How to Help Someone with a Drug Addiction

January 14, 2013 Karl Shallowhorn, MS, CASAC

There may be times when a person feels powerless when trying to help someone they care about with a drug addiction.  But it is possible to make a difference.

Drug addiction affects people from all walks of life. It is, as the old saying goes, “not a respecter of persons.” Just as the ends of addiction are jails, institutions, and death, the opposite, recovery, can be a beacon of hope. But what can you do to help someone you know who is suffering from the ravages of substance abuse?

Many Ways to Help Someone With a Drug Addiction

Letting Go of Codependency -- Doing Nothing

First, it is important not to contribute to the addict’s problem by enabling the negative behavior. My recent post on co-dependency points out how these kinds of relationships can often promote addictive behavior. “Letting go” can be terribly difficult but it can be one of the best things to do to help the addict to break through the denial that so often is present in these situations.

Blame the Addiction not the Addict

Another way to help the addict is to “reflect” or “hold up a mirror” to their behavior. The key is to not do more damage by blaming the addict for actions that they are not necessarily responsible for. The addict is not responsible for their addiction but they are responsible for their recovery. Remember, this is a brain disorder. Addiction is complex and the recovery process can take time, so patience is required.

Learn to Listen

Next, listening can be a valuable tool in helping the addict to deal with the inner struggles he is experiencing. Like in any relationship, communication is vital. Addiction is fraught with shame and guilt. When the addict has a means of opening up, he can begin to deal with the root cause of the problem. In my case, during my active addiction, having an empathetic therapist was key in helping me to overcome the issues that kept me from facing life on life’s terms.

Therapy Is An Effective Tool for the Addict and You

Speaking of therapy, addiction recovery can be helped with the assistance of a competent counselor. While I have heard many addicts argue that it “takes one to know one,” I believe that many counselors who are not addicts can be very effective in their ability to help those in need. In some cases inpatient treatment can benefit the addict by providing time and distance from the drug. While this method is not a guarantee for-long-standing abstinence, it can help to “kick-start” one’s recovery.

Encourage Addict to Attend NA or AA

Another means of assistance is guiding the addict to 12-Step meetings. Research has shown that combining AA/NA with counseling is one of the most effective means of prolonged abstinence.

So, in the end, you do not have to stand by and feel powerless. There is much you can do to help the person you care about. Hope (and recovery) is possible!

APA Reference
Shallowhorn, K. (2013, January 14). How to Help Someone with a Drug Addiction, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 22 from

Author: Karl Shallowhorn, MS, CASAC

January, 19 2013 at 3:00 am

Great information on dealing with a hard issue. Tough stuff.

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