Addiction destroys many things—a career, a future, a person’s life—but it also destroys relationships that were once near and dear. Family members may be hurt by their addicted loved one before they even recognize that the problems are stemming from a substance abuse issue. Because of this, families may feel torn and stressed and unwilling to help the one causing them pain. However, family members have an important and active role to play in helping their loved one find treatment and thrive in it.
How to Spot Addiction
Addiction has many sources and outlets, but the signs of addictive behavior are pretty consistent, often giving concerned and observant family members an opportunity to step in before it’s too late.
More Signs of addiction
In the case of an alcohol problem, for example, a spouse, sibling, or parent (or even a child) might notice the following habits and behavior from their loved one:
- A strong compulsion to drink – A problem drinker, unlike a casual drinker, is compelled to make alcohol a part of everyday life, always finding an excuse to include a drinking ritual.
- Withdrawal symptoms – Someone who drinks too much alcohol too frequently will experience a wide range of symptoms if they stop drinking such as depression, mood swings, muscle cramps, sleeplessness, and nausea.
- Increased tolerance – Heavy drinking over time leads to tolerance in which a person must drink more to feel the effects of the alcohol. If a loved one is unable to enjoy herself with a moderate amount of drinks, this is sign that her required intake level is dangerously high.
- Unwillingness to stop drinking – Someone who is truly in control of their drinking should have no issue about abstaining for a period of time; someone who isn’t in control will react with anger and offense.
- Neglecting life – A person addicted to alcohol will begin to exhibit problems in other areas of life like work, hobbies and family obligations despite making promises to be present.
- Shame – Many people will begin to drink in private and work to conceal their habit when they recognize how their drinking has become out of control.1
Some dangerous substances—like heroin, for example—leave some very distinct warning signs of problematic use, including the following:
- Lethargy – After the initial high and euphoria, many people who use heroin experience fatigue and lethargy, even to the point of slurred speech and clumsy behavior for some.
- Needle marks – Injecting heroin will leave marks. Needle marks on arms are easy to spot; however, the ankles, thighs, buttocks and between the toes are other popular areas to inject the drug.
- Behavior changes – Heroin addiction also leads to lifestyle changes. Lack of interest in hobbies and neglecting responsibilities are two warning signs—as well was mood swings, constant lethargy, asking for money and lying—that the person may be fighting an addiction.
- Physical effects – Physical changes will begin to show following heroin use like constricted pupils, belabored breathing, weight loss and withdrawal symptoms like cramps, vomiting, anxiety and diarrhea.
- Drug paraphernalia – Heroin can be snorted, but the most common method of administration is injecting it into the veins. It’s important to watch out for needles as well as belts or shoelaces that may be used as a tourniquet.
What to Do When It’s True
If you discover that a loved one is addicted to drugs, alcohol or some kind of compulsive behavior (gambling, eating, shopping, etc.), it is time to act. The longer you wait—out of denial, fear or any other reason—the deeper the addiction with grow.
Hire a Professional Interventionist+
When you have discovered that your loved one is addicted to alcohol or drugs, a professional interventionist can help. An interventionist can walk you through the entire process and help you discern the right time to intervene; therefore, it’s better to call and begin the conversation than wait until you feel more confident on your won. Early intervention and treatment is always in the best interest of your loved one.
A professional interventionist has training in the psychologies of addiction, family dynamics and group moderation. They have experience in helping addicted people recognize a need for treatment and taking those first steps. They also know how to make the family members and friends who are participating in the intervention feel like their voices have been heard in an appropriate and helpful way. Family members are often so invested in their loved one and already stressed and hurt that despite great intentions, they may not be able to conduct a successful intervention on their own.
An interventionist will work with family members to prepare for the intervention ahead of time. They will assist in picking the best time and place as well as who to involve in the meeting. They will facilitate the discussion and help offer treatment options for your loved one.3
Planning an Intervention+
In the planning stage, family members will have to decide who should be present. This could be people (friends, siblings, parents, romantic partner, etc.) who are close to the addict and have firsthand experience of how the addiction has negatively affected their relationship. Some may also want to include a priest or pastor, mentor or trusted advisor to speak truth to the person who is addicted. The group, however, should remain small so not to overwhelm your loved one.
Next, the participants will prepare what they plan on saying at the intervention. Many choose to write letters to read aloud that include specific examples of how their loved one’s addiction has caused harm, relationally and otherwise. The interventionist will instruct participants in what information is helpful and what may be detrimental. The idea of this step is to restore their relationship with the addict and also to develop a sense of solidarity with the other participants who have been hurt.
Participants should practice reading their letters out loud to prepare themselves for strong emotions—their own as well as their addicted loved one’s—that are likely to arise during the intervention. The surer the participants are of themselves and what they’re going to say, the more effective the intervention will be.
Every intervention should end with a call to action—a firm but loving expectation that he or she is to immediately enter treatment. An interventionist will assist you in having a couple treatment options ready for that time. Many addicts will tearfully agree to get help — promising to go somewhere the next day, the next week, etc. — only to delay taking any actual action. There should be a plan in place to go into treatment immediately after the intervention, and you must also have consequences decided upon if your loved one refuses treatment.
The addicted person generally does not know about the intervention ahead of time—so that he or she cannot avoid it. Although this may feel manipulative, it is in the best interest of your loved one. The interventionist will guide you through how to begin the intervention as well as how to proceed through each step. Some common reactions from addicted people include the following:
- Deny that he has an addiction problem
- Try to excuse or justify his behavior
- Try to turn the tables on the participants, accusing them of having problems of their own or of enabling the drug problem
- Agree that he has an addiction problem but refuse anyone’s help in combating it
- Reject the leadership and moderation of the interventionist (seeing him or her as an outsider)
If the intervention goes down this road, then the interventionist will call on the participants, one by one, to read out their prepared remarks.
The interventionist will be well-equipped to respond to any of these rebuttals and to guide the participants through the next steps all the way to the consequences of refusing treatment. Examples of common consequences include the following:
- Ending financial support
- Moving out
- Separation or Divorce
- Denying visitation rights to see children
- Breaking off contact
Although these ultimatums seem drastic and even harsh, the patient must know the severity of his or her addiction. It can be very difficult for loved ones to communicate so directly to their family member or friend, but the interventionist will help with words and provide reassurance that they are doing the right thing and acting in love.
If you have clear and indisputable evidence that a family member is using drugs or drinking too much alcohol, you should seek help. Confronting an addict about their problem can be difficult, even dangerous, due to the high level of emotions involved. They may reject your claims, refuse to discuss the matter, and be driven even further into their behavior.
For that reason, outside help in the form of a trained, professional interventionist is the best way to go to save your family member – and your entire family – from the effects of addiction.
Getting a Family Member into Rehab
Treatment must begin immediately, even that day if possible. Once the addicted individuals agree to help, you should leave no room (or time) for them to change their mind.
This may seem very sudden for the patient and may cause some fear and anxiety. Long-term recovery is much more likely when treatment is not delayed. The interventionist can train you on how to confidently encourage your loved one even in the midst of such immediate changes.
When it comes to treating a member of the family for addiction, education is a vital aspect of the process. Parents, siblings, children, spouses, cousins and other members should understand what role their behavior played (if any) in enabling the addiction problem. Many family members and friends will also have to process the series of events themselves and will benefit from time in therapy together.
Family therapy might involve members of the family meeting with a psychologist, who will explore your interpersonal relationships and how they may have contributed to an addiction. Abuse, neglect, violence and mental illness are all common triggers they may uncover. If any of these triggers exist, the therapist will explain the connections between each one and the addiction, and then the therapist and family members can work together to overcome the obstacles together so the patient can safely reintegrate back into their home following treatment.
Family members and patients alike will benefit from learning new and healthier coping mechanisms and behaviors for more successful relationships. This is particularly true with communication—how to discuss difficult topics in a loving and mature way so that each person is heard and affirmed. Many treatment centers will offer ongoing care for family members who need more intentional care in dealing with their loved one’s addiction.
More Aftercare Information
Once your loved one has completed detox and psychotherapy and has returned home, the support of aftercare groups can help them take their first steps back into everyday life. Support groups consist of people who are in a similar situation to the patient—people who have struggled with a substance abuse problem and gone through the process of treatment in order to heal. Through sharing experiences, success stories and experiences of failure, the members of a support group build each other up. Because relapse is so common, particularly within the first three months of leaving treatment, aftercare programs like 12-Step groups are there to ensure that the addict stays on the recovery path during that critical time.
If you suspect that your loved one may be struggling with an addiction, please call our 24-hour, toll-free helpline to let us talk you through this process and answer any questions you may have. Our caring admissions coordinators are very knowledgeable and able to help you prepare for your next steps. Please call now.
1 "Signs and Symptoms." National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. 19 December 2016.
2 "What are the long-term effects of heroin use?" National Institute on Drug Abuse. March 2018.
3 Seeley, Ken, "7 Common Misconceptions About Addiction Interventions." Psych Central. 26 August 2013.
4 Ambardekar, Nayana, "What Is Family Therapy?" WebMD. 7 January 2018.