How to: Handle a Friend or Family Member Struggling With Addiction

Girl with alcohol

Singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse's death this weekend sparked conversations about what those who loved her could have done to prevent her death. No matter how desperately they might try to control a chaotic situation, friends and family of drug addicts are ultimately incapable of achieving sobriety for the person close to them. Still, many organizations offer resources to the loved ones of drug addicts, including important strategies for supporting the drug addict during her/his recovery, without developing codependent tendencies.

Intervene. Reach out to others who are close to your friend or family member struggling with addiction. Discuss holding an intervention, during which your primary goal is to clearly and lovingly communicate how the addiction is affecting you and how your relationship with the addict will change if her/his drug or alcohol use continues.

Set boundaries. Once you've decided on the kind of relationship you're willing to have with the person struggling with addiction, hold yourself to those boundaries. If you continue to be the padding on which your friend or family members falls, you'll enable the addiction and hurt yourself in the process.

Provide love and support. Without violating the boundaries you've set for yourself, restate how much you love the person struggling with the addiction and reinforce how you're prepared to support the recovery process.

Learn about addiction. To really understand the psychology of addiction, you'll have to do some research. You'll learn that the addiction has absolutely nothing to do with you. You can't prevent drug or alcohol use and you'll never be the cause of a relapse. Drug addicts don't use out of spite for those around them and they rarely (if ever) stop using because someone else begged them to. Addiction is a disease, not a choice.

Watch yourself. If you notice yourself thinking about how you can control the addiction by attempting to manage the addict's money, cell phone, car or stress, reach out to your own support system. It can be hard to internalize the reality that addiction is neither your fault nor under your control. Loved ones of addicts can make themselves sick trying to save the addict from her/his disease. Ask for help or look into organizations like Al-Anon that hold meetings for families of drug addicts and alcoholics.