In 2017, in the United States, there were over 19.7 million adults battling substance use disorder in the United States. Of these, some 74% were struggling with alcohol abuse, while 38% battled drug addiction. That same year, roughly one in eight adults were struggling with both alcohol and drug use at the same time. 

The harsh reality is that drug or alcohol addiction is a devastating disease that will reverberate throughout a person’s entire social circle. In turn, this leads to many friends and family members living in denial, making it even more difficult for them to admit that their loved one has a serious problem with alcohol and drug abuse and addictive behaviors. 

People who struggle with addiction will also suffer the long-term consequences of this illness. This doesn’t only imply their health, but also their quality of life and risk for developing serious mental illness. Anyone trying to help a loved one overcome drug or alcohol addiction can tell you that it’s not easy. It’s not only our loved ones that are suffering but us, as well. Our hearts break in pain whenever we see their suffering and how it dominates almost all aspects of their life. 

We know that with the right treatment center, counseling sessions, and recovery programs, they can, one day, be free from all of these struggles. Yet, trying to convince a loved one to participate in an addiction treatment program can be easier said than done. It seems as if the harder we try, the more hesitant they become. In other words, our good intentions can often backfire on us. 

But don’t despair. Families and friends must gather the necessary knowledge and addiction resources to understand the process of treatment and recovery and how to communicate with those that are suffering from it. In this friends and family guide, we will walk you through these steps and help you get your loved one back to a normal and healthy lifestyle free of the negative influence of substance use disorder. 

Knowing the Signs of Drug and Alcohol Addiction

While the obvious addiction symptoms can differ from one person to the next, as well as from the exact type of substance they are abusing, there are still some telltale signs that many addicts have in common. It’s important to remember that the longer an addiction goes untreated, the harder it will be to treat and overcome. As the body and mind become more and more accustomed to it, the withdrawal symptoms will also become more intense and harder to bear. So, the first step to battling this plight is first to recognize it. For better or worse, most signs of chronic abuse share some similarities that make them easier for friends and family to recognize. These will include some of the following:

  • A gradual or sudden disinterest in work, school, relationships, or other usual activities. 
  • Not performing or ignoring important duties such as caring for children 
  • Social isolation, unwarranted defensiveness, and secrecy 
  • Unexplained fatigue or sudden bursts of energy 
  • Neglecting their proper grooming or hygiene. 
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain 
  • Overall poor physical appearance 
  • Financial difficulties, not paying the bills on time, or having legal issues. 

Now, one or more of these signs on their own, do not automatically prove addiction. However, when they become a noticeable pattern, it’s probably time to become concerned. If you suspect alcohol or drug abuse, you must act quickly to avoid things from degenerating any further. 

Because of the effects caused by the long-term use of drugs and alcohol, the neural pathways responsible for the reward and risk behaviors of the brain begin to change. As such, addicts are often in denial about their behavior and are often completely oblivious of the negative effect they have on others. It’s precisely because of these brain changes that addiction is an illness and should be treated as such. 

How Families and Friends Can Make Matters Worse

When someone continues to use drugs or drink alcohol despite the negative consequences, it’s a strong indicator of a serious issue and something that shouldn’t be ignored. It’s also not uncommon for friends and family members to actually enable their loved one’s destructive behavior. Sometimes, they don’t even realize they’re doing it. In fear of overreacting or not fully understanding the mechanics of addiction, family members will actually enable this kind of behavior. The situation is even worse if the addict is a parent or an older family member who should have a leadership role in the family. 

One of the biggest mistakes that people make in these cases is to “clean” after their loved ones. This may include things like covering up their behavior and making excuses on their behalf. It can also mean giving them money to cover the financial difficulties that are directly related to their substance abuse—fearing the addict’s reaction if they are confronted about the issue or if they stop enabling them. They may even blame others, including themselves, for the addict’s behavior and, as a result, relieve the person struggling with addiction from facing the realities of their choices. 

For many family members or friends, admitting that they have a loved one that’s an addict can be incredibly stressful, scary, and painful. That’s why so many end up enabling this destructive behavior, instead of recognizing it for what it really is. One of the most effective ways of breaking this vicious cycle is acknowledging that by enabling addictive behavior and making excuses, your loved one doesn’t get closer to assuming accountability and accepting the help they need. 

How To Talk To A Loved One About Going To Rehab

Recognizing the signs of addiction and refusing to enable an addict’s destructive behavior are the first steps toward healing. However, getting them to receive the proper, professional treatment may be harder than previously anticipated. Waiting for them to make the first move or being too pushy and insistent will rarely work. In fact, it may make them feel like you are forcing it on them and will only meet you with more resistance. However, you can use certain techniques to help your loved ones understand the benefits of rehab without risking pushing them away from you. 

  • Start With Empathy – Using empathy when interacting with an addicted loved one is incredibly important. Hard as it may be, avoiding arguments and disagreements is always a preferred way of communication. This also applies to any criticisms and plain statements. Instead, try to ask open-ended questions, keep conversations generalized, and show your concern about the situation. 
  • Be Honest – People suffering from addiction are rarely aware of just how much they are hurting those around them. It’s, therefore, wise to be upfront and honest with them about how their destructive pattern and behavior are affecting you and your family. Don’t forget that the longer things remain the same, the harder it will be. 
  • Promote Responsibility – As mentioned, it’s often hard for addicts to take ownership of the problems they cause as well as the consequences that result from these. Yet, they must become accountable for their actions in order to accept the fact that they need to go to rehab and get better. They must believe that this is their responsibility and no one else’s. Encouraging them to be more responsible means that you need to strike a delicate balance between not enabling and not hindering their addiction. You shouldn’t buy them their drugs or alcohol, nor should you contact their place of work and call in sick on their behalf. But if they chose to do these things by themselves, you shouldn’t prevent it either. 
  • Ask For Help – Keep in mind that you don’t have to fight this battle with addiction all on your own. There is plenty of help out there that can aid you in getting your loved one into rehab. You can ask a friend or family member to help out whenever they can. You can also join groups such as Al-Anon or Nar-Amon as they specialize in helping out those that have loved ones struggling with addiction. You can even ask the help of a former addict or someone that has been in a situation similar to yours to give you tips and advice on how to move forward. There’s always the option of speaking with an addiction treatment specialist who will provide you with a plan and all the information needed to get your loved one into rehab once they are ready to do so. Lastly, you can also contact a professional interventionist to help organize and mediate an intervention. 
  • Help Them Make This Decision – At the end of the day, going to rehab needs to be their decision. If they feel forced into doing so, they will resent you for it and will only respond with even more resistance. Offer them enough time and support in a conflict- and judgment-free zone, without pressuring them constantly. Just check in regularly to see how they feel about the idea and if they start to see the benefits of what a rehab program can do for them and their loved ones. 

Supporting a Loved One During Recovery

Even though rehab is a critical step to recovery, it is not a quick fix, nor is it 100% guaranteed. It’s important to remember that rehabilitation is a long-term issue that can only work if the addict receives the love and support of those around them. So, what can you do to help your loved one overcome their illness? 

  • Educate Yourself – Addiction and recovery can be incredibly complex topics. And for anyone helping a loved one will need to understand the things that they are going through. This includes everything from how addiction works, the health issues that they become at risk for, the physical and psychological effects of addiction, the potential triggers, as well as the whole recovery process. You should also inform yourself about how to recognize the signs of relapse and how to react to them. 
  • Talk To Them – Never be afraid to talk to recovering addicts about what they are going through and what they’ve learned while in treatment. Don’t forget to provide enough support by asking your loved one how they want you to help them stay on track on their recovery journey. The early stages of recovery can be incredibly hard and stressful, particularly as the withdrawal symptoms start to kick in. Remind them that this state is only temporary and emphasize their strengths. Help them slowly regain their interests, hobbies, goals, and dreams. These will help them realize that their addiction is only a small part of their life and not something that has to dominate everything. 
  • Give Honest Feedback – When people undergo rehabilitation, those around them tend to walk on eggshells. But what addicts need most of all during this time is to receive honesty, compassion, forgiveness, and a healthy dose of reality. If you feel that they’re ready, don’t be afraid to provide them with honest feedback. Just be sure to frame it in a positive light and provide plenty of encouragement as you do it. Don’t be afraid to point any signs or behaviors that may indicate relapse and create an open, honest environment where they feel comfortable enough to confide in you. They may even reach a point where they will come to you for help, without you asking. 
  • Ask For Support – Just like with convincing your loved one to join rehab, you can also ask for help when supporting them through it. After all, you shouldn’t be the only one helping them. A therapist, a support group, or other peer support services are all good places to get useful aid and information. 
  • Engage in Healthy Habits – You can help your loved one to establish healthy habits by finding all sorts of activities that are substance-free. Look for activities that are fun for both of you and promote the idea of forming social connections. Cooking classes, volunteering, hiking, or even something as simple as eating out or attending a show can be great ways to spend your time together without the temptation of drugs or alcohol. All of these types of activities will remind them of the importance of having a purpose and the satisfaction of achieving goals, no matter how small. Though seemingly insignificant, these activities are a key part of addiction recovery. 


The journey from addiction to recovery can be a hard, painful, and stressful experience for everyone involved. It’s, nevertheless, essential to keep in mind that every day that goes by and things haven’t gotten worse, is a victory. It’s also important to remember that you are not alone in this, and there are plenty that can help you out. So, if you need any help or advice, do not hesitate to call us at (619) 630-7844 or visit our website for more information