Identifying the best course of action to help a loved one who is using drugs can be challenging.
First, you must determine if your loved one is using drugs and truly has a problem with their use. Once you identify the need for help, provide nonjudgment, encouragement, and support to get them help via their doctor or other addiction treatment services.
Recognizing which stage of addiction recovery your loved one is in will guide your course of action so that you can help them in the most beneficial way possible. Avoid many of the pitfalls of confronting someone with a drug addiction, such as blaming them or taking things personally.
Ultimately, your loved one is responsible for their own drug use and recovery, but your loving care and support can help them to begin their path to sobriety sooner.
How to Identify a Drug User
Identifying someone who is using drugs can be trickier than you think. You might have a friend or loved one who uses drugs openly, such as at parties or with friends, in which case their drug use is easy to identify. Often, however, people using drugs do so in secrecy and try to hide their drug-using behavior.
When trying to identify drug use, questions to ask yourself, as outlined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), include:
- Does the person spend a lot of time getting their drug, using it, and recovering from it?
- Has the person expressed a desire to quit using the drug but is unable to do so?
- Do they experience drug cravings?
- Is the person experiencing difficulties fulfilling work, school, home, and personal responsibilities?
- Does the person choose drug use over participating in important social, family, or community events?
- Does the person continue to use drugs despite negative consequences and putting themselves in danger?
- Does the person need increasing quantities of the drug to achieve the same desired effects?
- Does the person experience withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to stop using the drug?
Answering “yes” to any or all of the above questions likely indicates the presence of a drug problem.
Drug abuse and addiction can happen to anyone, as it does not discriminate based on age, gender, race, or socioeconomic status. If you think your loved one is struggling with a drug problem, there are things you can do to help.
Where to Start
Helping someone with a drug use problem can be very difficult, especially if they are uninterested in getting help. Fortunately, many resources are available that may convince your loved one that now is the time to get the help they need.
A general checkup at the doctor is a great first step toward addiction treatment. General practitioners can assess the user’s current condition and make appropriate referrals for further treatment.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), there are more than 3,500 physicians in the U.S. who specialize in addiction treatment. These doctors can be located via the following resources:
- The American Society of Addiction Medicine’s Find a Physician page
- The American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry’s Find a Specialist online service
It is important to be supportive, encouraging your loved one to seek treatment in a loving and nonjudgmental way. Fear of judgment from colleagues, friends, and family members can inhibit some people from seeking the help they need.
It’s a lifelong endeavor to manage addiction. With your help and support, your loved one may be able to start on their journey to recovery.
Criteria to Help You Decide What to Do
Once you have determined that your loved one has a problem with drug use, it can feel challenging and overwhelming to know what to do next. There are many different factors at play when someone is using drugs, such as the length of their drug use and what support systems they have available to help them get sober.
An important piece of criteria to consider when encouraging a loved one to seek addiction treatment is which stage of addiction recovery they are currently in. The four main stages of recovery include:
- Precontemplation. In the precontemplation stage, someone struggling with drug use has likely not recognized that they have a problem. They may be in denial about the severity of their problem or have yet to experience negative consequences as a result of their drug use.
- Contemplation. In the contemplation stage, the person using drugs is starting to recognize a problem with their drug use and may be thinking about changing their behavior
- Preparation. In the preparation stage, the person using drugs has recognized they have a problem, accepted the need for help, and started making a plan for how they can get sober
- Action. In the action stage, someone struggling with drug use is ready to make real changes and is actively engaging in a treatment program.
Each stage of change presents its own set of challenges, but recognizing which stage your loved one is in can help you provide appropriate support. Your supportive role in their recovery is likely to change as they progress through each stage as well.
What to Avoid
There are many things you can do to help someone who is using drugs. It is equally important to avoid doing certain things when trying to help your loved who is addicted to drugs. It can be difficult to separate yourself from your loved one’s battle with addiction, but it is important to do so.
Things to Avoid Doing When Encouraging Your Loved One to Seek Addiction Treatment Include the Following:
- Don’t make assumptions. Instead, speak openly and honestly about the situation.
- Don’t get impatient with your loved one. Give them time to consider their treatment options.
- Don’t take it personally. Your loved one’s drug habits likely harm you and your relationship with each other, but it is not personal to you.
- Don’t make it your responsibility to make your loved one get help. The decision to use drugs was theirs, and it is their responsibility to decide whether to stop using drugs or not.
- Don’t engage in conflict with your loved one surrounding their drug use, especially when they are under the influence. Approaching the conversation calmly and clearly provides the best chances for success.
- Don’t blame your loved one for their drug use. While it is their decision to use drugs or not, blaming them will likely lead to feelings of defensiveness and decrease the chances of them entering treatment.
- Don’t isolate your loved one. Surround them with support and resources to seek treatment when they are ready to do so.
How You Can Help
If you have a loved one who is struggling with drug use, you likely want to help them right away. It is important to be patient, as it can take time for people to recognize how their actions are impacting themselves and those around them. Continue to support your loved one on their recovery journey, even if they aren’t ready to enter formal treatment yet.
Remain a consistent, nonjudgmental, loving, and caring support in your loved one’s life until they are ready to get help for themselves. It can be frustrating to watch a loved one hurt themselves and not get the help you would like them to, but it is ultimately up to them to enter treatment.