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How to Help a Drug Addict

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How to Help a Drug Addict in 10 Steps

What can you say to a drug addict to convince them to quit? These 10 steps will help you find the right words and take the right actions.

Sometimes, it feels as if there’s nothing we can do to help someone with a drug addiction.

We want to help them quit. But it often feels hopeless.

We understand that many people feel defeated by the experience. Many folks walk away from the situation and give up on their addicted loved ones. Others put excessive pressure on the addict and try to force them into rehab.

Unfortunately, neither of these is the correct response. As the old saying goes, “You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves.”

So all of your yelling and pleading will likely go nowhere.

If you want your loved one to quit drinking or using drugs, you have to approach the topic strategically. With the right blend of love and cold, hard facts, you’ll have a better chance of getting them to seek proper treatment.

Do You Have Questions About Addiction? Call Our Recovery Experts Now.

Stop Enabling Them

If you want to help anyone with their drug addiction, the first thing you need to do is stop enabling them.

Don’t give them drugs. Don’t give them money for drugs. Don’t give them rides to pick up drugs. 

Stop Enabling

If you’re doing anything at all to help prolong their addiction, stop. Right now. 

This part is hard because they will probably be mad at you. They may try to make you feel guilty. They may even scream, shout, or threaten to hurt themselves. 

Don’t let that pressure you. This is a common behavior of alcoholics and drug addicts. They use it to get what they want. The best thing you can do is to walk away from the situation. Make it clear that you won’t do anything to support their addiction anymore and leave it at that. 

Ultimately, they’ll probably figure out some way to obtain the drugs they want. But, by drawing a line in the sand, you’ll establish clear boundaries that show them you’re serious.

Understanding Codependency

When someone supports an addict’s habit despite knowing that the addict is harming themselves, they are considered a codependent

A codependent is a person who puts other people’s desires above their own, even when that person’s desires are harmful in some way. 

In the case of addiction, the codependent does things to help the addict use or obtain drugs. This can include direct actions like buying drugs or indirect actions like giving the addict money for drugs or giving them things to sell in exchange for drugs. 

In some cases, seemingly benign favors like housing an active drug user could be considered codependent behavior. The codependent doesn’t think of their behavior as harmful. However, they play a key role in enabling the addict’s habit.

Without a codependent in their lives, addicts have a difficult time obtaining their fix. They don’t have to face the consequences because they know that they have a person who will support them. 

If you want to help an addicted friend or family member get sober, you must stop enabling their drug habit. The quicker you cut them off, the more likely it is that they will get clean. 

If you need help dealing with a loved one’s addiction, check out Al-Anon. This group offers emotional support to the friends and family members of drug addicts.

Understand Why People Get Addicted to Drugs

If you want to help someone with a drug addiction, you should first learn how it works. 

Why do people become drug addicts in the first place? What is the science of addiction

The more you know, the more you’ll be able to empathize with them.

Take Care of Yourself

Many people believe that drug addiction is a self-imposed condition. They think that it’s a matter of will. They believe that if a drug addict truly wanted to quit, all the addict needs to do is stop. 

That’s not the case. 

In reality, no addict has the power to stop using whenever they want. 

When someone becomes addicted to a substance, the drug rewires their brain and causes them to think in irrational ways. They’re plagued by constant cravings and lose their ability to make proper decisions. 

As the American Psychiatric Association points out, they usually continue to use no matter how bad the consequences. 

So, telling an addict to stop is like telling a schizophrenic person to stop having delusions. No matter what you say, their condition will persist even if they have the desire to quit.

In order to support a recovering addict, you need to have empathy for them. 

When you understand that their condition is not a choice, it’s easier to put yourself in their shoes. 

In all likelihood, they don’t want to be addicted to drugs. They’ve gotten themselves into a rough situation that they can’t escape from. 

This is how you should approach the topic--as a sickness rather than a self-imposed condition. 

If you can show your friend or family member that you understand their pain, they’ll be more receptive your input. 

Here are a few resources to help get you started:

Northpoint Seattle Blog: What is Addiction?

National Institute on Drug Abuse website

Familiarize Yourself with Drug Addiction Treatment Programs

Before you can help someone quit drugs, you have to devise a plan. You need to know where they’re going to seek treatment once they admit that they have a problem.

Drug Addiction Treatment Programs

So, you should learn as much as you can about addiction treatment programs. There’s a variety of different places that drug users can find help. 

Some of them include:

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Drug and alcohol detox is the process of separating an addict from their drug of choice. When a drug addict uses heavily for a long period of time, they will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop. 

Some people go through this process at home alone. But, it’s usually better for the addict to withdraw in a professional treatment center. 

In a detox facility, the addict is monitored by doctors and counselors who ensure that they are safe. The withdrawal process lasts anywhere from 1 to 10 day depending on how long the addict used drugs. 

Typically, the addict moves directly from their detox center to rehab. Oftentimes, the two programs are located in the same facility, making the transition very easy.

This is a type of residential rehab treatment that offers 24/7 care and support to recovering addicts. Patients live on-campus at the treatment center while they work with addiction specialists to learn how to live a sober life. 

In an inpatient program, the patient attends individual and group therapy sessions. They live with other newly sober addicts who are also striving to overcome their drug dependency. 

The addict also meets with in-house doctors on a regular basis and may receive medication to assist them in recovery. 

Typically, an inpatient program lasts several weeks.

Intensive outpatient rehab is another type of recovery support. Instead of living in the facility, however, patients report to the treatment center on a daily basis. 

Typically, they attend a rigorous, 30-hours per week schedule of therapy sessions and relapse prevention. When they complete their schedule for the day, they are free to leave the facility. 

Like inpatient programs, IOPs are mainly about relapse prevention. Addicts work with professionals to learn how to live a healthy, productive life without having to resort to drug use as a coping mechanism. 

Could an intensive outpatient program help your loved one get sober? Take our free online assessment to find out.

Both types of rehab programs offer therapy, counseling, and group support. They are both effective in treating drug addiction and alcoholism. 

However, each type is designed for different types of people. 

For those who have the time and means to spend 4-6 weeks living in a treatment center, inpatient might be the best choice. It gives addicts the opportunity to focus all of their energy on recovery. 

Of course, most of us don’t have that kind of time. If an addict has work, school, or familial responsibilities, an intensive outpatient program will probably work better for them. That way, they can reap the benefits of rehab while still having time to attend to the rest of their life. 

It’s important to understand the types of rehab before you attempt to help someone get off drugs. Once you know which type would work best for them, you can suggest it to them in a conversation or intervention.

Read Up on Co-Occurring Disorders

Mental health and addiction are closely linked. Oftentimes, a person’s mental health issues are the root of their substance abuse habit.

When someone has a pre-existing condition like anxiety disorder or PTSD, for example, they are far more likely to become dependent on drugs. In fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates that nearly 7.9 million addicts have co-occurring mental disorders. This is not surprising when you consider that drugs and alcohol allow these individuals to self-medicate. 

“Co-occurring disorder” is the medical term that describes the overlap of addiction and another mental illness. When an individual suffers from two or more conditions at the same time, doctors give them a dual diagnosis. 

In most cases, dual diagnoses require special treatment. Therefore, It’s important that the problem is identified.

Let’s use depression as an example: 

If someone struggles with drug addiction and depression at the same time, they will need a specific type of care. 

It may be hard to treat their depression with medications like Xanax when they have addictive tendencies. Benzos, after all, are easy to abuse. 

At the same time, their depression may make it difficult for them to stop using drugs. And without drugs, they may be at risk of self-harm or suicide. 

So, it’s important that they seek help from a specialized doctor. You may need to help them find an addiction treatment facility that can accommodate their co-occurring disorders.

Research 12 Step Programs

Most addicts need medical detox and rehab in order to get completely sober. But, some refuse to go to rehab. They may think that it’s useless or that it costs too much money. Luckily, there are plenty of other resources that can help them get clean. 

Some of the best free resources for drug addicts are 12 Step meetings. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous hold free meetings every day. At these meetings, addicts gather to share stories and offer encouragement to other addicts. 

A great way to help your loved one get off drugs is to suggest that they attend a meeting. By interacting with other recovered (and recovering) addicts, they’ll be able to see that recovery is possible. 

Sometimes, all an addict needs to get sober is a little inspiration from someone who has lived through the same experience. 12 Step programs can be powerful, inspiring, and life-changing. 

Both AA and NA hold meetings in nearly every town in America. So, if your loved one is open to the idea, you should be able to find a meeting quite easily. 

If you’re trying to help an addict who is skeptical about rehab, you may want to suggest a 12 Step program instead. Our advice is that you suggest rehab first, but use meetings as a backup plan. 

Most insurance companies pay for rehab. Click here to find out whether your insurance provider covers the cost.

Approach Them One-on-One

Once you’ve found a good rehab program (or meeting), it’s time to approach your loved one about seeking help

The good thing is that you have a plan now. So, you can talk to them face-to-face and let them know that you’re worried. You can also suggest treatment. 

In the first conversation, don’t be too pushy. It doesn’t have to be confrontational. You should approach them casually and say, “Hey, I think you have a problem. I’m getting worried about you.” 

It’s likely that they’ll reject the idea that they’re an addict. They’ll probably tell you that they don’t need help. When that happens, don’t argue. There’s no need to escalate the conversation into an argument. You’ll have the opportunity to talk to them again during their intervention (see steps  #7 and #9 below). 

If they happen to open up to you and tell you that they agree about their problem, the whole process will be a lot easier. You can tell them about the rehab programs and meetings you researched and work to get them help as quickly as possible

Here are some tips on talking to your addict friend or loved one that will make the conversation more productive:

Anger isn’t going to get your friend into treatment. But love might. 

If the addict knows that you’re supporting them out of love, it might be easier for them to see that they need help. When you yell or scream, they’re likely to get defensive. They might think that you’re overreacting. 

But, by showing care and kindness, they’ll be more receptive to what you have to say.

Drug addicts and alcoholics tend to be manipulative. They do and say sneaky things to try to win you over or get you on their side. They might blame you for the addiction or make other excuses for their habit. 

Don’t take these things to heart. Realize that, no matter what the circumstances are, they need help. 

However, you should still listen to what they say. Don’t talk over them or dismiss them outwardly. Listening will show them that you care about them and their feelings.

The most important thing is that you act rationally and predictably. Don’t raise your voice, cry erratically, or escalate the situation in any way. 

Chances are that the addict may do all three of these things. But, if you can act as the beacon of stability, you may be able to bring the conversation back down to a productive level. 

This can be difficult. You’ll have to keep your emotions in check. But hopefully, your rational behavior will show your loved one that you truly want to help.

It’s hard to help anyone who denies that they have a problem. You may need to convince them that they have a substance abuse issue before they’ll seek treatment. Otherwise, they’ll continue to take drugs or drink without confronting the effects. 

In order to convince them that they have a problem, you need to learn what to say and how to say it. If you can say the right things and use examples to back up your claims, it’ll put the idea in their head that their habit might be destructive. 

Here are a few things you can do:

If you tell someone outright that you think they’re a drunk or drug addict, they’ll probably get defensive. They’ll find a way to rationalize their habits. 

If you ask questions, on the other hand, they might be forced to confront the issue. Questions like “How much of that medication do you take?” or “How often do you blackout from drinking?” might get them thinking about their intake. It will be on their mind when you return to the topic again later on. 

Make sure not to ask aggressively. Take a casual, inquisitive tone instead of an accusatory one.

Many addicts are afraid that they’ll never change. They see recovery as an impossible task. They may be in denial because they’re worried that they’ll be like this forever. 

One nice thing to do is to tell them encouraging anecdotes. If you know someone who got sober in the past, for example, let them know about it. Say something like, “I’m pretty happy today. My buddy who used to be a bad alcoholic has been sober for a year today. I’m proud of him.” 

Don’t be dishonest about it. Don’t overdo it, either. These stories should be used to show them that recovery is possible when you seek treatment. So, try not to make the situation worse by forcing these stories down their throat.

As we pointed out above, you must refuse to enable them. Even if they’re in denial, you shouldn’t participate. 

Once they’ve figured out that all of their loved ones are cutting them off, they might be able to see the situation a little more clearly.

Plan an Intervention

If the addict refuses to take your advice and seek treatment on their own, you may need to stage an intervention. This is one of the best ways to convince them that they need help. 

Essentially, an intervention is a group meeting where the addict’s friends and family members express their concerns directly. These friends and family members explain to the addict why their habit is worrisome and how the habit has impacted their own lives. 

The goal of a drug intervention is to convince the addict to quit using and seek treatment. Some interventions are successful while others aren’t. Some families have to hold several interventions before they’re able to get their loved one help.

How to Plan an Intervention for a Drug Addict or Alcoholic

If you want the intervention to help your loved one get off drugs, you’re going to need a plan. Here’s what you should do:

The most important part of an intervention is the outcome. What do you and your family want to come out of the meeting? 

Do you want the addict to go to a drug and alcohol detox center? Do you want them to attend rehab afterward? Are you hoping that they’ll start going to AA or NA meetings? 

You’ll need to choose your desired outcome ahead of time.

Unfortunately, you’ll also need to decide on some consequences. What is going to happen if the intervention is unsuccessful and the addict refuses to get sober?

For example, you may want to move out of the house if they’re your spouse. Or, if the addict is your child, you may need to cut them off financially or kick them out of your house. In some cases, the consequence might be that you’ll take their children out of their custody. 

During the intervention, you’ll present the addict with an ultimatum. They’ll have the choice to get sober or face the consequences. You should choose these ahead of time so that you have a plan for the meeting.

Decide who to invite. We recommend that you invite no more than 6 people. Only those who’ve been directly affected by the addict’s habit should attend. 

Meet with the group ahead of time to discuss what everyone is going to say. Take this opportunity to lay some ground rules (i.e no shouting) and establish expectations. 

Let everyone know about the treatment center you’ve chosen. Let them know the consequences, too. Make sure that everyone has stopped enabling the addict and that everyone is comfortable sticking to the plan.

Find a time and place that works for all of the participants. Try to do it as soon as possible, but give everyone a few days to prepare their statements. 

Choose a neutral location that the addict is not familiar with (like a therapist’s office). If they are too familiar with the building, they might lock themselves in a room when things get uncomfortable. 

Ideally, the place should make them feel comfortable enough to address the situation. But, they should not be comfortable enough to cause a scene.

Some therapists and counselors specialize in moderating interventions. These professionals understand how an intervention works and how to ensure it goes as smoothly as possible. 

They’ll make sure that everyone is respectful of one another and keeps their voices at a moderate volume during the meeting. They’ll also offer some tips to the family during the planning phase.

The intervention will be most effective if you’ve rehearsed it ahead of time. Schedule one or more practice sessions with the people involved. 

At the rehearsal, each member should read their notes. Each person can suggest edits to the other people. 

During these practice sessions, you should choose the order each person will speak in. You should start and end with the people who are closest to the addict. If an alcoholic’s spouse speaks first, for example, it can help to capture their attention. Ending with one of their children can help to drive home the idea that they need help.

Be Prepared to Leave Them

During the planning phase, you’ll have a lot of emotional work to do. If you really want to help the addict get sober, you should accept the fact that you may need to cut them off. 

This is extremely difficult. It’s particularly hard if you’re married to the addict. It’s even harder if the two of you have children together.

But, this could be the only thing that helps them quit drugs. Sometimes, they have to hit “rock bottom” before they can start rebuilding their lives. 

So, you should prepare yourself for the prospect that the addict might refuse to get treatment. If you decide that you’re going to leave in that case, you need to stick to it. Otherwise, the addict might not take your efforts seriously.

How to Leave a Drug Addict

If the addict is threatening your physical, mental, or financial wellbeing, you may need to leave them before the intervention. This can be one of the most difficult decisions a partner ever makes. 

Before you leave them, you should give them an ultimatum. You might want to write them an intervention letter. Or, you may want to sit down with them one last time to let them know how their habit is affecting your life. 

In the letter or conversation, you should be sympathetic and avoid anger. But you need to stand your ground. 

Remember, the separation doesn’t have to be permanent. If the relationship seems repairable, then you can leave temporarily. You can even let them know that you’re open to the idea of getting back together if they are able to get sober and maintain sobriety for a few years. 

Drug addicts still have the capacity for love. They still desire human connection and want to belong to a family. So, removing yourself from their life could be the best way to help them get clean. 

Important note: Don’t ever put your safety at risk. If the addict threatens the physical safety of you or your children, it’s crucial that you call the police and remove yourself from the situation. We recommend that you do this as quickly as possible.

Hold the Intervention

On the day of the intervention, make sure to get there early. The other participants should be there early, too. 

You should get the room organized and finalize your notes and statements. Ideally, there will be an intervention moderator who will introduce themselves and get everyone ready. 

Once the addict arrives, there are a few things you should do:

It’s important for your loved one to know that you’re concerned, not angry. If they feel attacked, they’ll be reluctant to seek treatment. 

Remember, addiction is often accompanied by guilt and shame. The worst thing you can do is to make them feel even more ashamed. 

The goal should be to show them that you want the best for them and that you’re scared by the path they’re on. Make sure that you and all of the other participants tell the addict that they love them.

The user may get angry during the meeting. They might lash out at the other people in the room. Don’t respond with anger. Don’t say anything that you might regret later. You’re not helping anyone with verbal attacks. 

Only one person should speak at a time. Sit calmly and wait until it’s your turn to speak. When your chance comes around, take your time and speak clearly. Remind yourself that this intervention is an opportunity to help someone get sober and not something that should make you upset or angry.

During the meeting, calmly let the addict know about the consequences. Tell them that they’ll face these consequences if they don’t pursue treatment. 

You don’t have to present this choice as a threat. Your job is just to communicate that they can seek treatment or face the effects of their decision (moving out, losing their children, etc). 

Once the addict has made up their mind, stick to the consequences. Don’t budge on your decision. Be prepared to hold your ground even if they say things like “I’ll quit in a month,” or “I don’t really have a problem.” 

No matter what they say, it’s important that you show them the decision is final. Their only other option is to quit drinking or doing drugs and check into rehab (or go to meetings).

There are certain things to make clear during an intervention. By saying the right things, you’ll have a better chance of holding an effective intervention. 

Make sure to communicate the following things:

It’s crucial to let the addict know that you care. They need to be aware that you’re worried about their condition. Oftentimes, offer a moment of clarity in which the addict sees how much their family and friends care about them.

As we pointed out above, many addicts avoid treatment because they think they’re incurable. Remember, addiction is a disease that changes the way an addict’s mind works.

In the grips of their condition, many addicts start to think that they’ll never be able to change. Let them know that there is a cure. But, you should also emphasize that they have to commit to treatment if they want to get better.

The addict should be well aware that you’re there to help them quit drugs or alcohol. Many people who are dependent on drugs feel isolated and overwhelmed by their condition. 

It can actually be a relief for them to realize that they are surrounded by people who love them and want to support them in recovery

The most important aspect of any intervention is to keep calm and avoid escalation. When conducted peacefully and with intention, they can be a great way to help addicts overcome their habits.

Take Care of Yourself

Take Care of Yourself

This is the most important step on our list. After all, it can be incredibly draining (and potentially dangerous) to help someone with an addiction. If you don’t take care of yourself, how can you expect to take care of someone else? 

It may seem like your drug addicted loved one doesn’t like you very much right now. Remind yourself that they do. And even if they don’t show it, you shouldn’t let it affect your sense of wellbeing. You can still love yourself. 

It’s important to identify the things that you enjoy doing. Then, you should do them. Whether it’s taking long walks, reading books, spending time with family, or playing video games, you should find something that takes your mind off of your troubles. 

Take moments each day to relax and gather your thoughts. Even just a few peaceful moments can be great for your mental health. Exercise to burn off your excess energy. Get a good night’s sleep each evening to avoid exhaustion. 

By taking care of yourself first, you’ll be in a much better position to support your family member in their recovery efforts.

12 Step groups aren’t just for addicts themselves. In fact, there is a whole organization dedicated to helping the family members of addicted people. 

If you’ve been affected by the addiction of a spouse, child, parent, or sibling, the Al-Anon Family Group could be a helpful resource for you. Like AA and NA, this group meets regularly in cities and towns all over America. 

In Al-Anon, members learn to detach themselves from the addict’s behavior. They focus on setting healthy boundaries so that they can live a happier life. Just because your family member is active in their addiction doesn’t mean that you have to be constantly weighed down by their actions. 

The great thing about Al-Anon is that all of its members share a common experience. All of them have lived through the isolating and overwhelming effects of loving an addict. The members of this group are strong, supportive people and welcome anyone who needs a place to talk through their problems. In Al-Anon, you’ll find an entire community of people in the same situation as you who want to help you through it.

After Detox and Rehab: Supporting An Addict Who Has Relapsed

Recovery isn’t always easy. Just because an addict gets clean doesn’t mean they’ll stay that way.

For many addicts, a detox-to-rehab pipeline is an effective form of treatment. These folks are lucky enough to quit once and stay sober for the rest of their lives. Usually, their sobriety is kept in check by regular AA or NA meetings. 

Not everyone is that lucky, though. It’s common for people to relapse after sobriety. Some addicts need to go through detox and withdrawals several times before they’re able to stay sober for the rest of their life. 

This can be troubling for their family members and friends. After all, it’s painful to watch someone spiral back into addiction after months (or even years) of being sober. 

You might be angry to find out that a sober loved one. But, you should still aim to help them after they’ve relapsed. Otherwise, they may not stand a chance at getting clean again.

You might think it would be easy to recognize a relapse. But it’s not always as clear as we’d like it to be. 

Oftentimes, we put blinders on that prevent us from recognizing it. We might be so happy that they’re sober that we refuse to acknowledge the truth. If we want them to move on from their relapse, though, we have to face the facts. 

Here are some signs that someone is using drugs again: 

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Decreased appetite
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Poor judgment
  • Irresponsible spending habits/lack of money
  • Failure to meet responsibilities (work, school, family events)
  • Lack of interest in hobbies 

Of course, not everyone who shows these symptoms has relapsed. But, they can be key indicators that a person has returned to drinking or using drugs.

If you determine that your loved one has gone through a relapse, there are a few things you can do to help them. Here are our suggestions:

Ask them if they’ve started using again. They may be upset with themselves and come forward immediately. Or, they might deny it. Either way, tell them that you’re available to help whenever they want it. 

Obviously, you need to avoid being an enabler.

Many addicts pride themselves on getting sober. They think of their recovery as one of their greatest accomplishments. They disappoint themselves by using again. 

Tell the addict how proud you were to watch them overcome such a brutal battle. Let them know that you believe in their power to do it again.

Talk to the addict’s closest family members about the problem. Work with the family to come up with a new plan. 

You probably don’t want to conduct another intervention right away. An intervention should be a powerful moment and holding too many will diminish their effectiveness. 

But, you should determine a course of action. This may require you to kick them out of the house or distance yourself from them.

Your loved one needs you to be supportive during their relapse period. They need to feel supported, not ashamed. So, support them as much as you can without putting yourself at risk. 

The more optimistic you are, the more they’ll see how much you care. If they know that they have loving people in their life, it’ll be easier for them to get sober.

When someone relapses, it’s a sign that they have more work to do in recovery. There is something they haven’t gotten over that’s driving them to drink. They need to return to a sobriety community and get back to work. 

It’s common for addicts to do several rounds of rehab before they can get better. Those who abstain from rehab often attend AA or NA for many years (sometimes a lifetime) in order to avoid relapsing. This could be just what they need to stay clean in the long run.

Take Care of Yourself
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How to Help Someone on Drugs: Recovery is Possible

It’s difficult to help someone with a drug addiction. But, it is possible. If you can find the right program and enlist the right people for support, you should be able to help them get better. 

Remember, more than 72,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2017. This is a widespread problem. You and your loved ones are not alone. 

Throughout the process, it’s important for you to take care of yourself. The more stable your mental health is, the easier it will be to help them work through their issues.
If life seems hopeless and recovery feels impossible, contact us. Our staff has helped hundreds of addicts move past their own addictions. We want to do the same for you and your loved ones.

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