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How to Help a Family Member Dealing With Substance Abuse

by Alizah Scherr, studioD

Substance abuse and addiction are serious problems that affect not only the user but family and friends as well. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 9 percent of the total United States population ages 12 and older are afflicted with this problem. Substance abuse can cause psychological and physical harm, legal troubles, relationship problems and even death. The consequences of addiction are far reaching and can be devastating for the user as well as family and friends. There are treatment options, however, and ways in which you can help a struggling family member to overcome this serious problem.

Stage an intervention. This is a process by which family members and friends confront an abusing individual and convince the user to seek treatment. It is recommended that you first call a professional from a drug abuse center and obtain assistance in setting this up. During the intervention, be caring yet firm. Family members should point out the maladaptive and dangerous behaviors witnessed followed by expressed concern for the user. Treatment options should be readily offered.

Take your family member to the chosen treatment program directly after the intervention. Substance abusers have little to no control over their addictive behaviors and even if they seem willing to seek help, they may use again if allowed the opportunity to do so.

Support the user in a treatment program by keeping in touch when allowed and meeting with doctors or specialists who are working with the user. Many drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities have time slots allotted for family and friend visitations. Encourage the user to stay in treatment and express how proud you feel.

Provide ongoing support after treatment ends. A 2005 study published in "Psychiatric Services" conducted by psychologist Haiyi Xie and colleages found that within the first three years after treatment, approximately half of the population had relapsed. Create a caring and peaceful environment in which the recovering addict can feel as little stress as possible. Ensure that an out-patient program is in effect, such as a weekly 12-step meeting, and that the recovering addict continues to connect with someone such as a substance abuse therapist or sponsor who will help your family member keep his recovery on track. If at any time you witness signs in which you feel relapse may have happened, contact this sponsor and conduct another intervention as soon as possible.


  • While dealing with a family member who is abusing substances it may be beneficial to get your own therapy so that you can also be professionally supported through this difficult process.
  • Remember that, in the end, your family member has to want to change in order for rehabilitation to really work. You can support her in her efforts, but she has to be the one to make the daily effort to stay clean.

About the Author

Alizah Scherr has worked as a professional school counselor in a public school system for more than five years. She has a master's degree in education and is certified as a counselor.

Photo Credits

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