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Treatment for Friends or Family with Addiction

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Treatment for Friends or Family with Addiction

About The Program

When you love someone—whether they’re a partner, family member, or friend—watching them struggle with addiction can be incredibly challenging. In many cases, the person is not only damaging to his or herself but also the relationships they have with those around them. They are left to grapple with the subsequent anger, frustration, and sadness.

Thankfully, families of drug addicts can greatly influence their behavior and can help bridge the gap between abuse and treatment. While helping a loved one with drug addiction may be difficult, they depend on you for help with their sobriety.

Signs of Drug & Alcohol Use

It’s important to understand that drug addiction does not discriminate based on socioeconomic status. It can affect anyone and manifests in varying degrees of intensity. Often, the most long-term and damaging addictions are unknown to anyone but the individual’s closest friends and family. If you think that a loved one is struggling with addiction, there are several signs that can help ground your suspicions.

The first thing to look for are physical signs. While different drugs trigger different physical responses, there are several symptoms that are universal. These include bloodshot eyes and pupil dilation, unkempt appearance and lack of hygiene, sudden weight loss or weight gain, bodily tremors or slurred speech, and runny noses.

Many people struggling with addiction also display behavioral abnormalities. These are easiest for family members of addicts to identify because they are familiar with the individual’s standard behavior. These may include neglecting responsibilities for questionable reasons, an unexplained need for money, uncharacteristic legal troubles, and engaging in secretive behavior.

It’s also possible to identify psychological signs that suggest substance abuse. These may include an uptick in anxiety or depression, unexplained mood swings, unusual bouts of energy or lethargy, and/or paranoia.  

Finding the Right Treatment Options

All addiction treatment programs have the same goal—to help patients achieve sobriety while establishing a support network to help sustain their progress—but the way they achieve that goal may radically differ.

  • Inpatient treatment: Inpatient treatment is advised for patients who have intense addictions, and/or who lack a support network outside of the facility. Inpatient treatment involves living in a rehab center for anywhere between one and six months. During that time, patients have access to medical services, group counseling, and one-on-one therapy.  
  • Outpatient treatment: Outpatient treatment is recommended for patients with a mild addiction, and for individuals who exhibit a strong will to get clean and sober. This substance abuse treatment option involves commuting to the treatment facility several times a week for therapy and counseling and to receive medical treatment as needed. Patients sleep elsewhere, which gives them time to fulfill work and school obligations.
  • PHP: Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP) are a small step down from inpatient treatment. Patients spend many hours in a treatment center each day, somewhere between 5 and 7 days per week. While there, they receive the same services as inpatient clients, but when the day is done, they return elsewhere to sleep.
  • IOP: Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) are outpatient treatment programs for individuals with a higher risk or relapse, or who may be struggling with detox and withdrawal. They offer regular medical services along with standard counseling and therapy sessions. 

Staging an Intervention

If you’ve determined that a loved one is suffering from a substance abuse problem, a helpful and positive step is to conduct an intervention. However, preparing for an intervention without the help of a professional specialist is risky and can potentially drive an individual deeper into their addiction.

Intervention specialists know which points to hit and how to keep the conversation moving. Most importantly, they know what not to say, and can help friends and family members of addicts prepare useful and positive statements.

Once you’ve found a specialist, the next step is to form a group. It’s important that everyone in the group is close with and on good terms with the addict, otherwise, they may feel uncomfortable and leave the situation. If children or elderly family members of addicts are selected to join the group, they must be prepared for the potential intensity of the intervention.

The next step is rehearsal. Making sure that everyone knows what they will say in advance is key to moving the conversation smoothly and communicating your messages effectively. “Winging it” and diverting from prepared points is irresponsible and not in the best interest of the loved one you’re trying to help.

The intervention should be focused entirely on helping a loved one achieve a moment of clarity and accepting the possibility of rehab.  

Being a Pillar of Support

Achieving sobriety is difficult, but with the support of family and friends, the process is much more likely to be successful. Being a pillar of support involves supporting the loved one beyond the transition into addiction treatment, but also in the months and years afterward.

The first step is to refrain from judgment and criticism. People who are struggling with addiction often feel ashamed, and unnecessary negativity can potentially drive them back to substance abuse. Let them know that they are loved and supported.


It’s also important to create a substance-free environment. Even if a loved one has been sober for years, the wrong environment might create cravings that prove difficult to resist. If they seem tempted to enter a risky environment, suggest an alternative.


It’s also important to create a substance-free environment. Even if a loved one has been sober for years, the wrong environment might create cravings that prove difficult to resist. If they seem tempted to enter a risky environment, suggest an alternative.


In some cases, after a recovering addict has completed addiction treatment, they believe that they no longer need to attend support groups and hear from others who have gone through similar struggles. In the late stages of addiction recovery, relapse often happens when users abandon these support networks. Encourage the person you’re supporting to continue attending these groups, and even sharing their story for the benefit of others.


Finally, it’s important to practice patience when it comes to a substance use disorder. Understand that drug and alcohol addiction recovery does not happen overnight and that no matter how far a person might have come, there is always the possibility of slipping backward. Bumps in the road will happen and should even be expected. When they do, don’t get angry—learn to be calm and supportive, and remember your commitment to your loved one’s recovery.  


American Addiction Centers. Loving an Addict or Alcoholic: How to Help Them and Yourself. 2016

National Institute on Drug Abuse. Trends & Statistics. 2017.




Reaching out can be the hardest step. Talk with someone who will listen.