How to Help Someone With Addiction

Table of Contents


Addiction is a complex and challenging condition that affected 40 million U.S. adults and their family members in 2021. Supporting an addict can be challenging, so read on to discover:

  • How to help someone with an addiction to alcohol, prescription medications, or illicit drugs.
  • How to support an addict without enabling their addiction.
  • What is the best help for someone on drugs?
  • Helping a drug addict or alcoholic connect with the treatment they need.

How to Recognize if Someone Needs Help with Addiction

Determining when to help someone with an addiction can be straightforward if you are aware of the most common signs of addiction (substance use disorder). While the specific symptoms may vary depending on the substance or behavior involved – see below for the diagnostic criteria for addiction – there are some common indicators to look out for:

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  • Increased secrecy and isolation: Those struggling with addictions often withdraw from social activities and isolate themselves to hide their behaviors.
  • Changes in appearance and hygiene: Neglecting personal grooming and a decline in physical appearance can be signs of addiction.
  • Financial difficulties: You may need to help an addict if they are experiencing financial problems due to their addiction, such as borrowing money frequently or having trouble paying bills.
  • Mood swings and irritability: Sudden and extreme changes in mood, accompanied by irritability, can be a result of addiction.
  • Neglecting responsibilities: When addiction takes hold, individuals may start neglecting their obligations at work, school, or home. Supporting an addict can help them get back on track.
  • Relationship problems: Difficulties in personal relationships, conflicts, and strained interactions with loved ones are commonplace when addiction is present. Helping an addict who is a spouse can be especially demanding.
  • Physical and health-related issues: Unexplained weight loss or gain, chronic health problems, and frequent illness can be markers of drug addiction or alcoholism.

 If you notice these signs in someone you know, approach the situation with compassion and understanding. Try to initiate an ongoing dialogue about addiction and recovery. It is unrealistic to expect that helping someone with addiction can be accomplished in a single conversation.

AN image of friends spending time together, showing how to help someone with an addiction

Symptoms of Addiction

Addiction is a chronic and relapsing condition that affects the brain, behavior, and overall well-being of individuals that is clinically described as substance use disorder. Addiction is not a question of weak willpower or moral failing. It is a diagnosable mental health disorder that is characterized by compulsive drug-seeking and drug use regardless of adverse outcomes.

 In order to diagnose addiction, mental health professionals refer to DSM-5-TR (fifth revised edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). This diagnostic tool provides a comprehensive list of criteria for substance use disorders. According to DSM-5-TR, an individual must exhibit at least two of the following eleven symptoms within a one-year period to be diagnosed with an addiction (substance use disorder):

  • Consuming larger quantities of the substance or using it for extended periods beyond the intended limits.
  • Experiencing a persistent urge to cut down or regulate substance use, which proves difficult to achieve.
  • Devoting a significant amount of time to acquiring, using, or recovering from the substance.
  • Experiencing intense cravings or a strong desire to use the substance.
  • Regular substance use leading to the failure to meet important responsibilities at work, school, or home.
  • Continuing substance use despite ongoing social or interpersonal issues caused or worsened by its effects.
  • Sacrificing or reducing significant social, occupational, or recreational activities due to substance use.
  • Engaging in recurrent substance use in physically hazardous situations.
  • Persisting with substance use despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurring physical or psychological problem that is likely worsened by the substance.
  • Developing tolerance, characterized by either requiring significantly higher amounts of the substance to achieve the desired effect or experiencing greatly reduced effects despite consistent use of the same amount.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop using the substance or using it to alleviate or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Note: The criteria of tolerance and withdrawal do not count as criteria for addiction when prescription medications are used as directed.

 Substance use disorders can be graded in severity based on the number of symptoms present as follows:

  • Mild addiction: 2 to 3 criteria
  • Moderate addiction: 4 to 5 criteria
  • Severe addiction: 6 or more criteria

10 Ways to Support Someone With Substance Use Disorder

Supporting someone with addiction (clinically known as substance use disorder) can be a tough and emotional journey. You should approach the situation with care and understanding while also maintaining healthy boundaries. Here are some ways of helping addicts without enabling their behavior or becoming codependent:

  1. Educate yourself about addiction: If you want to know how to help someone with addiction, start by taking the time to learn about addiction, its effects on the individual, and the available treatment options near you. Understanding the nature of addiction can help you be more empathetic and make more informed decisions.
  2. Practice active listening: Create a safe and non-judgmental space for the person to express their thoughts and feelings. Actively listen without interrupting or offering unsolicited advice. Validate their emotions and let them know you are there to support them.
  3. Encourage professional help: Addiction is a complex issue that often requires professional intervention. Encourage your loved one to seek professional help from addiction specialists, therapists, or counselors who can provide the necessary guidance and support.
  4. Set boundaries: It is crucial to establish and maintain healthy boundaries. This means being clear about what you are and are not willing to tolerate or participate in. Boundaries protect your well-being and prevent enabling behaviors that can inadvertently prolong the addiction.
  5. Avoid enabling: Enabling is any action that allows the addiction to continue or shields the individual from facing the consequences of their actions. This may involve providing financial support, making excuses, or covering up for their behavior. Instead, encourage them to take responsibility for their actions and seek help.
  6. Seek support for yourself: Supporting someone with an addiction can take an emotional toll on your well-being. Consider joining support groups or seeking therapy to process your feelings and gain insights on how to navigate the complexities of the situation. Taking care of yourself is crucial to providing effective support.
  7. Foster healthy communication: Open and honest communication is essential when supporting an addict. Express your concerns, but do so in a non-confrontational and non-judgmental manner. Use “I” statements to avoid blaming language and focus on the impact their addiction has on you and your relationship.
  8. Encourage healthy coping mechanisms: Help the individual explore healthy alternatives to cope with stress, such as exercise, hobbies, mindfulness practices, or engaging in activities they enjoy. Encouraging healthy coping mechanisms can provide constructive outlets and reduce reliance on substances.
  9. Avoid codependency:  Someone who helps an addict while neglecting their own needs and well-being may become codependent. Codependency can develop when the focus shifts entirely to the needs and wants of the addicted individual. Be aware of codependent patterns and seek support to ensure you are maintaining a healthy sense of self.
  10. Celebrate milestones and progress: Acknowledge and celebrate even the smallest milestones and progress your loved one makes in their recovery journey. Positive reinforcement can motivate and reinforce their commitment to change.

 Providing appropriate help for addicts requires a delicate balance of empathy, firm boundaries, and a focus on their well-being. By being informed, setting boundaries, seeking support, and promoting healthy choices, you can provide valuable support without enabling or becoming codependent. Remember, recovery is a personal journey, and your role is to be a source of love, understanding, and encouragement. 

How to Help Someone Get Treatment for Addiction

When a person is struggling with addiction, connecting them with the help they need is crucial for their well-being and recovery. If you have a loved one who would benefit from addiction treatment, here are some steps you can take to support them on their path to recovery:

  • Express concern and empathy: Approach the conversation with compassion and empathy. Express your concerns about their well-being and the impact their addiction is having on their life and relationships. Let them know that you are there to support them and that seeking treatment is a positive step towards a healthier and happier life.
  • Gather information about treatment options: Research treatment options in your area to be prepared with relevant information. Look for reputable treatment centers or programs that specialize in addressing their specific addiction. Consider factors such as the types of therapies offered, the success rates, and the credentials of the staff.
  • Offer assistance: Many individuals may feel overwhelmed by the process of finding and accessing treatment. Offer to help them with practical matters, such as researching treatment options, making phone calls, or accompanying them to appointments. Your support can make the process feel less daunting.
  • Encourage professional evaluation: Suggest that they seek a professional evaluation from an addiction specialist or healthcare professional. A comprehensive assessment can help determine the appropriate level of care and treatment needed to address their specific addiction and any co-occurring mental health issues.
  • Provide resources: Share educational materials, websites, or helpline numbers related to addiction and recovery. Provide them with resources that can further inform and motivate them to seek treatment. Knowledge is empowering and can help them understand the importance of getting professional help.
  • Explore treatment options together: Engage in an open and non-judgmental discussion about the available treatment options. Discuss the different types of treatment programs, such as inpatient rehab, outpatient programs, or support groups. Help them understand the benefits and differences of each option.
  • Address barriers to treatment: Identify and address any barriers that may be preventing them from seeking treatment, such as concerns about cost, fear of withdrawal symptoms, or lack of social support. Explore potential solutions together, such as exploring insurance coverage, finding financial assistance programs, or connecting with support networks.
  • Offer ongoing encouragement and support: Let your loved one know that you believe in their ability to recover and that you will support them throughout the treatment process. Encourage them to stay committed and remind them of the positive changes that can come from seeking treatment.
  • Maintain healthy boundaries: While offering support, it’s essential to maintain healthy boundaries. Avoid enabling behaviors or taking responsibility for their actions. Encourage them to take ownership of their recovery and make their own decisions while providing a supportive presence.
  • Follow-up and follow-through: Check in on their progress regularly and offer continued support. Attend therapy sessions or support group meetings with them if they feel comfortable. Let them know that you are there for them and are invested in their recovery journey.

 Remember, each person’s journey to recovery is unique, and the decision to seek treatment ultimately lies with the individual. By providing information, support, and encouragement, you can play a vital role in helping your loved one take the first step towards a life free from addiction.

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Find Help for Addiction Treatment at California Detox

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug addiction, California Detox in Laguna Beach offers a variety of treatment programs to meet your needs. Our supervised medical detox program provides a smooth transition to inpatient rehab or outpatient rehab, with medications available to ease withdrawal and cravings. 

 Our treatment programs combine evidence-based interventions and holistic therapies, including MAT, group and individual counseling, psychotherapy (CBT and DBT), family therapy, and holistic approaches. We also provide comprehensive aftercare support. For immediate assistance, call admissions at 949.694.8305.

 At California Detox, we are committed to guiding you on your path to recovery from addiction.


Dealing with someone who has an addiction requires empathy, setting boundaries, and encouraging them to seek professional help while avoiding enabling behaviors.
When speaking to someone struggling with addiction, it’s important to express concern and empathy, offer support without judgment, and emphasize their worth and the potential for recovery.


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