How to Help an Addict

How to Help an Addict

Educate yourself on the best ways to help an addict recover.

Those who surround an addict knows he/she needs help, but often the addict can’t see it or lives in severe denial that a problem exists. Sadly, many substance abusers die exactly that way. It is our hope that, through raising awareness and providing vital information on how to help an addict, family and friends of addicted individuals can more rapidly and confidently begin the intervention process.

Due to the overwhelming physical aspect of a drug dependency, addicts may know that he or she needs help and even desire to stop using but be unable to break the cycle of addiction long enough to receive the needed help. The elements of physical drug cravings, dependency, tolerance and drug-seeking behavior are all each key to understand in seizing the opportunity to help someone to recover from substance abuse.

Underlying Causes of Addiction

Addiction is caused by underlying issues, emotions or events which cause the individual to choose drugs as a means of escape Such a life event as seemingly mild as peer pressure or one as severe as losing a loved one suddenly in an accident are each examples of the types of underlying causes addiction specialists witness and discover regularly.

Although a close family member could look at an addict’s life and see hundreds of reasons why he/she should quit using, none of these reasons may be “real” to the addict himself. There are, however, problems the addict encounters in life that are real or significant which he/she sees as reasons to quit using drugs. These are important to identify because they can be used during the intervention to remind the addict why he or she must seek help.

The Alternate Reality of an Addict

An addict may or may not share the same mindset about their addiction that onlookers do. For instance, he or she may be experiencing health problems, have no friends, no job and no place to live but feel like they are “doing okay.” Some addicts overdose, coming very close to death, and are right back using drugs the very next day. This may appear crazy but is in fact is only part of the cycle of addiction, and the alternate reality created by substance abuse.

Enabling vs. Supporting an Addict

An addict will eventually come to terms with the destruction caused by his or her drug habit. Facing reality may mean dealing with pending legal charges, jail time, threat of losing one’s spouse and the loss of one’s job. Such life pressures can assist in the process of intervention, and can encourage an addict to get help more willingly.

It is easy to assume the addict is “only seeking help to avoid jail” or some other evaluation which in many cases is true. The fact remains that some addicts only agree to get help when someone or something pushes him out of his/her comfort zone and forces him into a decision.

Addicts with access to money, a place to live and people who support or enable drug use are much less likely to seek treatment. These individuals consider they “don’t have a problem.” The difference between supporting and enabling drug use is very important to understand and will be crucial in any attempt at intervention.


The primary goal of a family intervention is to bring the addict to a point of awareness of his/her substance abuse problem and establish willingness within the addict to get help. When this has been achieved, be prepared to get them to treatment immediately without any delay.

  1. Select what family will be present at the intervention. This matter should be well thought out beforehand, as the number of people there is less important than who is there. Where possible, those family members whom the addict respects the most or has the strongest bond with, should be present.
  2. Create a general agenda of who will lead the group, what time the addict will arrive, who will speak individually and in what order. You may only have a short time with the addict—make the most of it.
  3. Together, form a group communication expressing the wishes of the family (“We would like you to get help right away or… “)
  4. Prepare emotionally and mentally for the potential of denial, verbal accusations and an otherwise taxing experience.
  5. Ensure all intervention participants are present before the addict arrives.
  6. Upon the addict’s arrival, move through your agenda swiftly, pausing where necessary. If you achieve the end result of the intervention before everyone has had a chance to speak, it is not necessary to continue but you may do so if you feel it is appropriate.

Participating family members or loved ones should each be in agreement about the fact that the person needs help and supportive of the general agenda. If someone in the family is antagonistic towards the addict and is not capable of restraining themselves during the process, you might consider leaving that person out. The addict might have made some enemies through his/her actions, but unnecessary arguments and turmoil will only distract from the focus of the intervention.

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