How to help with addiction

When a friend or family member develops a substance addiction, you often become collateral damage in the chaos that this disease brings. Here’s how to make sure that you stay sane and take care of yourself while being there for them.

A young, blonde woman is on the phone. She is wearing a long-sleeved white shirt with a black vest on top. She is finding out how to help an addict. She looks upset. This is a close-up image.

Can I make an addict stop?

It can be distressing to see the health and wellbeing of someone you love become affected by alcohol or drug addiction. While you can offer valuable addiction help to someone who wants to overcome their problem, bear in mind that not all people will readily accept help, or even admit to having a problem. You can’t make someone stop abusing drink or drugs; they must recognise the problem first before making the decision themselves to overcome it.

Although you can’t make them seek addiction treatment, you can still be supportive while prioritising your mental health and getting help where you need it.

Am I safe around an addict? 

Sometimes people can behave unpredictably when they are suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction. Their moods and actions can become erratic, which at best can be embarrassing or frustrating for friends and family, and at worst can become aggressive or violent. Don’t tolerate abuse of any kind, whether physical or emotional – you have the right to put your own safety and wellbeing first.

Ensure you can talk to someone if need be, like an aunt or a teacher. If you don’t feel you can open up to anyone you know, don’t hesitate to contact our free support service. Alternatively, you could call SupportLine on 020 8554 9004 for confidential emotional help and assistance. They can also help you find relevant counsellors, agencies and support groups in your area.

If you’re living with a person whose behaviour puts your safety at risk, you could consider arranging with family or friends to stay with them in an emergency. You could also go to a refuge, or apply for emergency accommodation through your local council’s housing department. For advice and information regarding housing problems, call the Shelter helpline on 0808 8004 444.

Remember: assault is a crime and you have a right to be protected under the law, never be afraid to dial 999 in an emergency.

Talking to an addict 

Perhaps you feel upset, angry, frustrated or even ashamed about someone’s drinking habits. Whatever you’re going through, it’s OK to feel the way you do. Actually, it’s often worth talking to the person about your feelings. Being honest may even help them to open up to you about their underlying emotions, too. Doing this will show that you want to listen – if and when they feel ready. 

It’s important to choose your words and moment carefully when having this talk. Ideally, pick a time when they’re sober and when you’re both feeling calm. Don’t let things escalate. As soon as you feel that the conversation is becoming unproductive, remove yourself from the situation.

Make time for yourself 

However much someone else’s problem has become a part of your life, it’s still important to take care of yourself properly. Don’t feel guilty about spending time doing what you enjoy. Whether that’s bingeing the newest season of Sex Education or going for a run – you do you.

If the situation is affecting your studies or work, reach out to a trusted adult, maybe your favourite adult cousin or your form tutor (just as long as it’s not your cat). They can help make sure that you’re given the understanding and space you need to help you cope. Also, if you’re feeling depressed, the best thing to do is to get help from your doctor (GP).

Getting information about addictions and addiction help

Don’t stay in the dark about drink and drugs – the more you understand about the facts, the better you’ll be able to empathise with them. If you’re not sure what kind of drug somebody is using, or whether they have an addiction, research may help you figure out what’s going on. This comes with a giant disclaimer though. No matter how good of a Nancy Drew you think you are, NEVER try and diagnose someone yourself. If you think something is wrong, reach out to a professional for clarification and potentially a proper diagnosis. 

The Mix has some great resources available as a starting point. You can read our article on addiction here. Once you’re done with that, hop on over to this article to find out more about the next steps.

Is their addiction my fault? 

Whatever has led someone to develop a drink or drugs problem, you’re not to blame. Addiction is a serious health problem. You shouldn’t feel like you have to cover up for their habits, or make excuses about their behaviour to others. As soon as you feel like it’s getting to be too much, reach out to someone or maybe just take a step back. You are priority number one and that’s that on that. 

Can an addict change? 

People can change, and alcohol problems can be overcome. Often, the change is gradual and it can take years to notice. Sadly, there are situations where people promise they’ll change and it never happens, so just be sure to manage your expectations when embarking on a recovery journey with someone. The main thing to understand is that there are many treatment options available. For example, people dependent on alcohol can go to alcoholics anonymous or individual therapy. So, there is always hope. 

Whatever happens, stay positive and remember that support is available. You don’t have to do this alone. Click here to find out more about the realities of living with an alcoholic parent and how to cope.

Next Steps

  • Addaction helps people recover from drug and alcohol addictions.
  • Release offers free and confidential advice on everything to do with drugs and drugs law. 0845 4500 215
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 03-Aug-2021