Approaching and Helping an Addict
Trying to help an addict can be a long, challenging, and
painful process for friends and family members. Unlike a person with a
physically debilitating condition, such as cancer, an addict may not initially
recognize the true danger of his or her illness or understand the inherent
risks of not treating it.
Before approaching an addict with the intention to help,
it’s important to remember that, ultimately, no one but the addict is
responsible for recovery. Typically, an addict must be ready and willing to
stop and get help before the recovery process can even begin.
How to Talk to Someone Suffering from Addiction
Initially, attempt to talk with the addict in person.
This approach can be less intimidating for him or her than staging an intervention
with several people.
Find a time when you can be alone with the addict and
will be free of distractions or interruptions. Explain to the addict that
you’re concerned about his or her behavior and ask if he or she is open to
hearing your thoughts. Try to use non-blaming language and avoid raising your
voice or getting angry. The addict will usually respond better if you convey
that you are coming from a place of concern and compassion. It may help to talk
about specific behaviors or incidents that have directly affected you as a
result of the individual’s addiction.
If the addict is receptive to your thoughts and
concerns, ask if he or she would be willing to seek professional help.
Understand that the addict may not be open to discussing this option. He or she
may become defensive. If this is the case, let it go for the time being. Do not
threaten or shame the addict. Instead, start talking with other family members
and concerned parties to begin planning an intervention.
If Necessary, Stage an Intervention
If the addict is in grave danger or doesn’t respond to
the concerns of loved ones, it may be helpful to stage an intervention. A
family member’s house or the addict’s home is a good place to hold the
intervention. It should be somewhere quiet where the addict feels safe. Do not
attempt to lock doors or block the addict’s exit if the meeting does not go
well. The addict should be able to leave at will if he or she is not prepared
to be a part of the intervention. The intervention will only work if the addict
Before organizing an intervention, it may be best to
consult a substance abuse counselor, social worker, or other trusted health
expert. Having this person at the intervention can be very useful, especially
if the addict does not respond well or becomes angry. Organize a time when
friends, family, and other concerned parties can gather together. Allow at
least a few hours for the intervention. Everyone present should have enough
time to communicate his or her thoughts and feelings.
When the addict arrives, explain that you have gathered
everyone there because you are concerned about the addict’s behavior. Have
members explain specifically how the addict’s behavior has affected them and
encourage them to express their concern for the addict’s welfare. It may also
help to remind the addict of the consequences that could ensue if his or her behavior
continues. However, try to not threaten.
Offer the addict information and resources about
different programs or treatment centers where he or she can start a recovery
process. If the addict is willing, take him or her to a rehabilitation facility
on the spot. If the addict is not willing, let him or her leave the
intervention. You cannot force an addict to listen or to start a recovery
program against his or her will.
Try to Stay Involved
Once the addict has started a recovery program, stay
involved with the process. Don’t send him or her off to a treatment center or
to a recovery program and assume that all will be well. Ongoing support from
loved ones is key.
If he or she is in a treatment center, visit or send
care packages if possible. Participate in family days or program sessions where
you are welcome. Convey that you are willing to be a part of the recovery
process and can offer support in any way the addict needs. It may be helpful to
purchase books or other resources that will help in recovery. In general, it
can be very helpful to the addict’s recovery if he or she has the support and
involvement of loved ones.
Learn to Let Go
Whether the addict is in recovery or still using, it’s
critical for friends and family to learn the balance of involvement and
detachment. Many professional resources are available to families and friends
If the addict is still using, explain what the
boundaries of your relationship will be so long as he or she continues to use.
It’s possible the addict will need to “hit bottom” before asking for help or being
willing to change. You may need to cut off contact in order to maintain your
own mental health and emotional wellbeing. Remember, you can’t help your loved
one if you are not well yourself.
If the addict is in recovery, show support, but do not
attempt to micromanage his or her life or recovery process. Part of recovery is
learning to be accountable and responsible for one’s own actions. In general,
focus on yourself and determine how you can take care of your own needs.
Unfortunately, loving an addict can be a difficult experience. The best thing
loved ones can do is to let the addict know you support him or her while still
maintaining appropriate boundaries and protecting your own wellbeing.