Families & Addiction: Are Your Loved Ones in Danger?

When a family member is addicted to drugs or alcohol, the problems that result can invade almost every aspect of life. It can make even the most welcoming of homes feel unsafe. It can devastate the hopes and dreams of the closest of relations. It can sabotage finances, shatter trust, and in some cases, even threaten the safety of the family as a whole.

It isn’t just parents of addicts that suffer either. Brothers, sisters, children, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, grandparents, and grandchildren are all hurt by a family member’s addiction. 

What’s so hard about having an addicted family member is that it’s difficult to know just what you can do to help. Should you confront them head on? Or should you let them figure it out on their own? Is this something they need to overcome on their own? Or should you call in a professional? 

And how do you know if your family member is even addicted in the first place?

This guide for family members of addicts is meant to help educate those closest to substance abusers about what addiction really is, how to spot the signs in others, and what to do to help.

Because in the end, blood is thicker than addiction. And with the right family support, recovery is possible.

How to Support a Loved One Who is Struggling with Substance Abuse

When someone you love suffers from an addiction, at times, it can feel as though your hands are tied. You want to help as much as you can, and you want to be supportive, but the truth is that you don't even know where to begin.

Below is a breakdown of what to do to help addicted parents, addicted children, or other family members who are addicted.

Parents and Addiction

Helping an Addicted Parent

A growing number of those who struggle with addiction are moms and dads. And while this has been a significant problem for quite some time, it's typical to brush the issue aside as if it's not real. However, the statistics tell us a very different story about the number of parents and children that are affected because of parental addiction.


About 22% of women and 42% of men chose to have three or more drinks on an occasion. Close to 30% of women and 43% of men participated in binge drinking when they drank during the past year. The vast majority of these individuals were parents.


More than 8.3 million children in the United States are currently living with someone who has an addiction to drugs or alcohol. This accounts for almost 12% of all children in the U.S. If you count the number of grandchildren who are affected by an addiction, that number can be as high as 16%. Children of alcoholics are as much as four times more likely to abuse alcohol in the future than those whose parents are not alcoholics.


A study called the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE) found that almost 27% of the participants reported a history of substance abuse within their households. Close to 2/3 of all cases of alcoholism are related to adverse childhood experiences due to alcoholism in the home. The same is true for 60% of suicide attempts and half of all instances of drug use. As many as 2/3 of all child abuse and neglect cases involve some type of alcohol abuse or drug addiction.

If you are a child who has an addicted mother or father, it's important for you to know what you can do to get the help you need.

Also, there are many things you can do to help yourself cope with this situation.

  • Don't ignore the problem. Pretending it doesn't exist won't help you at all. Instead, find a trusted friend, relative, teacher, or guidance counselor that you can talk to. 
  • Keep a journal where you write down your feelings about everything you are going through.
  • Learn as much as you can about alcoholism or addiction so that you can educate yourself about the challenges your parent is facing.
  • Don't be afraid to seek out help if you are afraid to be at home with your mom or dad.
  • Find someone who can serve as a role model for you so that you don't take on the need to cope with issues by turning to drugs or alcohol.
  • Find an Al-Anon group or an Alateen group near you where you can meet with others who are your age, and who also have addicted family members.
  • Commit to breaking the cycle of addiction.

When the addict within a family is a parent or guardian, the children are the ones who often suffer the most. Their lives suffer a tremendous negative impact when someone they are that close to is using substances on a regular basis.

Educationally, children will often exhibit poor scores on achievement tests or even just basic classroom tests. They may have difficulty paying attention and even start to demonstrate some of the signs of ADHD. Socially, they may become withdrawn from their friends at school, and instead, they may prefer to spend time alone when they should be socializing with others. Behavioral problems among children of addicts are also quite common, and this stems from a lack of discipline in the home, or it may occur because of behaviors they've seen their parents exhibiting as well.

It also needs to be mentioned that children of addicts are also at a great risk for abuse and neglect. Parents or guardians that are fully consumed with obtaining and using drugs or alcohol might not have the time or the ability to care for their children as they should. This can lead to kids that have poor hygiene, health problems, and developing mental illnesses, such as anxiety or depression.

Although everyone has a choice whether or not to start using a substance that could potentially lead to an addiction, research states that the development of an addiction may not be entirely within that individual's control. The risk of developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol is greatly influenced by genetics. In fact, genes are responsible for about half the risk for drug addiction and alcoholism. Still, this indicates that genetics are not the only reason why someone might be more prone to addiction.

Statistics do state that children of addicts are much more likely to grow up to be addicts themselves, but this tends to vary from child to child. For example, a child may have a genetic predisposition to becoming a diabetic, but there is more to consider than just genes. Environment and personal choices play a critical role in whether or not that child eventually is diagnosed with diabetes. The same is true for children of addicts.

According to NIDA, some other environmental risk factors that contribute to the likelihood of developing an addiction are: 

  • Lack of parental supervision 
  • Availability of drugs at school
  • Community poverty
  • Poor development of social skills

In short, alcoholism and drug addiction do run in families, and there are a number of different factors in play. Genetics, environment and personal choice all play a critical role, but it's safe to say that someone who has grown up in a home with addicted parents stands a good chance of suffering from addiction themselves.

Teens and Addiction

Is Your Son or Daughter Addicted?

Never before has teen addiction and substance abuse been such a serious problem in the United States. The statistics tell a scary story about how easy it seems to be for teenagers to obtain drugs and alcohol because of how common substance abuse is among this population of people in our country. 

For example, DoSomething.org indicates that:


There are more teenagers who die because of prescription drug abuse than from cocaine and heroin combined. 60% of high school seniors don't feel that marijuana is harmful at all, even though the active ingredient in marijuana (THC) is as much as 5 times stronger than it was 20 years ago.


More than 30% of teenagers who live in states that have medical marijuana laws obtain their drugs from other people's prescriptions. Adderall (which is prescribed to treat ADHD) use among high school seniors has increased substantially. In 2009, 5.4% of seniors used Adderall, and today, 7.5% of them do.


54% of high school seniors do not feel that regular steroid use is harmful at all. 5% of high school seniors smoke pot on a daily basis.


By the time they reach the 8thgrade, 28% of students have consumed alcohol, and 16.5% of them have smoked marijuana. In 2013, more seniors had regularly used marijuana than cigarettes. Close to 23% of them had smoked pot at some point during the last month.


60% of teenagers who abuse prescription drugs obtain them from friends or family for free Less than 40% of seniors believe that regular use of marijuana is harmful.


50% of seniors don't believe it is harmful to try cocaine or crack once or twice. 40% of them don't believe that it is harmful to try heroin once or twice.

Additional statistics indicate that:

  • Close to 50% of high school seniors have abused some type of drug.
  • 6% of high school seniors have abused some type of hallucinogen drug.
  • Of that number, 4% admit to having abused LSD.
  • More than 60% of teenagers report that various types of drugs are kept, sold, or used at their schools.
  • 1 out of every 9 seniors admits to having used Spice or K2.
  • 3% of seniors have tried bath salts at least one time.
  • 28% of teenagers admit to knowing at least one person who has tried Ecstasy.
  • 23% of seniors report that they have participated in binge drinking, consuming more than five drinks in a row.
  • 8% of high school seniors have driven after they've been drinking.
  • Teens who drink are 50% more likely to try cocaine than those who don't drink.
  • Out of all the alcohol that is consumed in the United States, 11% of it is consumed by those who are underage.

It's difficult to know how to identify drug or alcohol addiction in your child when you're not really all that sure what you should be looking for. There are a lot of signs that indicate that an addiction or substance abuse might be present, but unfortunately, a lot of the time, these signs are overlooked or chalked up to typical teenage behavior. 

As a parent, if your teenager is exhibiting any of the following, you may want to take a second look and try to determine whether or not substance abuse might be a factor.

  • Frequently avoiding making eye contact with you
  • Repeatedly missing curfew
  • Losing interest in activities that were once really important to him or her
  • Exhibiting poor hygiene
  • Getting bad grades in school
  • Smelling smoke on their breath or in their clothes
  • Noticing secretive behaviors
  • Frequently becoming hungry
  • Laughing for no reason at all
  • Having bloodshot eyes
  • Feeling tired during the day
  • Weight fluctuations that are unexplained
  • Exhibiting a loss of control
  • Frequent bouts of sickness
  • Lack of responsibility at home and at school
  • Hanging out with a new group of friends
  • Lying about their plans or where they're going
  • Irritable behavior, which may indicate withdrawal

Have you noticed any of these signs of addiction within your child over the last several weeks? If you've noticed more than one, and you have other suspicions that make you think that a drug or alcohol addiction might be a problem, it's important to take the correct actions to confront your teen.

The human brain is, by far, the most complex organ in the body. In a way, it serves as a type of "mission control." It's responsible for everything you see, smell, feel, and experience. It also controls basic bodily functions, which allow us to survive and adapt to changing circumstances.

Once drugs or alcohol enter the brain, that processing is interrupted. This can eventually cause significant and even drastic changes. Some of these changes may not be reversible. As substances continue to be used, this can lead to addiction, and for many teens, it does. The result is being unable to stop using, even when they have a desire to. Teens that suffer from addiction have this experience. In fact, even when they are staring at numerous negative consequences, they will continue to use.

The problem is that the teenage brain is much more vulnerable to addiction than an adult’s brain. Researchers have even pointed out the fact that addiction happens quicker with teens. Many experts have even gone so far to say that if you’re going to get addicted, it happens in adolescence.

For many families, the cost of addiction treatment is often the main concern that keeps them from getting more information about various types of treatment for their children. Perhaps this is also a concern that you have, and you worry that you won't be able to afford to get help for your teen. If that is the case, please know that there is a solution available to you through the Affordable Care Act.

You may know the Affordable Care Act as a new healthcare law that has been in place in the United States for several years, and most people connect it with a requirement for them to have health insurance for themselves and their families. However, this law also offers so much more in the way of financial protection. It also requires your health insurance company to offer benefits to you or anyone in your family when they have a need for addiction treatment. In the past, your health insurance might have required you to meet a high deductible, or they might not have offered this type of coverage at all. That is no longer the case because of these new changes.

One of the best things about the Affordable Care Act is the fact that so many more people have been able to get help for their addictions when prior to now, they didn't think it was possible for them. As long as you find a good, high-quality drug and alcohol rehab center that will participate with your health insurance, you may find that the entire cost of treatment is covered in full.

If you have questions about this, or if you would like us to verify your health insurance for your son or daughter, we would be happy to do that for you. That way, you will have all the information you need to know how to proceed with getting help for your teen.

Other Family Members and Addiction

Tips for Helping an Addicted Brother or Sister

The brother/sister dynamic makes dealing with an addicted sibling far different than that of an addicted parent or child. Most brothers and sisters operate on more of an equal playing field than parents and children. And that can make addressing their addiction both easier and more difficult. 

On the one hand, the need to keep up appearances with siblings isn’t nearly as strong. Children may be fixated on impressing their parents while parents strive to be a role model for their children – sometimes at the expense of being honest.

But siblings tend not to put on airs with each other. And that means many won’t be as likely to enable the behaviors of their addicted brother or sister. 

On the other hand, siblings aren’t always as invested in the relationship as parents. Sure, the bond between them can be strong. But many won’t be as tempted as their parents to give up the entirety of their daily lives for their addicted sister or brother.

Even still, there are a few things you can do as the sibling of an addicted brother or sister to help them get on and stay on the road to recovery. 

It's so easy to get into a pattern of placing blame on your sister or brother because of the addiction, but doing so isn't going to get you anywhere. Blaming him or her will only cause resentment, and it's likely to make your loved one shut down and refuse to listen to anything else you have to say.

What you need to remember is that addiction is a disease, and it's a dangerous one. Just like heart disease, diabetes or cancer, those who struggle with addictions need to get ongoing treatment, and if you approach this conversation with an attitude of wanting to help rather than one of judging, you're much more likely to get the response you're hoping for.

This one is especially important.

Do not carry the burden of an addicted brother or sister on your own.

Doing so puts far too much pressure on you to make serious decisions and life changes. And that burden should be shared among the family unit as a whole. 

If you know your sister or brother is struggling with addiction, talk to your parents or another trusted adult (teacher, counselor, family friend) or family member (aunt, uncle, grandparent). Attacking addiction from a unified front is far more successful than trying to do so on your own. 

It's possible that you might be concerned that you have become an enabler for your addicted family member. This happens to the most well-meaning people, and it's not something that you probably thought was the wrong thing for you to do. Still, it's vital for you to stop enabling your loved one so that you can truly start to help him or her. 

To do that, you have to be able to stop making excuses for the negative behaviors caused by their addiction. 

  • Stop explaining away their actions to your parents and loved ones. 
  • Stop covering for them when they’re out late getting high. 
  • Stop lending them money to buy more drugs. 
  • And stop making excuses for their behavior. Because the more you do, the less your addicted brother or sister will be likely to quit. 
Other Family Members and Addiction

Supporting Other Family Members Who Are Addicted

The family unit isn’t just made up of parents and their children. It extends to uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents. And while these family members may not be as immediately a part of daily life, their addictions can have negative impacts that extend well across the family unit as a whole. 

Below are a few tips on dealing with addiction in specific members of your extended family.

  1. Choose the right time to talk to them about their addiction (i.e., when life is going well and outside stresses are at a low)
  2. Prepare what you’re going to say ahead of time. 
  3. Don’t leave your parents out of the loop. Sometimes addressing something as serious as addiction can be far easier to take when heard from a sibling rather than a niece or nephew.
  4. You may want to consider talking to your cousins about the problem as well. Doing so can help you gauge the severity of your aunt or uncle’s substance abuse problem. 
  1. Reach out to your aunt and uncle about their child’s addiction. If the problem is severe enough for you to be concerned about it, then they should know what’s really going on inside their own home. 
  2. Don’t make excuses for them. While you may be tempted to cover for your addicted cousin since they’re closer to your age, the truth of the matter is that doing so can make it even harder for them to get clean in the long run. 
  3. Stop other enabling behaviors now. When family gets together, it can be tempting to indulge to mark the celebration. But when you use drugs or drink excessively with your addicted cousin, you’re only reinforcing their substance abuse problem. 
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Other family members like your parents, siblings, aunts/uncles, and grandparents can provide the backup you need to enact lasting change in your addicted cousin. 
  1. Seek out the guidance of your parents. They will likely have a better idea of how to approach the situation and will be able to offer insight into what steps to take next.
  2. Don’t let their age stop you from taking action. Older people with substance abuse problems are far more likely to develop serious health complications. And that means acting now is more important than ever. 
  3. Research senior rehab. This more age-targeted type of rehab can make recovery far more successful for senior citizens compared to other rehabilitation types.
  4. Don’t brush off prescription drug abuse, especially in grandparents. This type of substance addiction is quickly becoming one of the most common in the entire country. And the problem is growing rapidly with senior citizens especially.  

What is at Stake in Family Addiction?

  • The very stability of the home
  • The unity of the family
  • Everyone's physical health
  • Everyone's mental health
  • The family's financial position
  • Interpersonal relationships between family members

Everything about the family dynamic shifts, and it's important to recognize addiction for what it is – a family disease.

There are a few things that you can start to do right now that will help your loved one more than both of you realize.

Educate Yourself

There is so much great information online about addiction and recovery, and most people find that they don't really know as much as about it as they think they do. The more you know about addiction, the better equipped you will be to provide your loved one with help during all stages of the process.

Avoid Certain Behaviors or Reactions

Know that at times, you're going to feel as though your anger and frustration will overcome you, and when you experience these emotions, it's important for you to take a few steps back. Judging your loved one, or accusing him or her of anything is only going to make your situation worse instead of better.

Stay Sober-Minded

For example, if you live with someone who is an alcoholic, and you enjoy drinking, but only socially, it's best for you to make a plan for a sober environment within your home. Sometimes the best thing we can do for our loved ones is to set a good example.

Keep in Mind that Addiction is a Disease

This can be a hard one for families because the tendency is to wish that the addicted loved one will just "snap out of it." However, just as it's impossible for a diabetic to just stop being a diabetic, it's impossible for an addict to stop being an addict. The disease will always be there.

Use Frequent Encouragement

You know that your family member has the potential to live a full life that's free from the chains of addiction. Sometimes it can help to hear someone you love say that to you, so offer encouragement to your loved one on a regular basis.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) states that one in every three people will develop a clinically significant alcohol problem at some point during the course of their lives. Additionally, they state that one in eight people will become dependent upon alcohol. Likewise, 23.5 million people who were over the age of 12 needed to get treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction in 2009. That number is thought to have increased since that time.

Clearly, addiction within families is a very serious problem in the United States, and it's a problem that is not going to go away on its own. Families need to work hard to try and understand why addiction is such an issue, and they need to know how to react and how to help when one of their own family members is struggling because of drugs or alcohol.

Perhaps you have a family member who is currently dealing with an addiction. This individual may or may not be living with you, but the fact that you spend every day of your life worrying about his or her health and safety should not be ignored. Sometimes it may feel as though your hands are tied, and that there is nothing you can do to get your loved one to change. So many other families have found themselves to be facing the same exact set of circumstances. The more you understand about addiction and how you can avoid offering the wrong type of help to your family member, the better.

At Northpoint Recovery, we are constantly working with families who are struggling to put the pieces of their lives back together again. Many of them lived with the addict for years, and are only now starting to heal from the severe wounds that were dealt to them during that time. Regardless of what your situation is, please know that it is not hopeless.

Families and Addiction

Statistics Regarding Families and Drug and Alcohol Addiction

If you have someone in your family who is addicted to alcohol or drugs, then you understand how lonely your situation can feel at times. It may seem as though there is no one who understands what you're going through, and you may feel like you're dealing with each challenge all on your own. The fact is that addiction is a big problem in the United States, and it doesn't matter if it is a parent, child, grandparent, aunt, or uncle who is addicted. It tends to hit families in very similar ways.

The statistics tell us that:

  • 1 in every 5 people in the United States has lived with an alcoholic relative at some point during their lives.
  • When this happens during childhood, the individual is at a much greater risk for behavioral and emotional issues later on.
  • Children of alcoholics are four times more likely to turn to alcoholism themselves as they grow older.
  • They are also more likely to marry an alcoholic or abusive spouse as adults.
  • 9 out of 10 Americans who meet the criteria for alcohol or drug addiction as adults started using before the age of 18.
  • 10% of all young people between the ages of 12 and 17 are currently illegal drug users.
  • 6% of sixteen and seventeen-year-olds and 17% of eighteen to twenty-year-olds admitted to driving under the influence of alcohol at some point during the last year.
  • The number of children being raised by their grandparents went from 2.4 million in the year 2000 to 4.9 million in the year 2010, according to the United States Census Bureau.
  • For many of these situations, the reasons were because of drug or alcohol addiction within the biological parents.
  • Many studies show that a large percentage of child abuse cases and domestic violence cases have involved alcohol and drugs.
  • The victims in these scenarios have been known to be very likely to abuse drugs or alcohol later on in their lives.

These statistics come as a surprise to many people, and it is shocking to know that there are so many people in the United States who are battling addictions. Getting the right information about how to help your loved one is the best place for you to begin the process of getting him or her into treatment.

Understand the Difference Between Abuse & Addiction

Drug abuse and drug addiction (or alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction) are terms that are used interchangeably quite often. However, they are certainly not the same thing.

One of the very first steps of addressing addiction in the family is to learn more about this complex disease. And part of that means understanding the difference between abuse and addiction.

When someone is participating in drug or alcohol abuse, they are using drugs or alcohol in ways that they shouldn't. However, they don't feel compelled to use them on a regular basis. They may enjoy the high they get from using drugs, or they may have a good time binge drinking every weekend, but they also might be able to go without using and not feel any physical or psychological effects from doing so.

For illegal drugs, abuse is quite simple: using them at all is considered abuse since there is no accepted medical use of these substances. 

Legal drugs, on the other hand, like prescription drugs or alcohol, have a more complex definition of abuse.

Prescription Drug Abuse – For these types of drugs, using them in any way that they are not prescribed would be considered prescription drug abuse. Some of the most common forms of prescription drug abuse include: 

  • Taking higher doses than prescribed
  • Taking them more frequently than prescribed
  • Taking prescription drugs at a time other than what was prescribed
  • Taking them with other substances to increase its effects
  • Taking these drugs without a legitimate prescription, even if the rightful owner has the same condition
  • Giving them to someone else, even if they have the same condition
  • Selling prescription drugs to others or giving it away as a gift

Alcohol Abuse – According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), moderate and non-abusive alcohol consumption is up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. Levels above that are considered alcohol abuse. 

Binge drinking, for instance, is typically drinking around 4 drinks for women and about 5 drinks for men in a span of about 2 hours. And heavy alcohol use is defined as binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past month. 

A drug or alcohol addiction is very different than abuse. 

When someone is addicted, they actually feel as though they have to use drugs or alcohol in order to feel normal. They may need to use as soon as they wake up in the morning, or they may have certain rituals of using that they need to go through every single day

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction is defined as: 

A chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain. It is considered both a complex brain disorder and a mental illness. 

When someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, then, they will continue to use even though substances are clearly causing them to have problems. They may get fired from a job because of substance use, or they may lose important relationships to them because of their dependence upon drugs or alcohol. 

Even so, they will continue to use because of the grip that their addiction has on their life. They will also experience withdrawal symptoms when they haven't used substances in quite some time, or when they have decided to try and stop using on their own.

What’s important to remember with addiction is that it causes very real physical changes in the brain. Experts have found from brain imaging studies that people who are clinically addicted show changes in the brain in areas that help regulate judgment, decision-making, learning, memory, and behavior control

And as NIDA points out, “Scientists believe that these changes alter the way the brain works and may help explain the compulsive and destructive behaviors of a person who becomes addicted.” 

Spotting the Signs of Addiction in Family Members

Identifying whether or not a family member is actually addicted can be tough. But it’s the first step of getting them the help they so desperately need. 

In addition to having a look at the most common signs below, family members who suspect addiction to drugs or alcohol can take this short quiz to help them determine if their loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder.

Addiction is a disease that thrives on secrecy. And most addicts will go to great lengths to hide their substance abuse from the people that love them. Examples of excessive secrecy might include:

  • Hiding or encrypting their cell phone
  • Erasing text or phone calls
  • Leaving without telling you where they’re going
  • Locking you out of their room or vehicle
  • Hanging out with a new set of friends that you never get to meet
  • Deflecting when you ask questions
  • Defensiveness

When a loved one is abusing drugs, OF COURSE they’re going to lie about where they’ve been, what they’ve been doing, and who they’ve been with.  A drug user might lie by:

  • Making up barely-plausible or downright unlikely stories
  • Vehemently denying any accusations, even when it is obvious
  • Feigning sickness
  • Playing on your sympathies
  • Offering “part” of the truth
  • “Over-explain” in an attempt to fool you
  • Making up reasons to fight as a means of distracting you

When a person is on drugs, the importance of everything else pales in comparison, including pride in their own appearance. A person abusing drugs might:

  • Neglect to bathe regularly or put on deodorant
  • Stop combing their hair or brushing their teeth
  • Wear the same dirty clothes for days in a row
  • “Forget” to wear/tie their shoes or button their shirt
  • Show signs of a rapid or excessive weight loss OR gain

A person on drugs can be up one moment and then down the next, often with no correlation with what is going on around them. These mood swings can be characterized by:

  • Manic hyperactivity
  • Extreme talkativeness
  • Inability to sit still
  • Uncharacteristic sentimentality
  • Heightened anxiety
  • Depression
  • Apathy
  • Crying
  • Sullen withdrawal
  • Aggression
  • Paranoia
  • Irritability
  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Passing out
  • Incoherence
  • Confusion

Addiction is a selfish disease because when in its grips, a person cares about their next "high," and nothing else. Nearly every waking moment is spent thinking about the drug, figuring out how to obtain the drug, and then using the drug. That doesn't leave a lot of time for hobbies.

Also, drug addiction disrupts the brain’s production of dopamine – the neurotransmitter that is responsible for feelings of pleasure. A person on drugs can actually reach a point where they are unable to experience pleasure except when under the influence of the drug.

What this means is that the drug has hijacked their brain to the point that being high is literally the ONLY thing that makes them happy. Consequently, it is the only thing that the person will have an interest in.

This is the largest clue that a loved one may be struggling with drug use. Addiction is an expensive disease, no matter how much money one has. A person will spend everything they have, and then SELL whenever they can to be able to afford their drugs.

If they live alone, their bills will go unpaid. Their obligations will be ignored. Their utilities might be turned off. Their car may even be repossessed. They will write hot checks. They might take out several “payday” loans.

This is not a choice. This is their drug-dependent, dopamine-starved brain compelling them to do whatever it takes to get more drugs. And when they have exhausted all of their resources, they will turn to other family members by:

  • Constantly borrowing, money but never repaying it
  • Making up the flimsiest excuses to get money – needing to pay a bill or fix their car
  • Expecting loved ones to pay for their basic life expenses – food, utilities, rent, etc.
  • Taking money from wallets or purses of family members
  • Using other people’s credit cards or forging checks from their accounts
  • Stealing valuables so they can sell them – jewelry, electronics, tools, etc.

Many addicts will try to hide their intoxication from their family members. And as a result, they may not actually be high when they’re around others most of the time. However, sometimes they will be. And knowing how to spot the signs of intoxication for different drug types can help identify an underlying problem. 

Below are some of the most common signs of intoxication for the most widely abused drug types. 

Alcohol – Some signs of alcohol intoxication include:  

  • Slowed reaction times and reflexes 
  • Poor motor coordination 
  • Blurred vision 
  • Slurred speech 
  • Lowered inhibitions and increase in risk behavior 
  • Lowered reasoning ability, impaired judgment 
  • Memory loss 
  • Confusion, anxiety, restlessness 
  • Slowed heart rate, reduced blood pressure 
  • Slowed breathing rate 
  • Heavy sweating 
  • Nausea and vomiting

Stimulants – Some signs of stimulant intoxication include:  

  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Increased breathing
  • Rapid movements, thoughts, and speaking
  • Darting eyes
  • Hand tremors
  • Oral fixations like clenching the jaw repeatedly
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased alertness
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Erratic mood
  • Aggression  

Opioids – Some signs of opioid intoxication include: 

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Euphoria
  • Slowed breathing
  • Pinpoint pupils

Depressants – Some signs of depressant intoxication include: 

  • Slurred speech
  • Poor concentration
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Light-headedness
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Problems with movement and memory
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Slowed breathing
  • Lethargy

Finally, family members that have a problem with addiction and substance abuse will also often leave behind various pieces of drug paraphernalia – objects or tools used to get high. 

Some of the most common pieces of drug paraphernalia to look out for include:  

  • Hookahs
  • E-cigarettes
  • Roachclips
  • Rolling papers
  • Cigars
  • Pipes
  • Tin foil
  • Needles
  • Spoons
  • Straws
  • Surgical or dust masks
  • Rubber tubing, belts, bandanas
  • Lighters
  • Bottle caps
  • Broken pens
  • Baggies and cellophane
  • Aluminum foil

Alcoholics also tend to leave behind physical signs of their problem drinking. If you suspect your family member is an alcoholic, keep an eye out for: 

  • Empty or half-empty bottles hidden around the house
  • Watered-down alcohol (to hide how much has been consumed)
  • Unexplained injuries or damage to property
  • Unpaid bills and hidden final notices

For some, withdrawal symptoms can be quite mild. And a family member going through them might just seem a little out of sorts. But for others, withdrawal can be an incredibly uncomfortable process that’s quite obvious. 

Below are some of the most common withdrawal symptoms that addicts will tend to go through after not using for quite a while. 

  • Debilitating headaches
  • Chronic digestive issues, such as diarrhea or constipation
  • Symptoms of anxiety
  • Symptoms of depression
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Shakiness in the body
  • Intense cravings for drugs or alcohol
  • Problems with sleeping at night
  • Anger or agitation

If you spend an extended amount of time (e.g., travelling on vacation, staying home from work with them, etc.) with a family member you suspect is addicted, spotting the signs of withdrawal is a pretty solid indicator that they may be struggling with a substance use disorder. 

Eliminating Enabling Behaviors

While addiction is a disease in a single individual, it actually affects nearly everyone around them. And when it comes to particularly close family members (parents, children, aunts and uncles, grandparents), enabling is an incredibly common occurrence.

Enabling is something that people close to an addict do to normalize certain behaviors. It may involve ignoring that a problem exists, making excuses for an addict, and generally supporting them when times get tough.

And while many enablers justify these actions as just “loving support,” the truth of the matter is that these behaviors tend to make a family member’s addiction even worse. That’s because negative behaviors (e.g., spending money carelessly, abandoning social obligations, failing to take care of oneself) are not connected with the appropriate consequences (e.g., not being able to pay for bills, alienation of friends and family, health problems).

It’s softening the blow of certain actions. And without the full realization of real-world consequences, an addict doesn’t often feel the need to cease these actions and change their behaviors.

Parents tend to be especially guilty of enabling. Their natural tendency to protect their child at all costs makes it particularly difficult to let an addicted son or daughter take care of themselves on their own.

There are a few questions loved ones can ask themselves to help determine if they’re enabling the addiction of their mother, father, children, or other close family member.

  1. Are You Acting Out of Fear? – I don’t want to upset them. I don’t want them to break off all contact. I’m afraid they’ll go to jail or lose their job. 
  2. Are You Lying to Other People to Cover Up for the Addict/Alcoholic? – Making excuses for their absence, lying to others about why they aren’t at family gatherings, calling them in sick for work or school.
  3. Are You Blaming Other People or Situations for the Substance Abuser’s Behaviors? – It’s because of their friends. They had a hard week at work. They’re stressed about life.
  4. Are You Having Difficulty Expressing or Controlling Your Emotions? – You blow up at others. You feel anxious or afraid constantly. You think you’re helpless.
  5. Are You Putting the Needs of the Addict/Alcoholic Before Your Own or Your Family’s? – Do you pay their bills? Do you bail them out of jail? Do you buy their food? Is your health suffering as a result?
  6. Do You Deny That There Is a Problem? – Do you find yourself saying, “at least they aren’t…”? Do you get defensive when other people suggest there’s a problem?

If the answer to any of these questions is YES, you may be enabling your parent’s, child’s, or family member’s addiction.

Some common enabling behaviors might include:

  • Making excuses for them when they are too impaired or hungover to go to work or school
  • Covering for them when they neglect family obligations
  • Putting up with physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Providing financial support – paying their bills, giving them money, etc.
  • Bailing them out of jail or paying their attorney’s fees
  • Turning a “blind eye” to suspicious behaviors
  • Picking up the slack when they don’t fulfill their responsibilities
  • Hiding their behaviors from other family members
  • Being overly forgiving – even when there is no remorse or apology on the substance abuser’s part
  • Dismissing their behavior as “That’s just the way he(she) is”

Stopping enabling behaviors is one of the best things a family member of an addict can do to affect their loved one’s substance abuse. And for many, it can also be one of the hardest

That’s because many times, the people closest to an addict are in just as much denial about their drug abuse as the one with an actual substance use disorder. 

But while it might be hard at first, it’s important to remember that most loved ones of addicts cannot control their family member’s drug use. What they can control, however, is how they react to it

So, how can family members stop enabling their loved one’s substance abuse? Well, there are a few things in particular to do to help curb abusive behaviors. 

  • STOP supporting them financially.
  • STOP covering up for them.
  • STOP saving them from embarrassment.
  • STOP giving them a “free pass” to act in ways that are unacceptable, abusive, or demeaning.
  • STOP putting the needs of their disease before yours or those of your family.
  • Immediately START tying all of your future contact, support, and protection to their getting professional help for their disease of addiction.

On top of that, there are a few other behaviors that family members of addicts should adopt in order to curb their enabling. Some of the most important include: 

  • Set firm boundaries and most importantly, stick to them
  • Set reasonable expectations.
  • Encourage consistent and structured family time. 
  • Realize you can’t fix everything
  • Don’t fall for the rock bottom myth (treatment does not have to be voluntary in order to be effective).

Other Resources for Families:

It's very common for worry and concern to grip the lives of family members so hard that they end up enabling the addict when what they really intend to do is to offer support. There is a huge difference between these two situations, and if you have been enabling someone in your life who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it's important for you to understand what that difference is now so that you can stop this behavior.

The first thing you need to know is that enabling an addict never makes the situation any better. In fact, it will only serve to make it worse. There are a lot of things that well-meaning family members do in an effort to help someone they love who struggles with an addiction, and some of these things include:

  • Offering a family member a place to live when you know that addiction is a factor in his or her life.
  • Providing money on a regular basis as a way to offer financial support.
  • Offering to get groceries or bring the addict food on a regular basis.
  • Offering transportation when the addict wants to pick up more drugs or alcohol.
  • Keeping up on child support payments and other bills that the addict is responsible for.

It's understandable that you might be worried about your addicted family member becoming homeless, or having to live with friends who use just like they do. Many addicted individuals struggle with mental illnesses alongside their addictions, which is known as having a co-occurring disorder. You might worry that your loved one will make a poor decision if he or she is left to care for themselves without supervision. Even though these situations are very real, and even though you think you're doing the right thing by offering that type of support, this method of enabling only allows the addiction to take a tighter grip on your family member's life. The likelihood that he or she will ever want to escape from the addiction is almost nonexistent in situations like these.

When you live with a drug addict or an alcoholic, life can become very exhausting quickly. You need to be sure that you have enough time to yourself to recover from everything that you go through on a daily basis. A lot of people with addicted family members spend so much time taking care of their loved ones that they fail to take care of themselves in the process.

Another thing that people will often do when they become frustrated is that they end up blaming themselves for the addict's behavior. This is something you need to avoid at all costs, and if you're ever tempted to blame yourself in a weak moment, arrest those thoughts immediately. You are not to blame for your loved one's addiction, and there's nothing you can do to control his or her decisions. There's also nothing you can do to get them to change.

Finally, avoid trying to be your loved one's caretaker. If the addicted individual is your teenage son or daughter, then there will be some care involved on your part, of course, but when he or she is an adult, remember that it's not your responsibility to offer care.

In addition to enabling a family member who has an addiction, there are a number of other mistakes that people often make as well. It can be so easy to let your guard down, and even when you try to do everything right, it's easy to slip into certain behaviors before you realize what's happening. Some of the most common mistakes people make with their addicted family members include:

  • Arguing with them when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This is a pointless exercise, and it's only going to serve to make you angrier and tear apart your relationship even more.
  • Working harder than him or her to create a change in the home. Remember that it's important for you not to do things for your loved one, even though every instinct in you tells you that you should. You should never work harder than your loved one to make life better.
  • Use negative talking when discussing the addiction, or anything else for that matter. Doing so will only fuel the fire of negativity, and this can increase feelings of guilt. It can also push your loved one further into the addiction.
  • Using personal boundaries against the addict to cause shame or as a punishment. Healthy boundaries should be set by everyone in the home, and they need to be respected.
  • Shielding your family member from the consequences of his or her addiction. Sometimes these consequences can be quite severe. They can even result in legal issues that lead to fines or jail time. It might seem as though you're being mean or uncaring, but it's important for addicts to feel the sting of these and other consequences if any changes are going to take place.

At some point, you may want to have a conversation with your loved one about the addiction and the problem that it causes in your home. Many people decide to have this conversation, and the hope is that their family member will make the decision to get help. If you're facing this situation right now, it's important for you to know what you should do, and how you should go about having this conversation.

  • Be Prepared: The window of time that you will have to talk with your loved one is likely to be very brief, so it's important for you to plan out what you're going to say ahead of time. You may want to write everything down so that you don't forget any important points that you know you should share.
  • Talk Sober: There might be very few occasions during the course of a day when your loved one is sober enough to have a cohesive conversation with anyone. However, everyone has some times of sobriety, and those are the times you should choose. If you try to have the talk with your loved one when he or she is under the influence, not only will nothing come of the conversation, but you're likely to incite anger and denial. A good time to try is when the addict is just waking up before that first use of the day.
  • Remain Calm: This is a subject that you are obviously very passionate about, and you're likely to be met with resistance when you bring it up. Even so, it's vital for you to remain calm as you talk. Addicts can anger and frustrate even the most patient people in the world, so maintain a calm and clear head as you go into it. Know that your loved one is likely to become very angry when you talk with him or her, but don't give in or take the bait. Insist that you want to talk like adults.
  • Be Honest, But Not Judgmental: This might be easier said than done for most people, but it is possible. It's so easy to judge others when you can clearly see that their behaviors don't match up to your expectations. Try to remember that addiction is a disease, and it's hard for the behaviors and habits of addiction to be broken. Still, you can be honest about the destruction that is occurring because of the addiction.
  • Explain Your Emotions: Chances are very good that your family member is so internally focused that he or she can hardly take notice of how the addiction is impacting you and the rest of the family. Talk about how the addiction is affecting you and how it is making you feel. There's no need to hold back because trying to protect your loved one from the pain doesn't do anyone any good.

Once you have the discussion with your loved one about his or her addiction, you should be prepared for very little to change. In some cases, a talk with someone who cares is all it takes for an addict to want to change, but most of the time, those words fall on deaf ears. You may also hear promises like, "Now isn't the right time for me to quit using," or "I'm going to pick a date in the future to stop, and I promise I'll stick to it." These are nothing but excuses and empty promises that will never be fulfilled.

Don't feel bad if having your conversation with your loved one doesn't seem to make any type of difference in the addictive behaviors. Again, keep in mind that it is a disease, and it often requires a little bit more convincing in order for people to get help. This is when intervention services are able to help.

You may have always thought of an intervention as something that happens on television, but that it really wasn't something that might be useful for you. At Northpoint Recovery, we want to assure you that this is an actual service that you can utilize to help your loved one get the needed help. During an intervention, close family members and friends will all have opportunities to talk about how the addiction has affected them, and how they can see it affecting their loved one. These meetings are always a surprise to the addicted individual, and that in itself is often a powerful statement that causes them to pay close attention to what is being said.

Interventions are always monitored by someone who is trained in this area, and then the addicted individual is given the opportunity to seek treatment at a facility. If treatment is not immediately sought, the family places certain restrictions on the individual to encourage him or her to get help.

Earlier, we discussed the importance of not paying bills, not paying rent, or covering other expenses for those who have addictions. That is a very important part of ensuring that you are not enabling someone who suffers from substance abuse. However, in the event that financial assistance is required in order for your loved one to get treatment, you may want to consider offering some help if you are able to.

Even so, you may want to keep in mind that there have been some pretty drastic changes to our country's healthcare laws in recent years, and many drug and alcohol rehab centers have partnered with a number of different health insurance companies. These companies are required to provide their customers with coverage or benefits to help with the costs of addiction treatment. Your loved one may have health insurance that will cover the majority of the costs, which would leave him or her with very little to pay out of pocket. You may want to offer to cover this amount so that finances are of no concern whatsoever.

If you have questions about how much your family member's health insurance will pay toward treatment at Northpoint Recovery, feel free to contact us, and we can verify the insurance for you.

Getting the Right Kind of Professional Help for Your Addicted Family Member

The overwhelming majority of addicts will need the help of a professional treatment program in order to attain long-lasting recovery. 

And before you decide on any single program, it's important to know about the different types of substance abuse treatment that might be recommended for addicted family members. If he or she has any questions about the options, you will be able to tell them. Plus, it's good to have that information for yourself as well.

In general, treatment programs can be broken down into detoxification and rehabilitation.


  • Drug and Alcohol Detox – This method of treatment is the first step for most people who need rehab. It works by addressing the physical withdrawal symptoms that can make stopping the use of substances so difficult and even dangerous, in some cases.


  • Inpatient Treatment – During inpatient treatment, your loved one will stay in a facility for about 30 days while he or she gets the needed help. Individual and group therapy will be important components of this time. They’ll also undergo extensive behavioral therapies to help reverse compulsive drug-seeking and self-destructive behaviors common with addiction.
  • Long-Term Inpatient Treatment – This is sometimes known as residential treatment, and it is for those with severe addictions that need care for longer than one month. These facilities tend to provide more extensive amenities. However, the costs are also often higher.
  • Outpatient Treatment – This type of treatment is far more flexible than inpatient. Treatment sessions usually occur during the evenings or over the weekend rather than throughout the day. It’s important to remember, however, that most addicts are not appropriate for outpatient treatment during the initial part of their recoveries, but it is helpful for some people with mild addictions.
  • Intensive Outpatient Treatment – This option might be good for those who aren't able to commit to an inpatient setting, but who still need a high level of care and supervision. It follows the outpatient model with evening or weekend treatment sessions. However, these sessions tend to be longer and occur more frequently than a normal outpatient program. 

Opting for Family Therapy While Your Loved One is in Treatment

While your family member is in treatment, his or her counselor will undoubtedly offer to hold family sessions for therapeutic purposes. These sessions are important because they will give you the chance to talk about all that you've gone through because of the addiction. They will also help you and your family member to work on repairing the damage that has been done to your relationship. 

But family therapy isn't just a group version of individual therapy. Instead, family therapy places unique demands on both the participants and the therapist. The therapist will need to balance the needs and emotions of many family members, and the goal of therapy is to help the family as a system, not just as individuals. 

Consequently, it's best to start family therapy only if the addicted person is already in individual therapy or has already made significant progress towards their recovery.

Family therapy is a vital part of the recovery process for you both.

There are a few different types of family therapy models used in treating substance addictions. The most common types of family therapy models are listed below. 

  • Brief Strategic Family Therapy (BSFT) – This approach goes off of the assumption that, on some level, someone's problem behaviors stem from unhealthy family interactions (a.k.a. the "family systems view"). A BSFT counselor will evaluate relationships within the family and help to change negative interaction patterns. These patterns can be as subtle as emotional neglect or as blatant as verbal abuse. Treatment is slow (about 12 to 16 sessions) but quite effective.
  • Family Behavior Therapy (FBT) – This model focuses on behavioral contracting and contingency management. Basically, goals for behaviors and life changes are set by both family members and the addict themselves. These goals can deal specifically with substance abuse (i.e., complete abstinence, less drinking, etc.) and can also apply to other healthy behaviors (i.e., getting a full-time job, doing chores regularly, etc.). And when these goals are achieved, the individual will receive agreed-upon rewards to help incentivize that behavior further. 
  • Functional Family Therapy (FFT) – Also a family systems model (i.e., unhealthy interactions lead to problem behaviors like substance abuse), FFT uses a variety of behavioral techniques to both stimulate better communication and develop better conflict resolution, among other goals. This model heavily involves the family with the treatment process while also using goals and reward systems to help stimulate change. 
  • Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT) – This approach intertwines improving family interactions with other systems outside of the family like school or the juvenile justice system. It’s especially effective at helping reintegrate people with high-risk behavior problems (like severe aggression or antisocial behaviors) back into the community. 
  • Multisystemic Therapy (MST) – This model views substance abuse as a product of a number of systems working on the individual. Peer attitudes towards drugs, criminal subcultures of the neighborhood, poor education experience, and characteristics of the family (such as poor discipline, conflict, or parental drug use) are all addressed in the MST approach. And many times, therapists will use both family and individual treatment sessions. 

While this type of care can be an enormously powerful treatment for healing the family unit as a whole, it may not be right for everyone. 

Talking directly with an addiction specialist can help determine if family therapy is a good fit. But in general, there are a few things in particular that 

Someone may benefit from family therapy if they’re hoping to repair the damage the loved one’s addiction has caused, address old conflicts, or simply develop a better relationship with the people who know them best. 

However, not all families are the close and warm units we see in movies. And for some, an abusive family dynamic may make family therapy do more harm than good. 

Some other scenarios in which family therapy may not be a good fit are:

  • The addicted family member has just started their recovery journey.
  • One or more members of the family have a history of being abusive.
  • The addict doesn't want a good relationship with their family, and instead just want to use family therapy to air grievances.
  • The addict isn’t comfortable being honest with their family.
  • Other members of the family simply are unwilling to participate; family therapy only works when each participant is happily and willingly there.

Again, talking with an addiction specialist is the best way to determine if family therapy is the right way to go during addiction treatment. 

Many of the most reputable addiction treatment centers will include family therapy within their rehabilitation programs. 

However, some programs simply do not offer this valuable form of treatment. And that, unfortunately, means that addicts and their families will have to look elsewhere for family therapy. 

The best way to find a provider that works for you is to ask lots of questions to get a better handle on how each family therapist approaches treatment. Below are just a few questions to ask to help you get started in your search. 

  • How do you handle family members who are uncomfortable or reticent?
  • How long have you been practicing family therapy?
  • What approach(es) do you use in family therapy?
  • How do you prevent bullying or piling on in therapy?
  • What can we expect from therapy?
  • How long will therapy take?
  • How will we know we're making progress?
  • Are you licensed to practice in my state?
  • Have you ever been disciplined by a professional licensing board?

The Importance of Seeking Help for Yourself Because of the Substance Abuse

Whether your loved one has made the decision to get treatment or not, it's important for you to consider getting help for yourself. You have been through so much because of the addiction, and the struggle isn't over, even if your family member is in rehab. It can help you to talk with a counselor who specializes in helping the families of addicts. It may also benefit you to consider going to support groups like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon. These organizations have groups all over the country, and they offer help and encouragement to family members of those with addictions.

Regardless of how difficult the road has been or will get, the most important thing you can do is to take care of yourself.

Can Northpoint Recovery Help Your Loved One with Drug and Alcohol Treatment?

When a member of your family suffers from an addiction to drugs or alcohol, there is so much at stake. You desperately want your family to be happy and healthy, and you want everyone to be free of any concerns about addiction. Unfortunately, so many families in the United States live with a different reality, and those hopes simply do not fit into their everyday lives. Even so, there is so much that you can do to give your loved one the type of help that he or she really needs, instead of the type of help that will eventually destroy him or her.

At Northpoint Recovery, we understand what you're going through. Each morning, you wake up hoping that the day will be different from the one before, but it's not.

Unfortunately, no amount of wishing your family's circumstances were better is going to change anything for you, but with the right kind of knowledge, you can help your loved one beat his or her addiction once and for all. However, keep in mind that because addiction is a disease, it needs to be treated like one, and we'd like to help you get the process started.

Northpoint Recovery is a nationally accredited rehabilitation. Our inpatient program is 28 days long and provides fully individualized treatment programs catered to meet the unique needs of each and every patient. We also have one of the best staff-to-patient ratios in the region, so you can be sure your loved one is getting the level of care they deserve.

We also know that our program isn’t right for everyone. And a quick call with an addiction specialist can help determine if we’re a good fit for your addicted child, parent, sibling, or extended family member. 

Are you concerned about addiction in your family? Do you have questions about our intervention services or drug and alcohol rehab for someone you love? If so, please contact us today.