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Knowing someone who has an addiction is not uncommon, but knowing the best way to help a loved one with an addiction can be confusing and even scary. When someone has an addiction, it can affect every aspect of their lives as well as the lives of their loved ones. There are several ways to do this, some easy to practice and others that require a little more effort and understanding on your part. Addiction is a disease.

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HelpGuide uses cookies to improve your experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. Privacy Policy. Witnessing someone you care about battle a substance use disorder can be extremely distressing and take a heavy toll on your own mental and emotional well-being. It can pile stress upon stress, test your patience, strain your bank balance, and leave you racked by feelings of guilt, shame, anger, fear, frustration, and sadness. You may be in debt from paying their living expenses, the cost of legal troubles resulting from their drug abuse, or from failed attempts at rehab and recovery.

You may also be worn down by covering for your loved one at home or work, having to shoulder the responsibilities they neglect, or being unable to devote more time to other family, friends, and interests in your life. Across the Western world, the abuse of prescription pain relievers and tranquillizers has skyrocketed in recent years, creating a public health crisis.

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Whether the problem is with recreational drugs or prescription medications, drug abuse and addiction can affect people from all walks of life, wrecking families, tearing relationships apart, and destroying lives. But there is help available. People start using drugs for a lot of different reasons.

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Many turn to substances to cope with the emotional pain of a mental health problem, such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD. Known as self-medicatingsome people may be aware they have a mental health issue but are unable to find healthier ways of coping, while others remain undiagnosed and use drugs to manage specific symptoms. Other people turn to drugs to change how they feel, to fit in, or to alleviate boredom or dissatisfaction with their lives.

Of all the people prescribed opioids to relieve pain, for example, estimates suggest that more than a quarter will end up misusing the drug. While one person is able to use substances without detrimental effects, another finds even casual use quickly escalates into compulsion and addiction—a very dark hole from which they can feel powerless to emerge.

In teens, for example, drug abuse can often resemble normal adolescent moodiness.

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Experiencing problems at work, school, or home. They appear high more often, for example, and take more days away from work or school to compensate. Their work performance or school grades suffer, they neglect their responsibilities at home, and encounter more and more relationship difficulties. They may even lose their job, drop out of school, or separate from a long-term partner.

Can drug addiction be treated?

New health issuessuch as changes in sleep schedule, often appearing fatigued or run-down, pronounced weight loss or weight gain, glassy or bloodshot eyes, and forgetfulness or other cognition problems. Changes in their mood and behavior. They may be quick to anger or lash out, especially if you try to talk to them about their drug use.

Heavy drug users often lose interest in old hobbies, lack energy, and become more moody, withdrawn, and sad. They may even neglect their appearance and personal hygiene, and suffer withdrawal symptoms if deprived of their drug of choice. Recurring financial problems.

Your loved one may run up credit card debt to support their drug use, seek loans, or ask to borrow money without any solid reason. They may even steal money or valuables to sell for drugs. Remember, no one sets out to become an addict.

Tip #2: get support

Drug abuse is often a misguided attempt to cope with painful issues or mental health problems. Stress tends to fuel addictive behavior, so criticizing, demeaning, or shaming them will only push your loved one away and may even encourage them to seek further comfort in substance abuse. These strong emotions can make communicating with a drug user even more challenging.

Offer your help and support without being judgmental.

Tips for helping someone with a drug addiction

The earlier an addiction is treated, the better. Express your concerns honestly. Emphasize that you care for the person and are worried about their well-being. Be prepared for denial. Your loved one may become defensive or angry and refuse to discuss their drug use.

Many people feel a sense of shame when confronted by their behavior and will try to deny they have a problem. Avoid trying to lecture, threaten, bribe, or punish the person.

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It may take several conversations for them to even acknowledge they have a problem, the first step on the road to recovery. Staging an intervention tends to be a last-ditch effort to make someone realize they need treatment.

The first step to overcoming drug abuse and addiction

However, many addicts can react angrily when confronted by a group or feel their loved ones are ganging up on them. The problem is the disease of addiction, not the person in its grip. Letting your loved one assume responsibility for their behavior and choices is an important step on their road to sobriety. Adjust your expectations. Everyone is different. Recovery for one person may mean total abstinence from drugs.

For another, it could mean cutting back or staying mostly drug-free. Being too rigid in your expectations can lead to disappointment and a sense of failure, even if your loved one finds stability in their life again. Encourage your loved one to seek help.

While some people are able to quit drugs on their own, the more help and support a person has, the better their chances of success. Ensure they address any co-occurring issues. Help plan for triggers and cravings. Your loved one will need to find ways to cope with drug cravings and triggers. You can help distract them with other activities or encourage them to learn how to ride out the urge, but ultimately, they have to be responsible for their own sobriety.

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Encourage them to explore new interests. Quitting drugs can leave your loved one with a lot of extra time to fill. Accept the likelihood of relapse. If that happens, encourage the person to recommit to getting clean and support them as they try again.

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Try to stay patient. Each relapse is an opportunity for your loved one to learn from their mistakes and find a new way forward. Treatment can take place at home, as a hospital outpatient, or in a residential facility or sober living community. In addition to the heavy emotional costs, money problems can also mount for families of drug abusers. For example, are you willing to see your loved one spend time in jail instead of covering their legal fees? Are you willing to see them evicted or living on the street instead of paying their living expenses?

Ready to deal with your drug abuse problem? this step-by-step guide can help you cope with cravings, deal with relapse, and overcome your substance use disorder.

Ultimately, all you can control is how well you look after your own health and welfare. Find support. Talking to others who are facing similar challenges can help you find comfort, reassurance, and new ways of coping.

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Manage stress. The stress of witnessing someone you love battle addiction can take a heavy toll. You can reduce your stress levels by eating right, exercising regularlysleeping well, and practicing a relaxation technique such as yoga, deep breathing, or meditation. Since stress levels can escalate when quitting drugs, you can even encourage your loved one to do the same.

Practice acceptance.

Overcoming drug addiction

But dwelling on circumstances outside your control will only sap your energy and damage your mood. Maintain other interests and relationships. Set aside time in your day to pursue activities and relationships that bring you joy—and try to keep up with work, hobbies, and social plans.

Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders. American Psychiatric Association. Evidence-Based Treatments of Addiction. FOCUS, 9 1— Gramlich, J. Pew Research Center. Magill, M. Cognitive-behavioral treatment with adult alcohol and illicit drug users: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.

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Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 70 4— Vowles, K. Rates of opioid misuse, abuse, and addiction in chronic pain: A systematic review and data synthesis. PAIN, 4— Intervention: Help a loved one overcome addiction — Tips on holding a successful intervention.

The dos and don’ts of helping a loved one with an addiction

Mayo Clinic. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Effective Treatments for Opioid Addiction — Medications used in the treatment of opioid addiction.

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What is Substance Abuse Treatment? How can prescription drug addiction be treated? Harvard Health Publishing. In the U. Australia : Find support or call the Alcohol and Drug Foundation helpline at

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NOTE: This fact sheet discusses research findings on effective treatment approaches for drug abuse and addiction.
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