Treatment for a Loved One
Having a loved one that struggles with substance abuse can be incredibly difficult and finding treatment for him or her can add another layer of stress and confusion. However, navigating the addiction treatment landscape doesn’t have to be overwhelming.
Does My Loved One Have an Addiction?
Signs, symptoms, and behaviors related to addiction vary from person to person. You should always reach out to a healthcare professional, if possible, for proper evaluation and help determining the best course of treatment for your loved one. A medical or addiction professional can provide your loved one with a thorough assessment that evaluates mental health, physical health, severity of addiction, risk of experiencing a complicated withdrawal, and any other factors that influence the treatment plan. They can then refer your loved one to an appropriate level of care that can adequately address all problems. That being said, there are some general signs and symptoms of a drug addiction to be aware of.
The signs listed below are some general indicators that your loved one may be struggling with addiction and that they may benefit from treatment.
- Bloodshot or glazed eyes.
- Dilated or constricted pupils.
- Sudden weight changes.
- Rashes or other skin changes.
- Scars, bruises, infections, or other physical signs where a drug might enter the body.
- Increases in aggression or irritability.
- Changes in attitude/personality.
- Changes in one’s social network.
- Changes in habits and/or priorities.
- Lying, stealing, or covering tracks.
- Financial difficulties.
- Sudden criminal activity.
Your loved one may also be suffering from a substance use disorder (SUD) if they are:2
- Using the substance more often or in larger amounts than intended.
- Expressing a desire to quit or cut down but finding that attempts are unsuccessful.
- Experiencing cravings (an intense desire or urge for the drug).
- Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the substance.
- Using the substance in a way that is physically hazardous (e.g., with dirty needles).
- Neglecting their responsibilities at work, school, home, or other social domains.
- Continually using the substance despite significant social or interpersonal problems.
- Giving up previously enjoyed social, occupational, or recreational activities in favor of substance use.
- Using the substance despite knowledge of adverse physical or psychological consequences.
- Needing more and more of the substance to achieve the desired effect, also known as tolerance.
- Experiencing adverse physiological or psychological effects when stopping the drug, which often leads to reusing the substance to prevent such effects (i.e., withdrawal).
In summary, your loved one may have a problem with addiction if he or she:
- Uses substances in a way that harms their personal health, social relationships, occupation or other responsibilities.
- Uses substances to avoid unpleasant feelings or responsibilities.
- Experiences cravings, tolerance, and withdrawal.
Does My Loved One Need Treatment?
The decision of whether or not to get treatment for your loved one is hugely important. You may want to consult with a healthcare team (e.g., physician, psychologist), family members, or others before making a determination on next steps.
Ideally, the decision to seek treatment will be a collaborative one between you and your loved one. In some cases, however, involuntary treatment is appropriate and can still be effective.
If your loved one has been experiencing a prolonged substance addiction with repeated and unsuccessful efforts to stop or limit use, treatment will likely be necessary.
Benefits of Attending Drug Addiction Treatment
There are many pros to entering a treatment program, including: *
- Assessment, supervision, and treatment from a medical team. This is especially important during the detoxification phase, where withdrawal symptoms of certain substances can be life-threatening.
- Consultation, treatment planning, and therapy with a mental health team or substance abuse counselor.
- Interacting and learning from other patients with an addiction. Social support can be one of the most powerful tools in recovery.
- Development of a relapse prevention and aftercare plan, and follow-up from the treatment team.
* Some treatment centers may not offer all of these options.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment
If your loved one has a co-occurring psychiatric disorder, such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or post-traumatic stress disorder, they will need specialized treatment.
Make sure that the treatment center is experienced in dual diagnosis treatment—specialized treatment that simultaneously addresses the issues of both mental health and substance use disorders.
How to Approach a Loved One Who Needs Treatment
Communicating in a nonjudgmental, compassionate manner and demonstrating an empathic attitude are the most fundamental components of approaching a loved one. Try to meet them where they are, even if they express no desire to change. Too much pull on your part can create resistance in the opposite direction.
Individuals abusing substances are often very aware that people want them to change—from their family, to their friends, to society as a whole. Judgment and blame are common experiences of those struggling with substance abuse and are usually counterproductive. Instead of attempting to blame and force change, try weighing the pros and cons of treatment with them, and attempt to come to a decision together about whether or not to get help.
Some questions you might ask your loved one include:
- What do you like about using the drug? What sort of benefits does it bring you?
- What are the costs to using? What consequences—personal, occupational, social—have you experienced because of your substance use?
- What would be the hardest part of seeking treatment? What holds you back?
- What are the benefits of seeking treatment? How might you or your life change?
You can also look into approaches like Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT), which was developed to help concerned significant others approach loved ones about treatment. You can read more about CRAFT and seek out additional resources, including an online course for concerned parents.
Before beginning the process of attempting to help a loved one, it’s a good idea to educate yourself about the drug(s) they may be abusing. Read more about alcohol, prescription drugs, street drugs, or designer drugs.
Options for Treatment
Broadly, there are 2 types of treatment: inpatient and outpatient. Within these domains, there are various types of options and therapeutic approaches.
While inpatient treatment can be costly, many people feel that at least a short course of inpatient care may best promote recovery.
For those who cannot afford inpatient care or who cannot attend an inpatient program due to personal obligations, outpatient programs provide many of the benefits of inpatient care at a lower price point. They may not be the best option, however, for those who face numerous environmental triggers at home or who lack a supportive network.
What to Consider Before Choosing a Treatment Center
There are many things to consider when choosing the right rehab center for your family member or friend, such as location, cost, length of program, and the type of drug being abused. Be sure to do your research before enrolling your loved one in a program.
Choose a Treatment Program
If your loved one needs immediate medical attention, call 911 or go to your nearest hospital. If they are having thoughts of suicide, call 911 immediately or a suicide hotline, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1 1-888-851-2649 Who Answers? .
For assistance finding drug addiction treatment:
- Call 1-888-851-2649 Who Answers? to learn about inpatient options in your area.
- Contact your insurance company to discuss treatment options and providers that are covered under your plan.
- What to Do If Your Adult Friend or Loved One Has a Problem with Drugs
- What to Do if Your Teen or Young Adult Has a Problem with Drugs
- Buprenorphine Treatment Physician Locator
- Opioid Treatment Program Directory
- Seeking Drug Abuse Treatment: Know What to Ask
- What Is Substance Abuse Treatment? A Booklet for Families
- Family Checkup: Positive Parenting Prevents Drug Abuse
- Family Therapy Can Help: For People in Recovery From Mental Illness or Addiction
- American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-V). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.
- McLellan, A. T., Lewis, D. C., O’Brien, C. P., & Kleber, H. D. (2000). Drug dependence, a chronic medical illness: implications for treatment, insurance, and outcomes evaluation. JAMA, 284(13), 1689-1695.