The recovery process often focuses on the addict, their substance abuse, and any co-occurring disorders that may come with the struggle. However, it would be a mistake to discuss drug and alcohol addiction without mentioning the addict’s loved ones–their family, friends, and even their co-workers. Being involved in an addict’s life means taking active measures to support their recovery journey.

With so much attention on the addict during substance abuse treatment, it can be easy for family and friends to feel left in the wind. The reality, however, is that loved ones play a massive role in the addiction recovery journey. A strong support network is critical for addicts who aim to maintain their sobriety, and loved ones make up a large part of that network.

Understanding addiction and the process your loved one is going through can help everyone involved. The following guide for loved ones serves as the basic outline for best supporting the addict in your life. Use this information to identify signs of addiction and support your partner, friend, or family member on their recovery path. If you have concerns about a parent, you can also refer to our Definitive Guide for Children of Substance Abuse Addicts.

Your Role in the Healing Process

Addiction recovery looks different for every single addict. There is rarely a one-size-fits-all approach and the support you provide depends on the individual you are helping. Your loved one will have an individualized, customized addiction treatment plan, and your role may vary. Providing encouragement and moral support is imperative, but that only scratches the surface of how you can prepare to support your loved one.

It’s paramount that you understand how your behavior and approach can affect your loved one. The influence and support from family and friends can make a significant difference to recovery. Addiction seldom involves one person. It often reflects a level of dysfunction in their personal life and relationships. The following are some of the fundamental ways in which you can help your loved one along their recovery journey:

  • Creating a sober, stable, and safe home environment–removing alcohol and other substances from the home
  • Attending support groups and meetings–joining your loved one at a meeting or attending meetings specifically for family and friends can be very helpful for all parties involved.
  • Actively improving your actions that could affect your loved one’s addiction–consider whether any habits or behaviors may affect their addiction.
  • Getting educated about addiction–learn about the complexities of addiction. This can help you empathize and understand what your loved one is going through.
  • Attend therapy sessions to work on boundaries and communication–communication and boundaries are essential to a successful recovery.

In therapy sessions, at home, and beyond, doing the work with your loved one is strenuous and sometimes overwhelming. Most times, you and your loved one will work through some difficult and uncomfortable issues. It is important to remember that your role in the healing process can help to maintain sobriety. There is often support available to you to help you through this journey too.

Recognizing Signs of Addiction

While some are more obvious than others, ignoring signs of addiction is common with loved ones scared to face reality, but it’s essential. Intervening in an addict’s life is overwhelming, especially if you are in a living environment contributing to substance use. Paying attention to the most common signs of addiction is critical to intervening as early as possible. It’s crucial to note any physical or behavioral signs of addiction you notice.

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Behavioral Signs of Addiction You May Notice

  • Depression–appearing to have a low mood, seeming down, or using self-loathing language.
  • Anxiety-seeming on edge, fidgety or restless.
  • Choosing to isolate from family or friends–avoiding family and friends and social events when they wouldn’t before.
  • Acting secretively–as if they may be hiding something or acting strangely.
  • Mood swings–suddenly acting angry or aggressive seemingly out of the blue.
  • Stealing or borrowing money often–look for changes in spending habits and borrowing frequency.
  • Aggression and anger–acting more aggressive or angry than is usual.
  • Improper hygiene–neglecting personal appearance, showering, and brushing teeth less, wearing dirty clothes.

Physical Signs of Addiction To Watch Out For

  • Pale complexion–skin color seems paler than usual. This is often most noticeable in the face.
  • Watery or bloodshot eyes–look for changes in the whites of the eyes.
  • Sleeping patterns have changed- staying up at night and sleeping through the day and waking up late.
  • Changes in pupils–pupil size can be an indicator.
  • Tremors and shakiness, especially during specific times of the day–can be a sign of withdrawal.
  • Sweating–sweating can also be a sign of withdrawal.
  • Body odor–body odor may smell of alcohol or general body odor because of poor hygiene.
  • Appetite changes–eating less than usual, avoiding meals, or eating more than usual.
  • Weight loss or weight gain–sudden weight loss or weight gain due to appetite changes.
  • Bruises or needle marks on the arms–any bruises or needle marks on the arms can be from intravenous injecting.

Recognizing the above signs of addiction may be easier for some than for others. Regardless, it is vital to act on any suspicions appropriately. Speaking to an addiction specialist allows you to learn more about the first steps in helping the addict in your life.


It’s easy to blur the line between codependency and actual support when it comes to drug and alcohol addiction. Most times, it’s easy to see a pattern where one person is enabling another–for power or even to gain approval. Often, the enabler is not even aware of their actions or that they are contributing to their loved one’s addiction.

It’s important to recognize whether you are an enabler and to take steps to change this. Remember, many times there is no malice or bad intentions from the enabler but there is a line you need to be aware of.

So, if the line between being supportive and enabling is thin, how can you tell the difference? Keep these things in mind:

Boundaries: a supportive loved one will help the addict as much as possible but establish limits to ensure that they are not rewarding or enabling poor behavior. A codependent, enabling loved one has no boundaries or very loose ones. Therefore, they put themselves at risk to help their loved ones.

Primary Motives: a supportive loved one’s primary aim is to facilitate addiction recovery–from attending meetings to engaging in therapy. A codependent, enabling loved one instinctively wishes to keep the addict from reaching sobriety so that they continually rely on them.

Attachment: a supportive loved one will do whatever it takes to help the addict, but not at the sacrifice of their self-interest. A codependent, enabling loved one will go to great lengths to “be there” for the addict, sacrificing their money, energy, and time.

Codependency is extremely common in drug and alcohol addiction. Loved ones must take part in therapy to play a supportive role in the addiction recovery journey. Identifying the role you play in your loved one’s addiction is the first step to effectively offering support.

How Do I Get My Loved One Help?

Communicating to an addict that you want them to seek addiction treatment is never easy for anyone, but they will likely thank you later. What is the best way to confront them? Should you do it alone or with other loved ones? What type of response should you expect from the addict? These are common questions, and it is normal to feel hesitant and scared before having this extensive conversation.

The best first step is to sit down with your loved one and have an open, honest conversation with them. Share what you have observed about their behavior and how it has made you feel. Try to avoid blaming or criticizing them, as these types of conversations should happen later down the road with a professional therapist present. Continue to remind them you are there to support them and that this is coming from a place of love.

Remember that an addict may act defensively and deny their behaviors or physical symptoms. This is perfectly normal. Try to understand how difficult the conversation is for them as well as yourself. You may need to try to have the conversation several times before your loved one agrees to listen to you.

If the one-on-one conversation(s) goes poorly, or if you are too uncomfortable to have one, reach out to an addiction professional. It may be time to hold an intervention to get through to your loved one. Staging an intervention can be an extremely effective way to get through to your loved one about how the disease of addiction has affected their lives and the lives of those who love them most.

Some addicts require an intervention to give them a true understanding of their substance use issues. It’s important to keep trying to get through to your loved one about their addiction, it can sometimes take many attempts. However, part of being supportive is to keep offering support and to keep trying to get your loved one to understand the impact their addiction is having on their life and why recovery is important.

Don’t Forget To Look After Yourself

As a loved one of an addict, it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself. Your loved one’s addiction may take such a toll on your life that you find it difficult to keep on top of everyday tasks and neglect your mental health. We can often see this with carers as well, who become caught up caring for others and let their own needs slide. Remember to access resources that can help you and take a break if you need to. Although it can be tough to take a break and get away for a weekend, you likely need the respite.

Setting boundaries is something that many partners and family members of addicts struggle to do. This is completely understandable as you likely don’t want to upset your loved one, but boundaries are important. Offering healthy support to an addict is about setting boundaries for yourself and ensuring you stick to these. Doing this will help you look after yourself, meaning you’ll be a more supportive partner, friend or family member to your loved one throughout their recovery.

Resources for Loved Ones of an Addict

The emotions linked to dealing with an addict are complex. It’s easy to get lost in your feelings, from frustration to anger and grief to resentment. Without addressing these feelings, a person may experience deep pain and stress. It is essential to lean on resources geared specifically to the loved ones of an addict.

Al-Anon1 “a mutual support program for people whose lives have been affected by someone else’s drinking. By sharing common experiences and applying the Al-Anon principles, families and friends of alcoholics can bring positive changes to their situations, whether the alcoholic admits the existence of a drinking problem or seeks help.”

Learn more about Al-Anon

Nar-Anon2 “for those who are feeling desperation concerning the addiction problem of someone very near to them.”

Learn more about Nar-Anon

Family Therapy: the behaviors of an addict’s family can significantly contribute to their propensity to use. Working with a substance abuse therapist or an addiction counseling specialist can prove extremely helpful in guiding loved ones through the addiction recovery process.

Is your loved one struggling with a substance use disorder? The time to reach out for help is now. One of our addiction professionals is waiting for your call.

A Better Understanding

Creating a better understanding of your loved one’s addiction and treatment can be very useful. Learn more about treatment.

Taking The Next Step

As someone that is looking for help for a loved one, you are already helping them. If you are ready, you can call at (855) 928-1987 or email. You can also use the live chat feature on our website to speak to someone. We understand that taking the next step is difficult, but we are here to help in every way we can.


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