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Help and Guidance for Families of Addicts

Family Addiction Treatment Guide

What to do if your Family Member is Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol

Perhaps you've just found out that your family member is addicted to alcohol or drugs. This information comes as quite a shock to you. It was very unexpected. Or, maybe you've known about the addiction for quite some time. You just didn't know what to do about it, or how to help.

Both situations are very difficult, and sadly, they are situations that families find themselves in every day. You know there's a problem, but your loved one is in complete denial. What this generally means is that he or she is being controlled by the addiction.

It's such a helpless feeling when you have a family member who is an addict. You find yourself worrying constantly, wondering if there's anything you can do to help. There are actually many things you can do.

Addiction and Your Loved One

It's important for you to know as much as you possibly can about your loved ones addiction. You also need to know what the options are for getting help. This is something that's probably very unfamiliar to you, and at Northpoint Washington, we want to help.

We have created this guide for family members of addicts to provide the information you need.

Please know that you are not out of options in this situation. It may help you to know that you're not alone. There have been so many other families who have struggled the same way you are now. They were able to get help, and you can too.

All of your questions should be answered in the information below.

The Addiction Problem in the United States

Alcohol and drug addiction certainly isn't a new problem in our country. However, it is a problem that has been getting progressively worse. In most cases, and with most types of drugs, addiction is now the worst it's ever been.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

$700 Billion

More than $700 billion a year is spent because of the abuse of alcohol and drugs. This money contributes to crime, healthcare and lost work productivity.

23.5 Million

23.5 million people needed treatment for a drug or alcohol problem in 2009. This number accounted for 9.3% of everyone over the age of 12.

2.6 Million

Only 2.6 million of these individuals received the treatment they needed for recovery. This number is up from 2008, when the number of people who received treatment was 1.8 million.

Most of treatment admissions were due to alcohol abuse (23.1%). 20% of these admissions were because of heroin and other opiates. 17% of them were because of marijuana abuse.

As the years have gone by, the alcohol and drug problem in the United States has become an epidemic. In fact, there are many who believe that we aren't doing enough to offer the needed help.

U.S. News and World Report states that:

  • Currently, addiction is the most neglected disease in the United States.
  • There are 40 million Americans who meet the criteria for addiction.
  • That number is more than the number of people with cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
  • 80 million people are said to meet the criteria for being risky substances users.
  • In 2010, more than 38,000 people died of a drug overdose.
  • This number is greater than the number of deaths from accidents, suicides and homicides.
  • Opioid overdoses have grown incredibly over the last several years. Many are calling opiate addiction the fastest growing drug problem.
  • Only 10% of people who need treatment get the help they need.

Clearly, the United States has a serious addiction problem. If your loved one is addicted, he or she is not alone. You're also not alone. There are so many families who are struggling just like you are now. The key is to get the right information so that you know what to do, and how to be supportive.

Is Your Family Member Addicted to Alcohol or Drugs? How You Can Tell

If you've never dealt with addiction before, you might be wondering if you're wrong. After all, your loved one may be denying everything. Yet, you're still very suspicious. It's not always easy to tell if someone you love has an addiction. Many addicts are very good at keeping the signs of addiction hidden. If you know the various signs of addiction, it can help you tremendously.

Some of the most common signs of addiction include:

  • Experiencing temporary blackouts or memory loss
  • Frequently arguing with friends or family members
  • Becoming very depressed
  • Having frequent mood swings
  • Bouts of irritability or anger
  • Using the argument that using substances makes him or her feel normal
  • Having signs of withdrawal when substances are not being used
  • Lying about substance abuse
  • Using alcohol or drugs more often than the individual wants to
  • Using substances even when they promised they wouldn't
  • Neglecting activities that were once important
  • Taking big risks in order to obtain drugs or alcohol
  • Spending a lot of money on substances
  • Having problems at work because of substance abuse
  • Only using alcohol or drugs in secret
  • Needing to use larger amounts of drugs or alcohol to get the desired result
  • Continued use despite health problems
  • Having problems at school or work
  • Significant relationship issues
  • A decline in one's physical appearance

Some of the physical signs of addiction that you might want to look for include:

  • Having problems sleeping at night
  • Feeling fatigued during the day
  • Appetite loss and weight loss
  • Complaining of chronic headaches
  • Having flushed skin
  • Broken capillaries on the face
  • Talking with a husky voice
  • Frequent trembling of the hands
  • Throwing up blood
  • Ongoing diarrhea or other digestive issues
  • Dilated pupils

You may find that it gives you some additional insight to take a quiz regarding your family member's substance use. You can also answer some questions about behaviors he or she has been exhibiting lately. For instance:

  • Does it appear that your loved one can't relax unless he or she has been using?
  • Have you ever witnessed a blackout?
  • Has your family member ever complained of not being able to remember something clearly?
  • Does your loved one leave substance use paraphernalia lying around the house?
  • Has your family member ever lied about his or her substance use habits?
  • Has your family member tried to stop using substances before, but couldn't?
  • Has he or she recently been fired from a job because of drug or alcohol use?
  • Has your family member ever had any legal issues that were directly tied to substance abuse?
  • Does your loved one seem to have a hard time taking care of him or herself?
  • Has he or she become isolated from friends and family?
  • Has your loved one stopped participating in activities that were once enjoyable?
  • Have you noticed that your family member is spending time with a questionable group of people?
  • Does your loved one frequently become angry or irritable for no apparent reason?

These are important questions. Answering yes to more than one or two of them is an indication that there may be an addiction present.

If you're concerned that your loved one might have an addiction, you're probably right. You don't have to know much about addiction to know when there is a serious problem. Don't second-guess yourself.

The best thing you can do is to learn as much about addiction as you possibly can. This will allow you to offer the right kind of help, and get help for yourself too.

Information You Should Know About Addiction

If there is one thing that's true about addiction, it's that it is never a clean-cut problem. Drug and alcohol addiction is complicated, and there's so much to understand. Educating yourself will prepare you to help your loved one to the best of your ability.

This information will help you to understand what addiction is in greater detail.

A drug or alcohol addiction has been labeled a brain disease. This is something that is hard for many people to understand. If you have never experienced it yourself, you may assume that your loved one should just stop using. Unfortunately, it's just not that simple.

When someone cannot stop using substances, even if they want to, they have an addiction. This means that their urge to use is too strong for them to control. That's why so many people continue to use even when it's causing them harm.

When people begin using substances, they don't plan to get addicted to them. They may use for any number of reasons. However, in the end, they just like how it makes them feel. For a while, they can control how much and how often they use, but that doesn't last for long.

When someone has an addiction, they need professional treatment in order to stop using successfully. Going to a drug or alcohol rehab will also help them quit safely, and avoid relapsing.

People commonly confuse the terms abuse and addiction. They think they mean the same thing, but they are actually quite different. This may have been very confusing for you as well.

Alcohol or drug abuse refers to the use of the substance without feeling a need to use. At this point, it's a want, and not a need. The individual may desire the good feelings that are experienced when using. However, he or she doesn't feel as though it's necessary to use to feel normal.

As alcohol or drug use becomes more common, that is when the addiction begins to set in. Substances cause major changes with brain chemistry. On its own, the brain normally creates dopamine and serotonin. These are the chemicals that are responsible for a number of important jobs in the body. They are created when you're happy and they also help you feel secure and protected.

As an addiction progresses, the brain stops creating these chemicals on its own. The substances begin to take over the job. They cause a surplus of them in the brain. This is why people say they need to use to feel normal.

It doesn't always take a long time before abuse turns into addiction. It can even happen instantly with some types of substances. Addiction always starts with abuse, but the two are by no means interchangeable.

When your loved one suffers from an addiction, it's typical to think you might be to blame. Maybe you said or did something wrong that caused him or her to make the decision to use. This is rarely the case.

The fact is that scientists still don't really know what causes addiction. Even so, they have some ideas as to what could possibly lead to it.

  • Genetic Factors: A genetic predisposition has been shown to contribute to many cases of addiction. In fact, when someone's parent is an addict, that individual is eight times more likely to be an addict too. Genetics are responsible for about 50% of all addictions.
  • An Abundance of Stress: So many people turn to drugs or alcohol for solace because of stress. Substances offer a chance to relax and let everything go. This makes them very attractive to someone who frequently combats stress. In fact, this is one reason why so many high-powered executives have addictions.
  • The Presence of a Mental Illness: When there is a mental illness present, the risk of addiction dramatically increases. According to SAMHSA, in 2014, 7.9 million people suffered from both addiction and a mental illness.
  • Environmental Factors: Various environmental issues can also be a factor. The person's ties to the community, his or her peers, and other factors can all play a role.
  • Traumatic Events: Trauma is such a serious problem, and it frequently contributes to addictions. To make matters worse, sometimes traumatic events can go undiscovered for years. It is possible for your loved one to have lived through a trauma and not remember it. If this has happened, it may be really difficult to decipher what led to the addiction.

Withdrawal symptoms are what occurs when an addict has not been able to use for a period of time. Most addicts understand what withdrawal is because they've experienced it. However, it's usually to a much lesser degree than if they were to just quit using.

There are many different types of withdrawal symptoms, and they vary based on the type of drug being used. They are both physical and psychological.

Physical withdrawal symptoms might include:

  • Getting frequent headaches
  • Having nausea or vomiting
  • Having abdominal pain
  • Losing one's appetite
  • Losing or gaining weight
  • Experiencing respiratory distress
  • Digestive problems like diarrhea or constipation
  • Shaky hands
  • Intense cravings for substances

Some common psychological withdrawal symptoms might include:

  • Symptoms of anxiety
  • Depression that could even lead to suicidal thoughts
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Intense mood swings
  • Anger or irritability
  • Insomnia or fatigue
  • Brain fog or confusion

In some cases, withdrawal symptoms can even become more severe. People do develop serious medical complications from withdrawal. Some of these symptoms might include:

  • Heart problems, such as a heart attack or palpitations
  • High blood pressure
  • High heart rate
  • The onset of seizures
  • Coma
  • Stroke
  • Kidney failure
  • Liver failure

Withdrawal symptoms generally start off relatively mild. This is what makes many people feel that they can quit when they want to. They believe that they understand what withdrawal is, and it's "not that bad." Unfortunately, as withdrawal symptoms progress, they generally get worse.

Withdrawal usually peaks within the first three to five days, but symptoms can persist for as long several weeks. There are some types of drugs, such as heroin, that can even produce withdrawal symptoms years after the last use.

Family Addiction FAQ

When someone has an addiction, drug and alcohol rehab is vital for them to recover. They may disagree. They may argue that they don't need to go to rehab because they are in control of the problem. While that person might believe that, it's simply not true.

It's so important for your loved one to have the needed support during this important time. So many different problems can occur when one stops using alcohol or drugs. Having professional guidance throughout the process will help your loved one stay safe. It will also produce a much better result.

So many people end up relapsing back into their old substance use patterns when they don't get help. This is definitely not something you want to happen to your family member. Relapsing means that he or she is at a high risk for overdose.

It might seem difficult to believe it, but many people consider quitting cold turkey first. They tell themselves that they'll try it on their own first. If that doesn't work, they'll begin to entertain the thought of professional treatment.

That might be something that your loved one has said to you, and it might be worrying you. Even so, there probably isn't much you can do or say to stop the attempt. However, what can be helpful for you is knowing as much as you can about what's about to happen. It will also benefit you (and your loved one) if you know what could happen.

Withdrawal Symptoms

If your loved one makes the decision to stop using drugs cold turkey, be prepared for the withdrawal symptoms. Your family member probably doesn't know much about withdrawal, other than the mild symptoms he or she has already experienced. You will want to be supportive with the attempt. It will help you to talk about withdrawal together.

Do some research on the types of withdrawal symptoms your loved one is likely to experience. Once you get a list together, share them with him or her. For example, if your family member is addicted to marijuana, look up marijuana withdrawal symptoms. Create a list and share it with him or her. Talk about different ways to manage the symptoms before the cessation of the drug begins.

The support that you're able to offer during this time will make such a big difference. If the quit doesn't work, your loved one may be much more willing to consider treatment afterwards.


It's important for you to understand that relapses back into alcohol or drug use do happen. They happen often, and this is something you should be prepared for. If your loved one suffers from a relapse, there are a few things you need to be aware of.

One reason a drug or alcohol relapse can be very dangerous because it can lead to a greater dependence. Many times, relapsing back into alcohol or drug use only makes the addiction stronger. This is because it is reinforced to the brain that drugs or alcohol are necessary for survival. Your loved one's brain begins to think, "See? I need this. I can't quit using."

As you can probably guess, the more often a person relapses, the stronger this need to use becomes. Eventually, your family member may come to believe that this is just the way life was meant to be. You, of course, know that this isn't true. It may even be helpful for you to share with your loved one about the dangers of relapsing.


Relapsing back into alcohol or drug use can also have a more dangerous outcome. So many people end up overdosing when they relapse. Overdoses can be fatal. An overdose should be your primary concern because they happen often when someone relapses.

While there's nothing you can do to prevent an overdose, it's important for you to know the signs of one. Knowing the signs of an overdose can help you act quickly.

Some of the signs of a drug or alcohol overdose include:

  • Severe chest pain
  • Becoming disoriented or confused
  • Experiencing a severe headache
  • Having seizures
  • Breathing problems
  • A very high temperature
  • Becoming paranoid
  • Experiencing agitation or anger
  • Having hallucinations
  • Becoming unconscious
  • Gurgling sounds or snoring
  • Blue lips or blue fingertips
  • Lifeless arms and legs

When you check on a loved one and you can't get a response, it may be because of an overdose. Please don't assume that the individual is just in a deep sleep. Overdoses don't always happen quickly. Sometimes they can take several hours. Taking quick action during that time can save your loved one's life.

If you suspect that your loved one has overdosed, there are a few things you should do:

  • Call 911 and request an ambulance immediately. Tell the operator that you suspect an overdose.
  • Stay with your loved one and talk with him or her. Assure them that everything will be OK.
  • If your family member is unconscious, keep trying to get a response. Call his or her name, and try different ways to wake them up.
  • If you're not able to get a response, turn your loved one on their side. This will help prevent choking if your family member starts to vomit.
  • If your loved one is awake, but hot or agitated, try to move them to a quiet, cool place.

Remember, your loved one does not have to have all of the above signs of an overdose to have overdosed. Even just a few of them could indicate a problem.

When emergency personnel arrive on the scene, they can administer medications and CPR, if necessary. Naloxone is a medication that is often used to counteract overdoses. It works really well.

Even if your family member asks you not to call 911, please ignore their pleas. Not calling could be the difference between life and death.

If you're encouraging your loved one to go to addiction treatment, it's helpful to know the various options. He or she may ask you what the different types are, and you'll want to provide information. If you know how to answer the questions, it may help your family member to make a good decision.

There are so many different options available for drug and alcohol treatment. Not all options are right for everyone. The most important thing is for your loved one to find the right one for them.

These options include:

Alcohol or Drug Detox

Not everyone needs drug or alcohol detox as the first step in their treatment. However, it is highly recommended for the vast majority of those with addictions. Detoxification is a process of cleansing the body from toxins. It is required for alcoholics, and highly recommended for those who use heroin or prescription pain medications.

During alcohol or drug detox, the goal is to help the patient get through the withdrawal phase. Symptoms can be managed easily in a professional setting. This not only makes the process easier on the body, but it makes it much safer too. The risk of medical complications when substances are stopped is greatly reduced. The patient also has a greater chance of a successful recovery.

Inpatient Alcohol or Drug Rehab

Most people think of inpatient treatment when they think of rehab. That's because it is definitely the most popular. Inpatient rehab offers a tremendous amount of support, which many people need. The beginning of a quit is the most difficult, and it helps to have support around the clock.

An inpatient stay will generally last for about 30 days. It will involve group therapy, individual therapy and additional types of treatment. It's normal for people to be resistant about going to inpatient treatment. However, most find it to be one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives.

Outpatient Drug or Alcohol Rehab

Outpatient drug or alcohol rehab is also one option available to addicts. However, this method is generally reserved for those who have been through inpatient rehab. If your loved one's addiction is new, or deemed to be not quite as severe, outpatient may be an option.

During outpatient rehab, patients go to appointments regularly. They talk with a counselor during their appointments and work on recovering. Many therapists recommend pairing a support group with outpatient therapy.

Intensive Outpatient Drug or Alcohol Rehab

Intensive outpatient treatment is an excellent option for those who can't go to inpatient rehab. These are individuals who need a higher level of care, but other responsibilities prevent from inpatient treatment. For many of these programs, the hours are very flexible. Patients may go to treatment several days a week during the evenings.

During intensive outpatient treatment, patients will participate in support group and work with a therapist in a one-on-one setting. Many people have experienced great benefits from the availability of this type of treatment.

Long-Term or Residential Treatment

30 days is not enough time to recover for many people. They need longer-term treatment for recovery to benefit them. For these individuals, a long-term treatment facility is the best choice.

Long-term or residential treatment offers so many great benefits. Patients can stay for as long as six months, or even longer in some cases. These facilities are all set up differently. Some of them allow patients to even hold down jobs while they get treatment.

The support offered in long-term treatment is exceptional, which makes it a great choice for those who need it.

An Outpatient 12 Step Program

Outpatient 12 Step Programs are great for anyone who needs group support. There are typically two different kinds of programs to choose from.

Alcoholics Anonymous is an organization that offers help for recovering alcoholics. Meetings are held once a week, and they are located all over the country.

Like AA, Narcotics Anonymous is also a support group, but it's targeted toward drug addicts. NA meetings are free to attend, and the only requirement is to be free of drug use.

Your loved one may have been hesitant to go to rehab because of the inability to pay for it. Likewise, this may also be a concern that you have as well. Many people don't realize the type of help that is available for them through their own health insurance companies.

Health Insurance Benefits

Your family member's health insurance offers benefits to help cover the costs of rehab. This is actually a requirement under the Affordable Care Act. All health insurance plans are different. However, many of them have started to cover the costs of drug and alcohol treatment in full.

If your family member does not have health insurance, it's easy to apply for it. Simply visit and choose the right plan.

Government Funding is Available for Rehab

There are a lot of people in the United States who are unable to afford addiction treatment. For these individuals, a state-run facility might be the best choice. These treatment centers receive government grants to help those who can't afford rehab.

Paying for Drug and Alcohol Treatment with Cash

Maybe you or someone you know is able to help your family member cover the costs of rehab. It is possible to pay with cash, if that is the preference. Your family member can also apply for a personal loan to cover the costs.

Talking with your loved one about their addiction and treatment may be the most difficult discussion you ever have. Still, it's something that you need to do for his or her own good. The question is, how do you do it?

There are a few things you'll want to remember, and they include:

  • Make a plan ahead of time. You'll want to know what you're going to say. You'll also need research to back up your claims. Arm yourself with as much information as you possibly can.
  • Be kind, but firm in the words that you choose. You don't really know how your loved one will react to you. It's possible that he or she realizes the truth, but needed someone to talk to about it.
  • Take the time to listen to your family member's words too. You want to be listened to, so model that behavior.
  • Demonstrate unconditional love to your family member. It's not enough just to tell them you love them. Show it in your words and in your actions.
  • Be firm about various limits within your home. They will be hard to reinforce, but stick to your grounds. Every decision you make now is laying the groundwork for the change you desire to see.
  • Be very clear about the changes you would like to see your loved one undertake. Talk about how the addiction makes you feel, and appeal to the heart.

You will want to be prepared for your words to fall upon deaf ears. If they don't, that's great. However, most of the time addicted family members are resistant to changes. If that's the case in your situation, you do have other options.

When you schedule an intervention, you're involving other people in this process. Interventionists at an addiction treatment center oversee interventions, and they walk families through all the steps.

You may meet with the interventionist before you meet with your loved one, and this is an important step. During this meeting, you'll get a chance to share your concerns. You'll also get some feedback on various limits you need to set if treatment is not sought.

The intervention itself will involve your loved one and other friends and family members. You'll all meet together and talk about the addiction. You'll have a chance to speak your mind, and others will too. Quite often, people involved in interventions end up agreeing to get treatment.

Once your loved one is in treatment, you'll want to remain as involved as possible. You can check with your chosen facility to find out when the visiting hours are. You may have to make arrangements for visits and phone calls.

Also, you'll be able to set up family meetings with your loved one's therapist. The meetings will offer you tremendous support. They will also help you to work through some personal issues you have with your loved one.

You've been through a lot if you have a loved one with an addiction. You need to get help for yourself too. There are a few ways you can do that.

Al-Anon is an organization for families of addicts. They offer support groups to provide encouragement and help. These meetings take place every week.

If you have children in your home who were affected by the addiction, help is available. Alateen is an organization through Al-Anon that is specifically for them.

You may also want to consider going to a therapist to talk about the issues you've faced.

Contacting Northpoint Washington for the Help You Need

Right now, it's understandable if you feel that the situation you're facing is dire. You only want the best for your family member. Every day that continues the same way has you worrying more and more. You long for the day when your loved one makes the decision to make a change. For you, that day can't come soon enough.

Here at Northpoint Washington, we understand your frustration. We know how you feel. It's incredibly heartbreaking when someone you love so much continues to use drugs and alcohol. We want you to know that your hands are not as tied as they may seem to be.

Your first step should be to try to have a conversation with him or her about the addiction. If that doesn't work, an intervention might need to be the next step you take. We have seen so many successful interventions here at Northpoint Washington. There's no reason why it shouldn't work for your family member too.

How can we help you encourage your loved one to go to drug rehab or alcohol rehab? Please contact us so that we can discuss your options. We'd love to figure out the best way to help you together.