Mental Health = Physical Health
Is Your Loved One an Addict? Advice and Resources for Friends and Family
By Bethany Hatton
According to a 2017 Pew survey, nearly half of American adults have a close friend or family
member who’s been addicted to drugs. The drug problem in the United States has grown so out
of control that it has been deemed an “epidemic.” When a person becomes addicted to drugs or
alcohol, the substance abuse changes their brain function and chemistry to a point where it
becomes compulsive. They continue their use despite the negative effects it has on their
physical health, relationships, finances and mental well-being.
Recognizing Addiction in a Loved One
It’s not always easy to spot addiction in another person. Most of the time, the addict catches on
to their problematic behavior. Instead of stopping, they learn to hide and conceal it from their
loved ones. In fact, secrecy is one of the typical warning signs of addiction. However, it isn’t the
If you fear someone in your life is suffering from addiction, pay attention to the following warning
● The user appears to have no control over their drug or alcohol use. They use despite
telling themselves they won’t anymore.
● They neglect the activities they used to love. There is often a drop in performance at
school or work.
● Their behavior grows increasingly risky in pursuit of their drug of choice. For instance, an
alcohol may drive intoxicated to the store in order to buy more booze.
● Their appearance changes. They may gain or lose weight, neglect hygiene, or start
looking tired or ragged.
● If they are unable to get their hands on their substance of choice, the addict experiences
symptoms of withdrawals. They may claim to feel flu-like symptoms while denying they
are in withdrawal.
Talking to a Loved One about Addiction
If someone you love has an addiction problem, you can’t do much to help them if they don’t
want to help themselves. Denial is a common reaction when a person is confronted with their
drug or alcohol abuse. This is their disease talking -- addiction rewires the brain to make the
user believe they need their substance in order to feel “normal.” However, if the person
continues their drug or alcohol use, it can have serious and adverse effects on their brain and
When talking with a person about their addiction, always approach with kindness. You don’t
want them to feel attacked. That will only lead to their lashing out against you, instead of hearing
your concerns. It’s also important to listen as much as you talk. Most of the time, there are
underlying issues to addiction that they may be repressing. Be an active listener and support
them as long as they are willing to work toward recovery.
While you want to be kind to a loved one facing addiction, you also have to be firm, fair and take
care of yourself. Set your limits and communicate them with your loved one. Be consistent with
what you say and your actions. Be supportive but honest -- if you have trouble being honest with
them for fear of triggering use, consider going to a counselor together to facilitate healthy
Addiction Treatments Available
Addiction treatment is not a one-size-fits-all thing. Much of treatment depends on the substance
used and the severity of the use itself. If your loved one has a dual diagnosis, they may also
need treatment for other underlying mental illnesses.
Some common addiction treatments include:
● 12-step programs
● Religious-based addiction recovery
● Holistic recovery
● Behavioral therapy
● Medication-assisted therapy
● Gender-specific treatment programs
● Rehab centers for executives/professionals
● Alternative programs
Almost half of Americans have a friend or family member suffering from addiction. If you believe
someone you love is an addict, look for warning signs such as a change in appearance,
secretive behavior and personal neglect. When talking to them about their problem, it’s
important to be kind, but firm in your limits. While you want to support them, you have to protect
yourself as well.