Are You Worried A Loved One Is Addicted? Here's How to Help Them

Written by: Bethany Hatton

In an 11-year period, illicit drug use climbed 16 percent. Drug use among those aged 50 to 64 has seen unprecedented increases. The opioid epidemic is killing over a 100 people a day. And tragically, by 2020 experts predict that without major reform, a million U.S. citizens will have died from it.  

In these evolving times, addiction has become a national crisis affecting many more around us than ever before. A Pew survey out last year, even reported that nearly half of all Americans have had a family member addicted. This means that as you stand by a stranger in the checkout line, either he or you, is likely going to have to face the challenge of addiction with a loved one.

Here are some tips to help should that person be you.

Understanding Signs and Symptoms

Predictably, substance abuse can be difficult to pinpoint as people who are using most often  make every effort to hide their problem. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends looking for the following signs if you believe your loved one is addicted.

  • A mood change.

  • The appearance of new friends or hangouts.

  • Changes in physical appearance such as bloodshot eyes, disheveled, pinpoint pupils, weight loss or gain, or trembling hands.

  • Poor grades at school or trouble on the job.

  • Secretive or lying.

  • Spending more money.

  • Spending time isolated from old friends or hobbies.

  • Sleeping too much or too little.

Don’t Hesitate

Once you’ve identified that the signs and symptoms you’ve noticed are pointing to an addiction, it’s best to act quickly versus waiting it out. According to Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, the most effective way to help someone who is starting to show signs of a substance abuse problem is to intervene early before the condition progresses to a substance abuse disorder.  

Exploring Treatment Options

Every addiction patient is different, and that means they’ll need different types and lengths of treatment. For some it may mean regular meetings with their clergy and attending support group meetings in their church. Some may need psychological counseling to help beat their addiction or a 12-step program. For others, a more intensive inpatient treatment program will be best. Before you head to the next step, intervention, have a full understanding of all the available options.

How To Handle Intervention

The health experts at Mayo Clinic recommend a seven-step plan for intervention.

  1. Set up a consultation with a therapist, an addiction professional, a social worker or clergy, or a physician along with the family members you plan to include and make a plan.

  2. Gather information that can assess the depth of your loved one’s problems and potential treatment options.

  3. Decide what professionals and what family members will be part of your intervention team, and be sure that everyone is committed to confidentiality until the established time.

  4. If your loved one won’t take help, each person should identify their personal set of consequences, such as moving out, cutting off financial aid, etc.

  5. Make notes on what you’ll say. The Partnership For Drug-Free Kids, recommends the following: don’t address the person if they are under the influence; start by expressing your love and concern; list the behaviors that have caused you to be worried; don’t make statements that judge or condemn; and establish two way communication so they feel heard.

  6. Hold the intervention meeting and allow everyone to express their feelings.

  7. Have a followup plan for relapses.

The Importance of Aftercare

Treatments, even more rigid inpatient programs, aren’t miracle workers. You should have a relapse prevention plan in place. Be sure it includes aftercare, because according to Psychiatric Services, it will dramatically improve the chance for a full recovery.

As you set about helping your loved one, perhaps instead of employing the old “tough love” approach, instead focus on compassion. Increasingly, compassion is seen as a way to break down addiction barriers. Love your loved one well again.

Contributed by: Bethany Hatton, a retired librarian with 32 years of experience. She created after her oldest grandson became addicted to opioids. Visit her website for more information on addiction.