Help a Family Member or Loved One with Addiction

The hardship and grief that comes with addiction is rarely limited to the addicted individual. The effects of this disease are felt by all those who love the person. Often, the family of the addicted person experiences unhealthy levels of stress and anguish as they feel powerless to help their loved one but yet feel a responsibility to manage the consequences of their loved one’s substance use.

Addiction Resources for Family Members

If you’re struggling to help someone who is living with a drug or alcohol addiction, you may be at a loss for how to move forward. We understand how difficult it can be to navigate this type of situation, and we are here for you. Our Admissions Navigators are available any time of day or night to discuss the best ways to get your loved one the help they need.

You can also read a number of resources for family members here:

You can view the whole “Recovery is Relative” series here.

Additionally, the family members of Sunrise House patients and alumni can access the Recovery App to view helpful content and interact with other families that understand what they are going through. These interactions within this online community are viewable only to staff and the families of other people with addictions, and are not accessible to patients and former patients.

At Sunrise House, we also offer a weekly family education class on Mondays from 6:30 pm – 9 pm. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, classes are currently being held virtually, but we plan to add the option to attend in-person soon.

Addiction Is a Family Disease

Brother sister hug

Family members may struggle with the following:1

  • Emotional turmoil, including feelings of frustration, anger, worry, shame, and guilt.
  • Financial burden from lending money, paying rent, paying legal costs, helping with other expenses, etc.
  • Relationship conflict over substance use and associated problems and instability in the family due to breakups, violence, or abuse.

It’s easy to see why addiction is commonly called “a family disease” when you consider the anxiety, worry, conflict, shame and economic burden that befalls family members who love someone who is unable to stop compulsively using substances despite all the adverse consequences that occur as a result.

Signs of Addiction in a Loved One

The warning signs of addiction vary from one substance to another, but there are some common signs. If you know your loved one uses substances, you may see signs of increased use leading to tolerance, dependence, or addiction. Signs of an escalating issue with substances include:2,3

  • Using alcohol or drugs in situations that can be dangerous, such as driving while under the influence.
  • Using despite knowing that use can lead to serious emotional or physical outcomes.
  • Using a substance even when it causes issues with family members, such as increased arguments and conflict.
  • Telling you they only intend to have a couple of drinks and then end up having 5 or 6.
  • Wanting to stop using, but they are unable to do so.
  • Using substances knowing that it could lead to loss of a job or being expelled from school.
  • Neglecting family or job responsibilities.
  • Giving up things they used to enjoy, such as family time or hobbies.

At times, it can be hard to see a pattern with these types of behaviors, particularly if you do not see your loved one daily, such as a cousin or a child who lives in another state.

Please note that these signs are general and may not always be caused by an addiction, as behaviors can be the result of certain medical conditions.3 

What’s the Difference Between Helping & Enabling?

When faced with the possibility that your loved one has a problem with substance use, it can be difficult to know what to do next. At times, your efforts to help might instead be enabling them.

For example, you may call into work for your spouse when they are too high or drunk to go to work. You may even call in favors from people in law enforcement that you know to help your son or daughter avoid legal charges for possession of cocaine or another illicit narcotic.

These examples are typical enabling behaviors, but in helping the person avoid consequences of behaviors, you are assisting them in continuing the addictive behavior. If the person with an addiction does not face consequences, they will not be motivated to change their behaviors and will most likely continue with these behaviors.3

How to Help a Family Member Find Rehab

teenagers in a group therapy session

Talking to a family member about their addiction and the idea of getting into rehab isn’t an easy thing to do, but is most likely needed to help your loved one get into treatment. While you may have seen aggressive interventions on television, these ambush-style sessions are not the best way to handle the situation.4

Often, getting the family member to agree to at least talking to a doctor or other professional about the issue works better. The medical professional will be able to raise concerns with the family member in a more fact-based way, which doesn’t leave as much room for arguing.4

The right treatment options for addiction vary from one person to another. At Sunrise House Treatment Center in Sussex County, NJ, we offer safe and supervised medical detoxification as well as inpatient rehabilitation.

What Will Treatment Entail?

Treatment for addiction is dependent on many factors, such as the number and type of substances the person is using, the length and severity of the addiction, and underlying medical and/or emotional issues.

For some, detox is the first stage of recovery. Sometimes, withdrawal management can be completed on an outpatient basis. However, due to the potential for medical complications with many substances such as benzodiazepines, opioids, and alcohol, medically-assisted detox and inpatient detoxification is often recommended.5

After detox, a person can be admitted to either an inpatient 24/7 program or an outpatient program. If your loved one completes an inpatient program, he or she could step down to an outpatient form of care as the next phase of treatment.6

Some treatment facilities like Sunrise House also offer aftercare planning so that whether you participate in treatment for 60+ days, for a month, or just for a week or less, you have a plan you can stick to after your time in our care.

How Does My Loved One Pay for Substance Use Treatment?

If the person has health insurance, there’s a decent chance it may cover a portion or the entire cost of treatment. But if insurance doesn’t cover it, there are still a few options. Some treatment programs will offer sliding scale fees based on incomes, as well as payment plans to pay off the cost of treatment over time. In addition, there are other options to explore.

If you’re not sure whether your health insurance covers treatment, you can or call us at to learn more.

Advice for the Family and Loved Ones of Addicts

As you attempt to get help for your loved one, remember some things:7

  • You didn’t cause their addiction.
  • You can’t control it.
  • You can’t cure it.

You cannot control the choices your loved one makes, and you cannot fix the problem for them. Taking on the burden of their actions only makes you less healthy and doesn’t help your loved one in the long term.

However, you can provide nonjudgmental support for your loved one and encourage them consistently to see a doctor or to seek treatment. As you approach your loved one, you may express concern for how their substance use is affecting them and the family negatively.

It is bound to be difficult to bring up the issue with your family member, as they may be defensive or refuse to admit there’s a problem. But having an honest conversation can set the stage for your loved one to admit they need help and take the first step.

Just like your loved one, you may also benefit from therapy, counseling, and the support of understanding peers. Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are popular peer-support programs that are geared toward the loved ones of people struggling with addiction.

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