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Five Ways Families and Friends Can Help a Loved One Struggling with Addiction

Addiction is a struggle, not just for the addict in the grip of drugs or alcohol, but for that addict’s friends and family. And while the cost of addiction can be counted in lost money or time, oftentimes the abuse of drugs or alcohol takes the greatest toll on relationships. Here are five ways you can help if someone you love is struggling with addiction.

  1. Learn the signs.

    One of the greatest barriers to addressing addiction is identifying it in the first place. Even when we recognize it, misconceptions about the nature of addiction and recovery may hamper our ability to help our loved ones get the help they need. “Continued use of substances despite negatives consequences is a clear indication of a problem,” says Brad Clark, director of Prairie View’s Addictions Treatment Center, located in Newton, Kansas. “Early consequences may include frequent absences or being tardy for school or work, financial problems as well as family, relationship or marital issues.” According to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, addicts are more able to confront their issues with drugs or alcohol if the problem is addressed early. Your best recourse is to learn the signs, then look for them in the actions of your loved one.
  2. Open the conversation.
    Talking about addiction with our loved ones is a frightening proposition. What if they react poorly? What if they cut off ties with their friends and family? What if the conversation turns into a confrontation? What if I only make things worse? While the fears surrounding conversations about addiction are real, they may be unfounded, and there are steps you can take to make that conversation more successful. For instance, make sure everyone is sober, and that the conversation happens at a previously agreed-upon time and place, with plenty of time allowed for meaningful, two-way dialogue. Taking these steps can help insure the conversation is productive and everyone feels heard.
  3. Keep it positive. 

    Because addiction is a difficult topic to address, it’s important to keep the overall tone of your interactions positive. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America suggests repeating “a consistent, positive message: ‘We care about you and we want you to get help.’” By framing substance abuse as a problem that should be addressed by everyone involved, not just the addict themselves, the tone will feel less accusatory and more cooperative.
  4. Know your options.
    “Treatment” is a loaded word, recalling images of long stays alone in residential treatment facilities located far away from friends and family. But residential treatment is in fact one of many treatment options for those struggling with substance abuse. “The appropriate level of treatment depends upon the individual patient’s needs and situation and a professional substance abuse counselor can assist in matching a patient with the right level of care needed,” says Clark. “Substance abuse treatment options are available across a continuum of care which includes outpatient treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, inpatient treatment, and detox.”
  5. Take care of yourself.
    While tremendous resources like and others are readily available, perhaps the most powerful and important resource for a person struggling with addiction are their friends and family. In other words, your loved one’s greatest resource is you. Clark notes that “effective treatment recognizes that the person who is addicted is a part of a family system which has also been affected by the addiction, and offers help and healing to the family members as well as to the addicted individual. This is the inspiration for the family week activities which are a part of the Addictions Treatment Center program. These activities include psycho-educational sessions with family members, adventure course activities (to assist in rebuilding trust and team work in the family), and family therapy sessions.” Because you are such an important part of their recovery, it is important for you to look after your own well-being. If your mind is clear and your body is rested, you will be better able to assist your loved one as they work to recover from addiction.

While addiction can be a terrible struggle, recovery is possible, and for many of those who struggle with addiction, that recovery begins with a kind word or deed by the ones they love. If you have further questions or would like help addressing addiction, please contact Prairie View online or call 800-992-6292.

About Prairie View

Prairie View has a passion for helping people live well and relate to one another in a positive, healthy manner. By offering a complete range of mental and behavioral health services for children, adolescents, adults, older adults and families, Prairie View treats depression, anxiety disorders, marital and family conflicts, aging issues, addictions and more.

Founded in 1954, Prairie View is the state’s only faith-based non-profit behavioral and mental health center with locations in Newton, east and west Wichita, and McPherson. Prairie View serves as the Community Mental Health Center for Harvey, Marion and McPherson counties.