When a loved one struggles with addiction, it can be difficult to know what to do. Approaching the topic and starting a conversation is not always easy. In addition to the risk that they may become defensive about it, having this difficult conversation can feel awkward or uncomfortable. There is no easy way to broach the topic, but if you sense there is a growing problem, it is important to speak up and try to help before it’s too late.

Before You Approach Your Loved One

You may be tempted to directly confront someone about their addiction but doing this without a plan in place can easily backfire. Discussing addiction is not easy and there is always a risk that your message will not be received well. To help improve receptiveness, there are some ways you can prepare ahead of time. Ensuring your family member understands above all else that you are concerned for their well-being is vital. Even if they decline your offer to help, clearly communicating your intention can make the conversation better.

  1. Understanding the nature of addiction: Addiction is a disease that changes the way a person thinks and behaves. It can cause them to neglect self-care, lose interest in the things that were once important to them, and negatively impact their ability to manage their responsibilities. Addiction is an incredibly isolating disease, and it can create feelings of pain, distrust, anger, and sadness among loved ones. All of these factors combined can make it difficult to reach out for help. Your loved one may know they need help but may not know how to ask or may not be ready. Knowing this ahead of time can make it easier for you to cope with the outcome of the discussion regardless of how it goes.
  2. Language and word choice matters: Addiction can be an emotionally-triggering experience. Not only is your family member struggling, but more than likely, their addiction has had a negative impact on you as well. Conversations about addiction can easily become derailed and heated due to underlying pain and trauma associated with substance abuse. It is important to choose your words wisely and approach the situation with care. This conversation should not be nagging, preaching, or criticizing in nature. Instead, focus on how you can help and express your concern without passing judgement.
  3. Stop enabling (This is a hard one): One of the most difficult aspects of addiction in families is the presence of enabling. Enabling comes from a place of good intentions, but it often allows addiction to continue without consequence. You never want to see your family members fall behind, become hurt, or get into trouble, so you may be tempted to help cover for them when addiction creates problems in their lives. While you may think you are helping them, you are preventing them from experiencing the consequences of substance abuse. They cannot fully understand the gravity of the situation when they are protected from it. It may be difficult but ending enabling behaviors is an important part of helping your loved one enter treatment. Once they begin to experience the toll addiction can take on their lives, they are more likely to be receptive to the need for change.
  4. Prepare for the journey: Recovery is a life-long commitment, and it will not come easily. For many people, relapse will inevitably be a part of the process, but this is not a sign of failure or lack of trying. Addiction is difficult and requires significant change to overcome. The road to recovery will be filled with ups and downs. Understanding this early on can help you be a better source of support.

Approaching the Topic of Addiction

Substance abuse is never an easy subject to discuss and you may be unsure about how to even initiate conversation about it. Before you have the conversation, it is important to consider all outcomes. You should have a plan for how to proceed in the case that they accept treatment and in the event that they do not. Some things to consider include:


  1. You may get push-back: No matter how well-intentioned you are, approaching someone about substance abuse can potentially lead to conflict. They may not agree there is an issue, they may not want to change their behaviors, or they may already be struggling with feelings of embarrassment or shame about it that cause them to become defensive. Overcoming addiction is no easy task and if your loved one does not want to pursue treatment, you cannot make them. Even if your message is met with a negative reaction, you should still communicate your love, concern, and support.

  2. You may need an intervention: Depending on the situation, a simple one-on-one conversation may not be enough. You may have already tried approaching your loved one with your concerns without success. An intervention is a way for close friends and family can gather together and express their concerns. Participants can talk about how the addiction has impacted them and share how they feel. An intervention is also used to help facilitate a transition into treatment. If your family member accepts, they can begin their journey in recovery immediately after the intervention. If not, you cannot force them to, but you can communicate and enforce boundaries.
  3. Create boundaries: No matter what your loved one chooses to do, it is important to create boundaries to not only protect yourself, but to also remove yourself as an enabler for their addiction. You cannot force them to enter treatment, but you can choose how to support them moving forward. Communicate your intentions to them. If substance abuse continues, you can create boundaries regarding financial support or how much time you spend together. They may not like the boundaries you create, but it is an important component of communicating your stance so that there are no surprises when dynamics begin to change.
  4. Protect yourself: As much as you want to help your loved one, you ultimately cannot control what choices they make. You can, however, control how you choose to cope with it. When a loved one struggles with addiction, it can be a tremendous source of stress and anxiety. Seeking support through therapy and other resources is important in protecting your mental and emotional health. Support groups can be a great way to network with others who share similar experiences and help you learn effective ways of coping.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, we are here to help. Give us a call at 310.403.1032 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.