Support for Families of Addicts

Family members experience stress and fear when someone that they care about is unable to stop drinking alcohol or using drugs. Loved ones play an important role in addiction recovery, but supporting an addict is difficult. It requires patience, tough love and faith.

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The disease of addiction changes people. Abusing alcohol and other drugs has a profound impact on the brain. Addiction can make a person we’ve known for years act like someone we don’t know. People with the disease often say and do things that inflict emotional trauma on the people that love them.

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Addiction ruins relationships, but families are vital resources for people who are addicted. Having supportive relationships is one of the four pillars of recovery, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Unfortunately, most people aren’t equipped to help someone with an addiction. They may have good intentions, but many people enable or stigmatize substance abuse.

Families tend to focus their support on the person with the addiction. They often forget to support one another. Friends and family members often need counseling, therapy and peer support to learn how to cope with emotional problems caused by someone else’s addiction.

How to Support Someone with an Addiction

Don’t try to help someone with an addiction on your own. Substance use disorder, the medical term for addiction, is a chronic disease. You wouldn’t try to treat other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, without help.

You would want to learn as much as you can about the illness and urge your loved one to seek professional treatment. After the person visits the doctor, you’d encourage him or her to make healthy lifestyle changes. Those are the same steps you should take to help someone with an addiction.


Marta Nelson of Advanced Recovery Systems gives advice to friends and family members of someone with an addiction.

Learn About the Disease

Addiction is a misunderstood disease. Some people are capable of controlling how much alcohol or drugs they consume. But others are unable to stop. They possess a variety of risk factors that lead to the development of a serious brain disease.

People with addiction may have made a choice to try alcohol or other drugs, but they don’t choose to continue to use. The substances cause physical changes to their brain that make quitting nearly impossible.

Learning more about drug abuse, addiction and the treatment options available to your loved one will prepare you to tackle the problem as effectively as possible.

Avoid Stigma

One of the largest barriers to treatment for addiction is stigma. The disease has been associated with shame and guilt. In the past, families tried to conceal a loved one’s addiction. People with the disease have sought isolation to avoid embarrassment.

Stigma hurts people with addiction and their family members. It can cause unnecessary stress and sadness. It can lead to misunderstandings and poor communication. When family members avoid and actively combat stigma, they’re better able to support one another.

Help, but Don’t Enable

Supporting a loved one with an addiction is complicated. Family members have to constantly think about whether they’re enabling or helping. People who enable allow the person to take advantage of their kindness. They provide an environment that condones substance abuse because they’re unwilling to provide tough love.

Helping someone with an addiction involves setting boundaries, enforcing rules and providing love. You can help your loved one find support group meetings or an accredited rehab center. You can help the person practice coping techniques and stress-relief skills. But you shouldn’t let your loved one take advantage of you.

Seeking help for a loved one?

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couple getting counseling

Getting a Loved One Professional Help

Friends, family members and self-help groups can support people who want to recover from addiction. But they can’t treat the disease.

Treatment for addiction comprises a range of therapeutic experiences that help the brain relearn how to function without alcohol and other drugs. It includes supervised detox, a necessary step to safely overcome withdrawal.

Nanci Stockwell of Advanced Recovery Systems describes the features to look for when choosing a rehab facility for addiction.

You can start searching for rehab facilities by asking your primary care physician for a recommendation. You can also search online or call an addiction hotline. Insurance providers can also provide a list of facilities that are covered by your plan.

Convincing Loved Ones to Seek Treatment

Finding a rehab center is half the battle. Convincing someone to seek treatment for addiction may take patience and dedication. Every person’s reasons for avoiding rehab are different. However, families can encourage their loved ones to seek help.

For example, children can convince parents to go to rehab by explaining how drug use has affected their lives. Other loved ones can point out financial problems or legal issues caused by substance abuse.

Holding an Intervention

An intervention isn’t a dramatic or scary experience. It’s a compassionate and healthy conversation. After a properly conducted intervention, most people choose to seek treatment.

Certified interventionists are trained facilitators. They help families communicate effectively while attempting to convince a loved one to get professional help. They’re also knowledgeable and experienced, and they add credibility to the conversation.

support group discussion

Support Groups for Families of Addicts

Helping a loved one find treatment and rebuild his or her life can be a rewarding experience. It can also be frustrating and exhausting.

Many people affected by someone else’s addiction seek professional counseling. Others join support groups composed of people who have had similar experiences.

Support Groups for People Affected by a Friend or Loved One’s Addiction:

is a support group for people affected by another person’s alcohol addiction. The group is primarily composed of family members of alcoholics, but friends of alcoholics are also welcome.
is a subsidiary of Al-Anon for teens affected by a loved one’s alcoholism. In most cases, participants in Alateen meetings are minor children of alcoholics.
Adult Children of Alcoholics
is a support group for adults whose childhood was affected by a parent’s addiction to alcohol or other drugs.
is a support group for people affected by a loved one’s drug use.
Co-Dependents Anonymous
is a support group for people who have become abnormally reliant on helping others.

Most support groups follow steps similar to the 12 Steps invented by Alcoholics Anonymous. Other informal support groups also exist. Sometimes it takes a few meetings to find the right support group for you.

Addiction is a chronic disease. That means it’s long-lasting and can be reoccurring. Many people in recovery from addiction relapse. Families shouldn’t feel disappointed or frustrated after a relapse. With hard work, faith and love, people with addiction and their family members can recover from the consequences of the disease.

Medical Disclaimer: aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

Chris Elkins, MA
Senior Content Writer,
Chris Elkins worked as a journalist for three years and was published by multiple newspapers and online publications. Since 2015, he’s written about health-related topics, interviewed addiction experts and authored stories of recovery. Chris has a master’s degree in strategic communication and a graduate certificate in health communication.

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