How to Support an Addict

Addiction is a serious condition. It is a disease that affects a person’s brain and behavior. There are many things that people can be addicted to, including:

  • alcohol
  • tobacco
  • drugs
  • gambling
  • eating
  • sex.

People who have addictions need treatment. This could include rehab, detox, counseling, recovery programs, and/or other forms of treatment. It also is important that those close to the addicted person provide support. This may be hard but there are things that you can do to help your loved one.

Path to improved health

Below are ways you can do help support an addict.

  • Get educated. Ask the doctor questions about your loved one’s health. Do research on addiction. The more you learn, the more you will understand the condition and be able to help.
  • Set boundaries. It is critical that you and your loved one have defined limits. This can help treat their addiction and prevent relapses. Limits also protect you from getting hurt emotionally and physically.
  • Prevent enabling. When you enable an addict, you allow them to bend or break the limits that you agreed to. Examples include lending them money, lying for them, getting them out of jail, and being okay if they use or abuse again. Enabling is harmful to you, your loved one, and your relationship.
  • Avoid triggers. Be sensitive to things that may trigger your loved one’s addiction and try to stay clear. For example, do not drink alcohol or visit places where alcohol is prominent. For an eating addiction, do not schedule dinner at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
  • Look and listen. Addicts may require extra attention. Be there to listen and do not judge their feelings. Keep an eye on them to watch for signs of abuse or relapse. However, do not let them abuse this need or take advantage of your time; your needs still are important.
  • Stay calm. Supporting an addict can be hard and frustrating. There are times you may be mad at them. Try to express your feelings in a calm, direct way. Avoid raising your voice, threatening them, or placing judgment. Talk to them about your concerns and their health. Focus on the future, not the past.
  • Offer respect and praise. Just as it’s hard for you to support an addict, it can be very hard to overcome addiction. Be respectful of the treatments your loved one chooses to do. For example, they may need to attend inpatient rehab for a month or more. Or they may decide to join a nightly support group. Make a point to praise them on their commitment and any milestones they achieve.
  • Try new things. Find activities that you and your loved one can do to replace what they were addicted to. Examples may include exercise, cooking, painting, travel, or meditation.

Things to consider

You can encourage an addict to get treatment, but you cannot force them. In the end, it has to be their decision. You can recommend that your loved one see a doctor who will discuss their treatment options.

Keep in mind that for many addicts, recovery is a lifelong process. Things may get better over time, but a relapse is always possible. As you support your loved one, do not forget about your own needs. You may benefit from support or counseling as well. Talk to a doctor about getting help for you, a child, or your family as a whole.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How can I support an addict?
  • Are there certain things I should not do?
  • What should I do if my loved one has a relapse?
  • What should I do if my loved one becomes violent to themselves or to others?

Resources

American Academy of Family Physicians, Finding the Right Addiction Treatment Program

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Treatment Services Locator