to help support your loved one in recovery and ease this transition include the following:

Make a plan

Your family member not be ready to jump back into all of their everyday responsibilities at once. Before he or she returns home, talk about expectations and develop a plan to ease them back into their family duties slowly.

Expect differences

Do not assume everything will be as it was before, good or bad. Everything may be different, so it is best to not make any assumptions. Expect fluidity and work to remain open and flexible to help incorporate these differences into everyday life.

Realize treatment is not a cure

The substance abuse may have stopped, and while much healing has taken place, the disease of addiction will always remain. People in addiction recovery can abstain from drugs and alcohol to keep their active use in remission, but they may still experience negative behaviors tied to the disease. In many ways, the hard work for the family begins when their loved one comes home. Be patient with everyone and continue working toward a healthy family dynamic.

Ask for help

Realize that the road to recovery is just beginning. When things get overwhelming, do not hesitate to reach out for help. The other members of your family, you included, may need some counseling as well. Healing doesn’t always happen on its own. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance before you really need it.

Remember that even though your family member has completed treatment, recovery is still an everyday, lifelong responsibility. Know that there will be several great days and sometimes many difficult ones. The road of recovery is not one that is straight, rather one with lots of curves, hills, and bumps. But maintaining your skillset and continuing to encourage your loved one can help you and your entire family learn how to live a happy, healthy life free of active addiction. 


Your encouragement and involvement can make a big difference to your family member who is struggling with addiction. To learn more about how you can help them on their journey towards recovery, contact JourneyPure Emerald Coast. The most important thing you can do for your family member is to get him or her help as soon as possible. The faster substance abuse ends, the faster the damage can be mitigated and/or prevented. 

Contact JourneyPure Emerald Coast today, and let our compassionate experts guide you to the best recovery options for your family member. No matter what the situation, recovery is possible. There is a happier, healthier life waiting at the end of this journey.

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