Is My Friend or Loved One Going Through Addiction?

How can I tell, and what can I do to help? A supportive, compassionate presence is a difference-maker to those suffering addiction or starting recovery. Here's how you can be one

March 22, 2023
Person consoling a man

This is a difficult topic. Addiction is miserable for the person in the thick of it. But for the people in their life, it can be incredibly painful as well, and it can be just as hard to know what to do. Someone dealing with addiction may hurt you with their behavior, or it may hurt you to see them hurting.

Helplessness: That’s the word for the mix of heartbreak, anger, exasperation and impotence loved ones of people with addiction issues feel. Perhaps you can’t understand why they won’t just stop doing something that seems obviously harmful, yet there’s nothing you can do from the sidelines.

But that last part is not entirely true. It isn’t your responsibility to heal your loved one, but learning how to offer the right kind of support can be incredibly powerful. Simply offering a nurturing and empowering presence is a vital part of the healing process.

If you are concerned about a friend who may be battling an addiction, you can encourage them to consider sobriety and buck them up as they take steps toward recovery. Everyone reaches recovery in their own way. By offering your genuine love and support, regardless of where your friend is in their healing process, you provide a consistent and positive motivating force.

A Friend (Is) in Need: How Do I Recognize Addiction?

Anyone can suffer a mental health crisis, and addiction may not be what’s going on with your friend. (Even if it is, it’s unhelpful at best to jump to conclusions or make accusations.) But there are some symptoms that suggest substance use disorder (SUD). Generally, meeting two to three or more of these criteria in 12 months is considered to be an indication of SUD, drug dependence or addiction.

That’s a medical definition, and it is not your job to diagnose your loved one. But knowing how to tell when they may need help can jump-start their process of getting healthy.

Johns Hopkins Medicine highlights some of the most notable and noticeable symptoms of addiction you may see:

  • Using substances or alcohol beyond a healthy threshold
  • Difficulty with decreasing or ceasing the use of substances
  • Substances or alcohol interfere with daily tasks and responsibilities
  • Giving up on valued activities
  • Using substances or alcohol at the expense of important relationships and opportunities
  • Risking the safety of self and others with reckless behavior
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms or using substances in excess to avoid withdrawal

We’ve previously written in greater detail about addiction and its symptoms, if you’re looking to get a more complete understanding, but a trained medical professional should make the ultimate assessment. Some of the symptoms of addiction can overlap with other mental or physical health concerns. Encouraging your loved one to seek professional support will help them get the most thorough and well-rounded diagnosis.

How Can I Help? What Kind of Support Is There for Addiction Recovery?

There are many, many different pathways to addiction recovery. This is good news, of course, but it can be daunting to consider all of the options available; there have been many groundbreaking improvements to mental health treatment and addiction recovery in recent decades.

If your friend or loved one is ready and open to exploring recovery, helping them identify their particular needs and preferences can make searching for the right treatment and support feel a lot simpler.

Your loved one can get support through their addiction and recovery period via a number of options that you both might research:

An ideal addiction treatment plan is centered on the value and respect for the person overcoming their addiction. Different techniques, resources and connections can improve your loved one’s quality of life.

Finding the right support for your loved one is a collaborative journey. When your friend knows that they are supported and loved, the journey to healing and recovery will be much smoother. The inevitable challenges and changes that accompany early recovery will also feel less lonely — for both of you.

Take Care of Yourself, Support Your Loved One’s Recovery

Addiction, as you know, affects not just the person suffering but everyone who cares about them as well. For you, the friend or loved one, it can be intensely stressful and disorienting. If you want to take care of someone else, you have to take care of yourself first.

Maintaining your own well-being will help you get through this and can help strengthen the relationship you have with your loved one while they get help for their condition.

Consider some healthy ways you can support a loved one’s journey to sobriety, while being kind to yourself:

  • Prioritize your own mental health and emotional well-being.
  • Remember that it’s not your “job” to change their circumstances.
  • Listen with care and compassion.
  • Save any shaming, judgmental statements. If recovery is successful, you’ll have chances to say what you need to.
  • Avoid gossiping, coercing and other intrusive behaviors.
  • Consider finding a counselor or support group for friends and family of people with addiction issues.

Knowing the value of caring for yourself will give you the strength to be a healthy supporter to your loved one as they overcome addiction. It’s hard to experience these challenges with someone you love, but it may be the most important thing you ever do for them.

Using reliable self-care practices will help you maintain a balanced perspective amid a complex and emotionally charged situation. This way, you can manage your own needs and boundaries so that you can be present for those you love. As a bonus, when you prioritize your well-being, you’ll also be a positive example to your loved one overcoming addiction.

Keeping in mind that it is not your responsibility to heal or “save” your friend may lighten your burden as well. Knowing your role in your loved one’s healing process can alleviate some of the stress and relationship challenges that can flare up in these situations. It’s OK to simply be there for your loved one without judging them. It’s OK if that’s all you can do right now.

Offering your care and support makes it easier for your loved one to trust that you have their best interests at heart. Avoid trying to force or criticize your loved one into getting the help that you think they need. This particular bit of advice may not apply to every situation, especially extreme ones, but ultimately your loved one will have to determine what is best for themselves and their well-being.

Bearing witness to addiction takes great patience and compassion. Knowing your own needs and limits allows you to offer genuine care and connection that can encourage someone to take steps toward a better life.

If sobriety and recovery are the outcome, you’ll both have richer lives and, likely, a deeper connection on the other side of this ordeal.

More Help & Information

Airplane flying through pink clouds

Does the 'Pink Cloud' of New Sobriety Help or Hurt? It's Complicated

The euphoria of early recovery may be fleeting, but long-lasting balance is the goal. Here's how to keep your head up through the process and handle reality with confidence.

Auguste Rodin, The Thinker

Sobriety vs. Recovery: What's the Difference?

Are the concepts themselves up for debate? Do they require certain treatments, or abstinence from everything? It's complicated! And new ways of thinking are changing the conversation.

NFL players celebrate after a touchdown

Now Elite NFL Players, They First Tackled Addiction | News Roundup

All Sober compiles the best of the latest headlines. Here's your addiction and recovery news for the week of Feb. 19, 2024!

Family members in a counseling session

Help Them Help You: Explaining Your Mental Health to Your Family

Your mental health can affect — and be affected by — your loved ones. Here's how to discuss it with them so everyone can heal.

Two women hailing a cab in a city

Dry January (and Beyond): The Possibilities Are Endless

There's never been a better time to go sober. Whether you're trying it out this month or already living the life, join us for some tips, ideas, inspiration — and maybe even new friends.

Men hugging at a 12-step recovery meeting

Sober Holiday Tips: Meeting 'Share-a-Thons'

Need to get out of the house for a bit and see some friendly sober faces? Recovery support group meeting marathons run 24/7 from Christmas Eve through New Year's Day.

People hugging

What Happens After an Intervention?

Your loved one agreed to get treatment for addiction during their intervention — or not. Here's what you need to know about what comes next.

People in a recovery community support group meeting

We're in This Together: Building a Healthy Sober Support Network

You are the captain of your recovery, but you don't have to do it alone. A sober support network will lift you up in tough times and celebrate your triumphs.

New Report