Knowing the Signs, Taking Action:Advice for People Who Are Worried about a Loved One's Substance Use

Knowing the Signs, Taking Action:Advice for People Who Are Worried about a Loved One's Substance Use



If someone you love is using intoxicants in spite of problems it’s causing at home, among friends and at work, they have a problem that requires immediate attention. They’ve reached a point where their use of drugs or alcohol has become more important to them than anything else. That’s self-destructive behavior, and it can be dangerous for others as well. If your loved one denies that there’s a problem and is unwilling to discuss the situation, it’s time to look for help.


But what can you do?


Your loved one may be vehemently, even violently, opposed to any kind of intervention. In such a situation, it can be easy to just give up and hope things get better. However, there are a number of steps you can take that may prove helpful. Try to find out as much as you can about the symptoms of abuse and addiction. Sudden and radical changes in behavior are often a clear sign that something’s wrong, as is avoiding contact with friends and family members. Discuss the situation with other family members. Find out if they’ve noticed the same changes you have. If you agree together that there’s a problem, you may need to determine who will be the one to contact a treatment professional.


Reaching out


It’s not always necessary to contact a mental health professional directly. Sometimes, a priest, guidance counselor, or co-worker can be helpful in encouraging the individual to seek treatment. If you do contact a professional, make sure you provide all the relevant details, including how often your loved one is using, how much, what substance you believe is involved, and how it’s affecting others. Remember, early intervention can prevent a loved one from “bottoming out” and doing themselves or others lasting damage.




It can be very painful and stressful to see someone you care about falling into a drug- or alcohol-induced tailspin. Seek help if the situation is affecting your emotional and psychological well-being - remember, it’s difficult to help someone if you’re struggling. Talking to a counselor may give you a fresh perspective on your loved one’s situation and help you cope with the difficulties that substance abuse creates. Talking to a health care professional can help you understand that you can’t control or cure a loved one’s addiction, which may give you some peace of mind when you realize that the only one who can make a real difference is the one who has the problem.


Raising the subject


People often hesitate to address a substance abuse problem head-on with someone they care about, because they fear they’ll lose a friend or because they worry it’ll only lead to a worsening of the behavior. There’s nothing wrong with addressing the problem - your loved one may be ready to have the talk. However, how you broach the subject is important. Find a time and place where the two of you can be alone and free of outside influences or distractions. Make sure they know that you care, and that you only have their best interests at heart. Be very careful not to judge or make accusations. Keep it non-confrontational. For more information on what to do, visit The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, SAMHSA website or call their national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.  In Canada, please visit The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction CCDUS.




Opioid addiction is a nationwide problem today. People often develop an addiction from taking pain pills that are intended to address a pre-existing condition. Addiction experts note, “America’s opioid epidemic has increased the need for quality addiction treatment and safe opioid detoxification.” If you know someone who is suffering from an opioid dependency, contact a mental health professional or clinical treatment center.


The cost of failing to act can be catastrophic when a loved one is suffering with a substance abuse problem. It’s important not to be afraid to take action, though it should always be done with care and respect. And don’t neglect your own well-being as you help your friend or family member through it all.


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About the Author

Bethany Hatton, a retired librarian with 32 years of experience, created after her oldest grandson became addicted to opioids. She analyzed, compiled, and categorized hundreds of resources so that she could be sure she included only the best of the best for her visitors. Though she discovered there is no guaranteed way to prevent addiction; she was able to find many helpful resources that can keep the public up to date on the latest prevention, addiction, and recovery information.

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