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Help for families of drug addicts – How to help a drug addict

How can I help the drug addict in my life?

Knowing the right thing to do depending on the loved one’s stage of recovery from addiction is the first step.  Learning how to do it in the right way is the next.

1. Know the stages of addiction recovery

Distinguishing between a needy person and a person  in-need is the first step in effectively helping a loved one in recovery.  A needy person is caught up in compulsive behaviors like substance abuse, and no matter how much you give her, she will always need more.  She is the proverbial black hole into which all light, energy, advice, and money disappears never to be seen again.  A person in-need, on the other hand, has acknowledged and addressed the underlying causes of the compulsive behavior and is now just in a tight situation and needs your help.  Anything you give her will be appreciated and used for its intended purpose.

Let’s make this real. So, what do you do if your loved one asks for $100 to pay the phone bill and says it will get turned off if you don’t help her?  The answer depends on her stage of addiction recovery.  If she is still in what’s called the pre-contemplations stage and has not yet seriously acknowledged that she has a drug problem, then giving her the money enables her to stay in her hole and in fact, just allows her to dig it deeper.  Paying the bill directly is better than just giving her the money because at least you know it’s going to the right place. However, it is likely that you’ve just freed up $100 from some other source to pay for drugs.  Instead, making the assistance dependent on her doing something to address the root problem is an effective way to encourage movement in the right direction.

If the loved one is in recovery already but is still shaky then it would be best to act as her designated payer in this situation.  Paying the bill directly resolves the problem, and because she is actively working on her addiction, it is likely that she will use her other resources for healthy and adaptive purposes. Finally, it is easy to help someone in sustained recovery you just give them what they need.

2. Relate to the addict effectively

Effectively relating with an active addict is a delicate blend of compassion and backbone.  Calmly setting appropriate boundaries that encourage healthy choices is difficult because the addict is adept at the art of button pushing.She knows instinctively that an  exasperated person does not think straight and can be manipulated into doing things that go against best intentions.

For example, I always warn new substance abuse counselors that the addict new to recovery generally wants one of two things.  First, she wants you to get mad and throw her out of your office because this gives her the excuse not to work at recovery – you’re just another person who hates her and won’t give her a chance.  If you won’t do this, then she wants to manipulate you, because if you’re dumb enough not to throw her out, then you’re fair game.  If you do neither of these things not pushing away or getting manipulated, but rather calmly staying in the middle with a solution-oriented pose then the addict becomes discombobulated and is ripe for change. This is where healing begins.

Family support for drug addiction

A non-judgmental, solution-oriented stance can be difficult for a loved one because so many emotions are stirred by the situation.  Therefore, it is imperative that family members of addicts wishing to be helpful get support from professionals in the field and/or support groups like Al-Anon and Alateen.  You can only be helpful to others when you are supported and healthy yourself.  Do what you need to do so you can always tell the difference between a needy person and a person in-need and give help in the right way.

Photo credit: Kai Hendry

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30 Responses to “Help for families of drug addicts – How to help a drug addict
Lindsay blake
10:14 pm January 13th, 2011

I found sometthing you may find helpful, i did. I myself am I recovering addict and have taken may different approaches to get my foot in the door, this is what saved my life and introduced to me a new way of living through body, mind, and spirit in allignment with the fellow ship and the 12steps. dont sell yourself short. life is beautiful

scott jaffa
10:50 pm January 20th, 2011

Realizing and admitting you have a problem is the ultimate start to a great recovery.

4:02 pm January 30th, 2011

I have a question. My husband is addicted to prescription drugs. He has made several attempts at recovery. Recently we (our family) has began attending a 12 step group through Celebrate Recovery. This is my first experience with this type of group. I am confused because “sharing” in small group is not really giving me any advise or insight on how to cope with my situation and how to help my family. Am I missing something?

2:57 pm October 18th, 2011

I found this same thing that because nobody can give advise. All one does is share.

12:23 pm October 19th, 2011

Hi Nora and Linda. I think that the idea of 12 step groups for families is to actually separate yourself from the addict, take responsibility for yourself, and find your own answers for your particular situation. Just as psychotherapists are there to mirror back to you the answers to your questions and celebrate the self that is ALREADY inside of you, so 12 step groups are there to help lead you to the source of your answers (a Higher Power). If you continue attending, after time, you can get connected to people within the program and ask for their feedback. But there is not magic bullet for dealing with an addict or alcoholic. It’s a process that you learn over time.

11:27 pm November 3rd, 2011

My adult daughter is an addict that has recently been arrested for stealing from me. My question regards my 11 yr old grandson. My daughter has admitted her addiction and her willingness to go thru treatment and get her life back on track…when sober my daughter is a very good mother that had a very close relationship with her oldest son (she has 4 children). Her son is understandably very angry with his mother and refuses to talk to anyone about the situation. Are there any resources available to me to broach the subject with him in a way that will help rebuild their relationship…she is the only person that he has ever really opened up to with feelings of any kind and I know that this will leave permanent scars for the rest of his life.

12:06 pm November 4th, 2011

Hi Wendy. Thank you for your question.

I agree with you. It sounds like your grandson is potentially at risk of isolating himself and perhaps even looking towards drugs and alcohol himself as a solution to his problems. I found this manual from Child Welfare Services that might help:

I also found additional internet resources, which you can follow up on. Simply Google the phrase (copy and paste it from below into your web browser):

children of addicts
children of addicts

You’ll find government and university information on these sites. If you need help identifying a counselor or psychologist in your area who might be able to talk with your grandson directly, please send me an email with your zip code (just click on the Contact us link at the bottom of the page).

I really hope that this helps you and your family. I feel for you.

All my best,

Mary Philips
11:58 pm December 7th, 2011

This article makes a great point when it mentions that family members have to have compassion and a backbone when helping their addicted family member. One website that might be helpful to family members wanting to help an addict is It provides helpful tips on ways that family members can help like staging an effective intervention. Hope it is helpful.

11:21 am December 14th, 2011

Thanks for sharing the link, Mary.

Tina Smith
5:45 pm September 18th, 2012

I am interested in the link shared above, but when I click it the link does not take me to anyplace to learn anything about staging an intervention or anything of the like. I am in desperate need of information. Thank you.

1:56 am September 19th, 2012

Hi Tina. Which link are you referring to?

Also, you can try to call the National Drug Abuse Hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for an impartial, government sponsored 24 hour hotline. Ask them for help, and see what you come up with.

And let us know if you still need some more information.

6:32 am May 10th, 2013

i have a 23 yr old son that is trying to recover from meth… he got sentence to a drug reblitation center. now he is at a half way house. while he was locked up i took tempory cousty of my grandkids they are 3 and 4. I took care of his home and girlfriend also but now it seems like he dont apperite it at all.. He got the cousty back of the kids and now he got remarried to a women that has been clean for a yr herself. He has pushed his sister away that took care of the kids when he was using and now hes even pushing me away and saying we are enablers.. We may have been but we couldnt see them 2 kids not being taken care of when he was not there mentaly or physicaly. Then on top of it all he is blaming me and my husband for his jail record. my question why would he push the people away that helped him the most?

Michelle Lisa Anderson
3:31 am May 13th, 2013

What a wonderful process of deciding if you should help or not. And helping in the right way, not enabling. I was once guilty of trying to help my ex husband by paying the bills, cleaning up his messes and lying for him. Little did I know that I was actually harming him.

I now have a blog specifically for women who are in love with a man who drinks too much.

Thanks so much for this informative site. I will refer to it often.

Michelle Lisa Anderson

Tina Smith
10:04 pm May 14th, 2013

The link I was referring to was the one shared by Mary Phillips in regard to interventions.

Currently, we have our two granddaughters in our custody and have for about six months. Life is challenging at best. We have already raised seven children to adulthood, and currently have a three year old that we adopted at birth. Adding the girls into our lives has been stressful. I know it’s the best thing for them, but we are finding it challenging to deal with behavior type issues stemming from all that they’ve been through. I SO WISH there was a support group for grandparents raising grandchildren of addicted children.

My daughter is a heroin addict and prostitute. It’s insane. Never in a million years would I have dreamed of having this in our lives. What a nightmare. The eight year old is in play therapy, and we are beginning the process of legal guardianship through the court system. Sometimes I wish I’d just wake up and find this all a terrible dream.

6:12 pm July 21st, 2013

As a parent of a son who has struggled with drugs, this infuriates me beyond description. I can totally relate to the desperation to find a solution to the terrible disease of addiction, and I know what it feels like to be willing to do almost anything. please call 800-662-HELP. This government hotline is the ideal place to address your addiction problems.

8:56 pm October 25th, 2013

My brother has been addicted to crack cocaine for over 20 years. My family and i endured so many challenges with my brother, who is now 47 years old. Although my brother has admitted to using crack in the past, he always wants us to believe he is recovered but obviously he is still using. I would like to know, what actions do we take to help him with his addiction? Where do we start? If he isn’t willing to admit he has a problem, is there any steps we can take to help?

5:00 pm October 26th, 2013

Hello Rita. Have you consulted with a family therapist? This would be the first step that I would recommend.

Loraine agnew
9:45 pm March 6th, 2014

My 15 year old grandson is suffering with drug addiction. He tells me hello owes a gang member 500.00$ and is frightened . Should I lend him money to pay this off?

2:49 am April 12th, 2014

Is there a help line for the families of drug addicts? I don’t know how I am allowed to act or talk to my teeneage son and need help please!!

11:30 am April 14th, 2014

Hello Monnie. Try calling the Parents Toll Free Hotline: 1-855-DRUGFREE (1-855-378-4373). Plus, more resources here:

8:31 pm November 8th, 2014

ok i have 27 year old niece who i just found out have a cocaine habit. i believe her boyfriend/baby daddy behind this cuz now he dealing it also. my drug of choice use to be cocaine but i have been clean 7 years so i know the signs but cuz of him my family dont see her much. i need suggestions on how to approuch her about it cuz they boyfriend pretty much controls everything in her life. she has a 3 year old son so i know if i can just get her by herself i can make her see that the most important thing in her life can be taken frm her. the boyfriend filled her head with lies so she doesnt think her family will be there for her. so please if anyone has any suggestions please let me know. thanks

9:36 pm April 28th, 2015


6:15 am May 22nd, 2015

I have a daughter who is 36, she has been on drugs for 17 years, I don’t know what to do to help her. She steals anything that she can to get her hands on drugs. She has a 8 year old son, we had to take him throughout court when he was about 16 months old, courts gave him back after 6 months. Her and the father have thought the little boy how to steal, how to occupy, and how to distract people so they can steal. She left about 3 years ago stayed gone for about 1 year and left Jacob with us. Called and said she wanted help to get off drugs, moved in with us, nothing has changed, she is in a program for drug abuse it is not helping her. She is getting more drugs on the program than she did on the streets or could steal, PLEASE I need to know what I can do for or for me. I cannot set my purse down without her stealing whatever she wants.

10:55 am May 22nd, 2015

Hi Kathy. I think that some therapy sessions could help you find ways to deal with her behavior. If it means doing the hard-love method, so be it. She needs to get serious about getting clean and work on her recovery with dedication. I believe you can benefit going to counseling meetings t learn positive and constructive coping mechanisms. You may not know it, but you may be enabling her. As for your grandson, please seek legal help and get that child out of that environment.

9:26 am May 22nd, 2015

My daughter’s baby father gives her drugs that is the only that she will have anything to do with him, he sends her out to steal and then laughs at her, none of her family will have anything to do with him,even the child don’t want be around him, before we got the little boy with us the father would take him to Wal-Mart and have him stand outside and ask people for money. The mother or father dose not have a job.

10:17 am May 22nd, 2015

Hi Kathy. That behavior is harmful to the child and is definitely not proper child care. If you are willing to fight for the good of your grandchild, and can provide enough evidence from witnesses, you will be able to take legal actions and get the child out of that harmful environment. God bless you for being such a caring grandmother. You may be all that child has.

7:58 pm October 8th, 2016

so how do other people deal with the helplessness and sadness of parenting an addict who is NOT ready to start recovery, who willingly and knowingly chooses to continue shooting heroin…just wait and hope she reaches rock bottom and makes different choices before she dies? how do other parents not let the worry, fear, guilt, anger and helplessness not consume them? how does one sleep at night, knowing that their loved one is totally unsafe?

8:42 pm December 7th, 2016

Cara, my heart aches for you. I lived the life you are living until sadly my son lost his battle to heroin and left us permanently November 1, 2014. He was exactly 20 years 4 months old, still such a child, my baby, the oldest of 3 sons. Loving an addict, and especially your child, is a nightmare journey through life! Living in fear, always worried is he some place hurt, afraid, beat up, in jail or the worst, is he dead. The heroin epidemic is out of control in every zip code across our country and there are not enough support services available to those of us that love an addict. But this is what I believe….
Support groups for people who love an addict can be helpful (birds of a feather ya know). That being said, 12-step Alanon meeting do have a place in the puzzle, but the lack of cross talk sometimes left me wondering what am I doing here. I kept going and did meet other moms like me, and we did get together a few times to actually talk and support one another. But what helped me the most was participating in a clinical group where a therapist helped guide us towards helping ourselves, and one another in the process. A therapy group is a powerful thing!
So long as your loved one is breathing there is HOPE!!! And it is important that you get help for yourself so you can navigate through your days without completely falling apart and feeling hopeless. I know for me anyway my emotions were all negative, painful ones. I was consumed with feelings of profound sadness, always an aching, profound sadness, then anger, then fear and guilt…..round and round life went in an insane cycle of emotional warfare. My heart was breaking. I’d of traded places with my child in a heart beat, but I was helpless.
I believe in the power of prayer and will keep you in mine.,

11:19 am February 5th, 2017

I’m lost and don’t know what to do. My girlfriend has been fighting Heroin addiction and now she is 10 weeks pregnant and is snorting heroin again. I don’t know how to approach her or what to do. I’m scared for her but now I’m scared for my unborn child. I always tell her I understand if she messes up that I’m there for her. I see her messing up and she lies to me and gets mad when I show her I know. but with a child in her I don’t know how to go about it. She is a very caring and nice woman when she is not using drugs but when she is she is angry and argumentative. she is 27 living with her active addict father who helps supply the drugs. She refuses to move in with me or stay with me for a few weeks to get sober.

1:10 pm February 5th, 2018

My daughter works full time ,is on medicaid and presently only smokes herion once in a while , she says. Dhe has needed CPR twice in the last 2 years. They live with us , pays some rent , not much. How do I ask them to leave ? She has our grandchild ?

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About Nachshon Zohari, LCSW

Nachshon Zohari is a licensed clinical social worker and the Program Administrator for Mental Health and Substance Treatment in a major U.S. city. His private practice includes individual, couples and family counseling; parenting classes; substance abuse education and treatment; and individual and group clinical supervision. He is an expert in the holistic practice of family focused addiction treatment.