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Guide to Help Family Members Struggling with Addiction

Addicted: A Comprehensive Guide to Help Family Members of Those Struggling with Addiction

One of the most difficult challenges to face is knowing that you have a family member who is addicted to alcohol or drugs.

You can see the problem plainly, but quite often, the ones we love most live their lives in denial, completely unwilling to admit that there is an addiction present. Words of caution from you regarding the use of substances go unheeded, and you feel helpless as you watch your family member dive deeper and deeper into an addiction.

It is a horrible position to be in, but the more you know about what your options are in this situation, the more able you may be to do something to help. It might seem as though you're out of choices because your loved one has made his or her decision. Even so, there are still many different ways for you to find help and support. There are also a few steps you can take that you may not have thought about.

Signs Your Loved One is an Addict

Perhaps one of the issues you're finding yourself facing is the fact that you suspect that your family member is an addict, but because you've never been through this before, you're not completely sure. This can become even more confusing when your loved one ensures you, or tries to convince you that he or she is not addicted, and that stopping the use of substances is completely doable once the time comes. It can help you know that signs of addiction. You may want to consider taking an online addiction quiz to help you understand whether or not there is an addiction present in your love done. You can also ask yourself a few questions to learn if there is a probability of an addiction. Some questions to ask yourself regarding your loved one include:

  • Have I ever witnessed my family member suffering from a temporary blackout or memory loss after using, or I have I been told that he or she experienced this?
  • Does my loved one frequently get into arguments with others in the family because of substance use?
  • Does my loved one seem to need alcohol or drugs in order to relax?
  • Is my family member experiencing issues such as headaches, insomnia or nausea as a result of his or her substance abuse?
  • Does my family member frequently use substances when he or she is alone?
  • Has my loved one lied to me or others about the frequency of substance abuse, or the amount of substances used?
  • Has my loved one exhibited a loss of control on more than one occasion because of substance use?
  • Is my family member exhibiting secretive behaviors regarding the use of substances?
  • Has my loved one's appearance changed significantly since substance abuse began to be a part of his or her life?

If you can answer "yes" to more than one of these signs of addiction, the chances are pretty good that there is an addiction present, and you're right to be concerned.

Unfortunately, so many people live their lives in denial when they have addictions. They will try their best to ensure their family that everything is fine, and they have their substance abuse under their control. You're certainly not alone if this has been your experience with your family member. However, it's important for you to be able to recognize denial for what it is so that you can do your best to get help for your loved one, as well as support for yourself as you face this situation.

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Common Terms You Should Know About Addiction and Rehab

It's possible that you've never been through this type of situation before, and you really aren't familiar with everything it entails. If you've never helped anyone recover from an addiction before, it's normal for you to be unaware of many of the terminology that you might hear going forward. This is a great place to familiarize yourself with many of the most commonly used terms.

Drug Abuse vs. Drug 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. It's vital to understand the differences between abuse and addiction as you prepare to offer help to your family member.

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.

A drug or alcohol addiction is very different. 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. When someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, 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.

It is important to note that most addictions begin with abuse, although it is possible with some types of drugs to become addicted to them after the first use. Usually, abuse precedes addiction, but an addiction can form at any time.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms are one of the most prominent signs of a drug or alcohol addiction. These are symptoms that occur when substances are stopped for a period of time, and it is the body's way of reacting to the lack of drugs or alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms are generally very difficult to manage without professional help, and there are some withdrawal symptoms that can be deadly.

Of course, every type of substance is going to produce different withdrawal symptoms within the body simply because every drug causes a different type of high. Even so, there are many withdrawal symptoms that are considered to be typical when stopping the use of drugs or alcohol. These can include:

  • 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

There are some types of substances that can lead to even worse withdrawal symptoms, and these require immediate medical attention. These withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Serious heart complications
  • Onset of seizures
  • A risk of stroke
  • Onset of convulsions
  • Depression that leads to suicidal thoughts or behaviors


Avoiding these withdrawal symptoms may be as simple as ensuring that your loved one goes to a drug or alcohol detox prior to getting any other type of addiction treatment. Detoxification is the process of removing toxins from the body more quickly than if someone were to stop using on their own. There are many different types of drug and alcohol detox, and each person is individually assessed to determine what type of detox would be right for them. Some types of detox use holistic methods to cleanse the body of toxins, and this involves changing diet and exercise routines to prepare the body to cleanse itself. Other methods of detox involve giving patients medications that can both promote the removal of toxins and treat the withdrawal symptoms as they arise, as a way to provide the patient with some relief.

Drug and alcohol detox is considered to be a required process in most cases. It has been shown to produce much better outcomes in those who suffer from addictions, resulting in long-term recovery.

Addiction Relapse

An addiction is a disease, according to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, and because it is a disease, relapses must be expected. When someone relapses when they have a drug or an alcohol addiction, it means they've gone back to using. Relapses are very dangerous, and they can be deadly, in some cases.

When relapses do the least damage, they serve to create a cycle of addiction, and reinforce the need for drugs and alcohol in someone's life. However, they can also lead to an overdose, which can lead to death without immediate medical intervention. The risk of death from overdose is quite high after a relapse because the individual who is using will tend to go back to using the same amount of drugs or alcohol as he or she was previously. It doesn't take long for tolerance levels to change, which means the body may not be prepared for that amount of a substance it's not used to anymore. Alcohol poisoning can result in those who are alcoholics, and drug overdoses can result in those who are drug addicts.

Fortunately, relapses do not have to occur, and they can be prevented by ensuring that the individual is receiving ongoing treatment for drug or alcohol addiction.

Addiction Recovery

With some diseases, recovery is thought of as a time when the issue is completely resolved. This is not the case with addiction. Someone who has an addiction to drugs or alcohol begins the recovery process when entering treatment. However, recovery is a life-long process that never ends. Any use of alcohol or drugs puts the recovering addict in jeopardy of a relapse because once someone is an addict, the tendency to have an addiction will always be present.

Even though addiction recovery is possible, it should always be viewed as a journey that the person will be on for the rest of his or her life.

What do Recent Studies Tell Us About Addiction?

There have been so many studies done about addiction and the effects it has had on people in the United States. Some of the statistics may be fairly shocking. The costs of substance abuse in our country are astronomical, to say the least. In fact, annual healthcare costs because of illicit drugs are about $11 billion a year, and overall costs - which include crime and lost work productivity - are quickly approaching the $200 billion mark.

Rates of Addiction in Us

Both teens and adults are at a high risk when it comes to drug and alcohol abuse. As far as teen substance use goes, each year the National Institute on Drug Abuse funds a survey of teenagers to determine their level of drug use. This survey is conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research. In 2015, their findings were quite significant. They found that:

  • There was a decrease in the use of some types of substances, including prescription opioid pain relievers and synthetic marijuana.
  • Other types of drug use remains relatively stable among 12 graders.
  • The perception of harm related to marijuana has decreased since the previous year's survey, and 31.9% of seniors state that they believe marijuana to be harmful.
  • This compares to 36.1% of seniors who stated that they believed it to be harmful the previous year.
  • Daily marijuana use now exceeds daily tobacco use among 12 graders.
  • 23.6% of high school seniors report using some type of illicit drug during the past month.
  • Of that percentage, 7.6% report that their drug of choice was something other than marijuana.
  • 7.5% of 12th graders report regular, non-medical use of Adderall, which is typically prescribed for ADHD, but does have addictive properties.

As far as adult drug trends go, SAMHSA is an organization that regularly collects data to describe the state of addiction across the country. One of their more recent surveys focuses on marijuana because of its explosive growth in many states because of recent law changes, and because of the fact that the perception of its use has changed so much over the last few years.

Their National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that:

  • The most commonly used illicit drug in the United States is marijuana.
  • Most Americans do not perceive marijuana as being harmful.
  • Only about 74.9 million people age 12 or older perceive that there is a great risk of harm from using marijuana one time per month.
  • This translates into approximately 2 out of every 7 people in the United States.
  • Despite this perception, approximately one in eleven marijuana users who are of the age of 15 or older have become dependent upon it.
  • This has resulted in more than 4 million people meeting the criteria for abuse or dependence upon marijuana, according to the DSM V.
  • Approximately 7.3% of people who are age 12 or older have used marijuana at least one time during the past month.
  • This works out to be about 20.3 million people in the United States who have used the drug at least once during the course of the past month.

Of course, marijuana is not the only drug that should be of major concern. Additional statistics indicate that:

  • Synthetic marijuana use remains high across the country, with the vaporization technique being the most popular form of delivery.
  • The use of Molly is on the rise across the United States, and this particular drug has undergone some chances to make it more attractive to users.
  • Fentanyl, which is a powerful synthetic opioid, has re-emerged as a significant drug threat in many places in the United States, including parts of Pennsylvania and New York.
  • The availability of methamphetamine remains quite high across the country.
  • Methamphetamine is responsible for the largest percentage of drugs identified from law enforcement personnel during drug seizures.

Rates of Recovery

In a survey from the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services in 2012, they showed that 10% of all Americans who were age 18 or older considered themselves to be in recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction. That means that there are approximately 23.5 million adults in the United States who consider themselves to be successfully in recovery.

There's no doubt that recovery is a very long road that is full of challenges along the way. However, millions of Americans have faced those challenges head-on and have been able to experience great success in overcoming them. Recovery from addiction can be done, but it does require the right kind of support.

Rates of Relapse

The statistics regarding relapse might seem fairly high, but they're actually not when you compare them to other diseases where relapse is seen as quite typical. When it comes to drug addiction, relapse occurs in between 40 and 60% of all cases. Even so, that also means that between 40 and 60% of all patients who receive proper treatment for their addictions do not go on to relapse, and they experience success in never using drugs or alcohol again.

Genetics and Addiction

Quite often, people will use genetics as the reason why they are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, this becomes a convenient excuse for them to use, and while genetics do play a role in whether or not someone becomes an addict, research indicates that this role actually a fairly small one.

Genetic predisposition and family history actually make up about 50% of the risk for alcohol and drug dependence. However, not everyone who uses drugs or alcohol is going to become an addict. They may not even become dependent upon them, or use them regularly at all. As more research has been done over the years, scientists have discovered that there are really a lot of factors at play when determining what causes or leads to addiction. Some additional factors are:

  • An individual's living environment
  • A person's parental influence
  • A person's understanding of what happens when using drugs or alcohol
  • Someone's personal experience with drugs or alcohol
  • Mental health and history of trauma

Interventions Explained

For families who are having a difficult time communicating a need for drug and alcohol treatment to a loved one, denial is often a big factor. These families can end up feeling as though they don't have any other resources available to them. Fortunately, intervention services are available that can help.

What is an Intervention?

An intervention is a tool that is often used by drug and alcohol rehab facilities to help families talk with their loved ones about going to addiction treatment. During an intervention, professional staff from the facility are present and they guide the process and discussion. Multiple people gather together who all have an interest in seeing the addicted person get help for addiction. These individuals may be close family members or friends of the addicted, but they all play a key role in his or her life. As the intervention progresses, each person takes a turn talking about why the person needs to get help. They may share stories about times when the person was in grave danger because of using, or they may talk about how the addiction has affected them personally.

Usually interventions start with the person who has the least dramatic story to share, and then the session ends with the person who has the most important information to talk about. As the intervention progresses, quite often, the addicted person gains new insight into his or her drug use. When it is over, more often than not, the person agrees to get help for the addiction. It's even possible for that person to leave with the addiction treatment personnel for immediate admission, in many cases.

Signs You Need an Intervention

It's possible that you're not sure whether or not scheduling an intervention is something you should be considering for your loved one. There are some signs you can look for to help you know if this is a step you should be taking.

  • You've tried to talk with your loved one about his or her addiction, but it didn't make a difference.
  • You're experiencing strife in your home because of your family member's addiction.
  • You have knowledge about legal issues your loved one is facing because of his or her addiction.
  • Your family member is experiencing serious medical problems because of the addiction.
  • Your loved one's addiction has started to negatively impact your life in many ways.

How Much Does an Intervention Usually Cost?

Every intervention is different, and so, it's not possible to give the cost without knowing the details behind what needs to be done. The cost will depend on some different factors, such as where the intervention will be held, how many people will be involved, and how many professionals will need to be available during the proceedings.

Contacting a drug and alcohol rehab facility that provides intervention services will give you some insight into their costs and help you understand what you can expect to pay for this service.

Does Health Insurance Cover Interventions?

Unfortunately, health insurance does not cover intervention services. However, you will find an intervention to be a very effective way to communicate a need for treatment to your loved one, and so, it is certainly worth the expense.

How to Talk to an Addict About Seeking Help

When someone you love has an addiction to drugs or alcohol, it's normal to feel as though you need to be the one to say something to help them. You want to encourage them to get the help they need, but you may be nervous about the conversation, or you may not know what to say. Here are some tips on how to talk with your loved one about getting help for an addiction.

  • Be kind in your words and in your actions. Your loved one may know that he or she has an addiction, but might simply feel as though all hope is lost. Your kindness can speak volumes, even though you might not know what to say to help.
  • Remember to have a listening ear when you're talking with your family member. Of course, you have things you need to say, and there is a lot you want to point out. However, you'll never be able to understand your loved one's point of view if you don't listen.
  • Stay consistent in your words and actions. For example, if you've recently talked with your spouse about an alcohol addiction, don't go out for drinks together a week later.
  • Stress can make addiction worse, so try to be predictable in your words and behaviors
  • Love your family member unconditionally. Show your love in different ways. Remember, an addiction is a disease and your loved one needs to recognize a need for help.
  • Realize that change is a process, and it's not something that can happen overnight.
  • Do your own research on how to get help for your family member so that you can present options.
  • Set firm limits about what you will and won't allow in your home.
  • Be clear about how you feel and what your expectations are.

How to Talk with Your Family and Friends About Your Addicted Loved One

When your loved one is struggling with an addiction, it can be a very lonely time for you. You might feel as though you need to talk about how you feel and what you're going through with someone, but you don't know who to turn to.

You're likely to go through a lot of different phases as you cope with this problem. One moment, you'll feel sad and alone, and the next minute you'll be angry because of something that's occurred because of the addiction. It's normal to need a sounding board, but you want to be careful. Here are a few tips that may help you.

  • Avoid telling everyone in your family or all of your friends about your loved one's problem with addiction in detail. It's OK to confide in a few friends who won't spread rumors or gossip.
  • Limiting the people in you invite into your sounding board also means you're limiting the amount of poor advice you may receive, which you want to avoid, anyway.
  • Choose one or two very close friends to confide everything in. Maybe you know someone who has dealt with an addicted family member before, and feel that they can provide you with the insight you need during this time.
  • Consider journaling about what you feel as well as talking about your struggles. Journaling can be so helpful when you're facing challenging times.
  • Seek out people who will commit to meeting with you regularly, and even praying for you, if you are a religious person.
  • Plan to spend time with friends with whom you won't talk about your addicted family member. Just plan to have fun together. You need that for yourself to unwind and get your mind on other things.

Most importantly, please remember that you need to find someone to talk to. Keeping dark secrets like this one can make you sick, both physically and mentally. It's not good to hold things inside, and finding people you can trust to support you is going to be a key part of your own health as you go through this challenging time.

Common Questions Families Usually Ask

Families who have never had to deal with an addicted loved one often have a lot of questions that need answers. Here are some of the most common questions.

What is Tough Love?

Tough love is when you say things or do things that may seem harsh on the surface, but they are really in the best interests of the other person. You're setting limits in order to facilitate change, and this is so important in a healthy relationship, and when someone has an addiction.

What is Enabling?

Enabling occurs when you allow the addictive behaviors to continue without doing anything about it. You may purchase drugs or alcohol for your loved one to make him or her happy, or do something else that satisfies the addiction. Enabling is dangerous, and even though it may feel like you're helping, it usually only makes the addiction worse.

What is My Loved One's Risk of Overdose?

The risk of overdose is going to be different, depending on the type of addiction that is present. Overdose risk also increases when people stop going to treatment or they stop spending time with their sponsors, if they have them. If you suspect that your loved one may be getting prepared to use again, and you're worried about an overdose, you need to know the signs of overdose so that you can recognize them.

My Family Member Needs Help, but They Don't Have Insurance or Money - What Can We Do?

Perhaps you have a family member who is willing to go to drug or alcohol treatment, but the cost is definitely a factor. You have a number of different options available to you.

Government Funding for Addiction Treatment

Many state-run facilities actually are given grants by the government for people who are unable to afford treatment. This might be an option to consider if you're unable to pay, or if your loved one does not have health insurance.

Applying for Health Insurance

The Affordable Care Act has made it possible for everyone to get help paying for drug and alcohol rehab, and there have been many cases when treatment was covered in full by health insurance companies. Applying for health insurance is easy, and it can be done right online by visiting

Cash Payments for Drug and Alcohol Rehab

It is possible to pay for drug and alcohol rehab in cash, although this option is obviously going to be more expensive. Still, if you have the money, and you're able and willing to pay for your loved one to get the recommended type of treatment, you can talk with the addiction treatment facility about your desire to cover the expense.

Rehab and Detox Program Options Explained

There are a lot of different options available for your loved one if and when the decision is made to seek out professional help for an addiction.


Inpatient drug and alcohol rehab is an option that many consider to be the best one available. This option removes the addict from his or her normal surroundings and allows for a complete focus on recovery. Sometimes people elect to go away from home to get help for an addiction for even more focus. During inpatient treatment, patients are able to meet with a counselor regularly, and they participate in group therapy sessions too. Most importantly, each patient gets his own treatment plan that is designed to speak to the issues he needs to have addressed.


Detox is considered to be the very first step that should take place during addiction recovery. It purifies the body of the toxins that have been there because of the substances being abused, and it can help to protect against any potential medical complications that might occur. Detox is required for many types of addictions, and it is considered optional, but recommended for others.


Outpatient treatment is usually reserved for those who are either new in their addictions, or who have just finished inpatient treatment. There is an intensive outpatient treatment option that's considered to be a higher level of care than traditional outpatient. This type of addiction treatment is very good for those who work and aren't able to take time off, or who have families at home.


Outpatient counseling is another option that can always be explored for addiction treatment. Counselors are trained to help people get to the root cause of their addictions so that real healing can take place. They will see clients regularly, and many of them accept many different insurance plans for payment.

Reasons Family Members of an Addicted Person May Want to Seek Help

While your main concern may be for your loved one, it's so important to remember that you need to get help for yourself, as well. It's difficult to deal with the knowledge that you have a loved one that is refusing to get help, and there are organizations available that can assist you. You need to find help because:

  • You need a safe place to talk about how you feel.
    It can be helpful to listen to others' stories and know you're not alone.
  • You may learn about additional resources that are available to you.
  • You'll be able to make friends with those who understand your struggles.
  • You'll gain even more insight into what your loved one is going through.

Support is Available

There are so many different ways for you to get the help and support you need.

Online Support for Family Members

Learn to Cope is an organization that offers assistance to families of addicts. They have online meetings and forums where you can meet others who share your battles.

Friends and Families of Addicts Support Group is an online forum where you can meet others who understand how you feel. You'll be able to chat back and forth and leave messages for others in similar situations.

Support Groups Just for Family Members of Addicts

Sometimes it can help to meet with others in person to talk about what you're going through, and if this is what you're looking for, there are a few organizations available to assist you.

Alanon - Alanon is a support group for families of addicts, and they hold in-person meetings all over the country. They are there to help you and provide you with encouragement and hope.

Alateen - Alateen is similar to Alanon, but it is a group that is just for teenagers and children. These individuals need a different type of support than adults, and this group is targeted to meet their needs.

While you may have a long road ahead of you, you are not alone. There are so many ways to find the help that you need if you have a loved one battling an addiction. Reach out for help today.

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