3 Ways to Help a Struggling Drug Addict

3 Ways to Help a Struggling Drug Addict


Photo by Montrasio International

I know how frustrating it can be to have a struggling drug addict or alcoholic in your life. It is painful to watch them spiral further and further out of control. So here are 3 ways that you can help them:

1) Setting boundaries

2) Interventions

3) Practicing detachment

Setting boundaries

It would be nice if we could just tell an addict to stop using drugs and get them to listen. Of course this never works in a direct way, so what you have to do is let the person know exactly what is acceptable behavior to you. For example, you might tell your spouse that if they go to jail again for drunk driving that you are not going to bail them out again. This is an example of setting a boundary. It is not a threat; instead you are simply stating what is unacceptable behavior in the relationship. Setting these types of boundaries might not change the addict’s behavior directly, but it can start to make a dent in their denial and get them thinking.

The key of course is to set healthy boundaries. Your strategy in setting effective boundaries should be to distance yourself from the chaos that an addict creates. Let them know that you are not going to be a part of that chaos. You will do everything you can to distance yourself from it while still attempting to care for them in some way.


There are 2 levels of interventions. First, you could do an informal intervention, where you simply confront the addict and attempt to talk to them about their problem and encourage them to get help. Then there is the formal intervention, where you arrange for professional services and likely get more friends and family members involved.

It makes sense to try several informal interventions before trying a formal intervention. One thing you might want to get clear on is the goal that you have in mind. It doesn’t do much good to simply talk with a struggling addict in general terms about getting help, because no specific actions will form and they can always placate your general suggestions with some generic promises of their own. This doesn’t help anyone.

So what you need to do–in any intervention–is get specific. The best way to do this is to figure out a specific treatment goal, such as attending a certain treatment and checking in to the detox unit. Sometimes it is even possible to call ahead and arrange such things beforehand in the hopes that an addict will agree to go get help.

This is the key point of organizing any level of intervention–get specific about what you want the person to do and then try to make things as easy as possible for the person to follow through with that action. This is really the best you can hope for in terms of motivating someone. Any type of threat is only likely to push them further into their addiction.

Practicing detachment

Another thing that you can do to help a struggling addict is to detach from them emotionally. This is difficult and might seem counter intuitive to some people, but in the long run it is the best behavior that you can display in order to move the addict closer to change.

The idea is to still care for and about the person without rescuing them from their own natural consequences. In other words, no more bailing them out of jail or trying to cover for them when they screw up really bad. Sometimes we have to back off and let them skin their knee a few times in order to learn a lesson. You can never deny an addict of their pain….they will always find a way to self destruct if that is their mission. Detachment is about letting them do this without becoming emotionally involved in their pain. Because when you become emotionally involved, you have a tendency to step in and rescue them from their pain and thus deny them of a learning experience. You deny them of the chance to suffer great pain that might force them to finally change.

So practice detachment and let them fall down and suffer their own consequences. If you continue to deny them these natural consequences then there is no motivation for them to change their life and seek help.

Sometimes pain is the only motivator that works. And sometimes even that fails.



  1. Our son is addicted to both drugs and alcohol and has stolen from us on numerous occasions. He finally got a job 5 minutes from our home, has court fees to pay, and probation to adhere to. Is it unreasonable not to want him in our home while we are away on vacation? Could we have him seek out an alternate place to live, while we are away? I want to begin establishing healthy boundaries with him, but need help. TY everyone…

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