How to Love an Addict: The Essential Guide
At ALYST Health, we understand the deeply personal nature of addiction and the challenges that not only those dealing with it face but also the hardships their loved ones often experience. Witnessing a family memberor close friend struggle with addiction can be one of the most difficult experiences someone has to go through. If you love an addict, it’s common to feel a range of complex and sometimes conflicting emotions about how to best offer support.
We all wish that our love could be enough to solve the problem, but unfortunately, it isn’t. No matter how deeply you care about someone, it takes more than love alone for them to stop drinking or using, so don’t blame yourself if they continue. But that also isn’t a reason to give up.
We created this guide to help you navigate and better understand the nature of addiction while detailing healthy ways to uphold boundaries and provide meaningful support during recovery. With a compassionate approach, you can stand by your loved one on their journey toward recovery, knowing you’re doing everything you can to get them the help they need.
Addiction is a complex issue that impacts millions of individuals and families. When you love an addict, it’s vital to start with an understanding of the nature of addiction and what causes it.
Addiction is a complex brain disorder influenced by genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors. It is recognized as a medical condition by major health organizations, including the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the American Medical Association (AMA).
Current research shows that both genetic and environmental factors influence a person’s risk of developing an addiction. Genetically, some individuals may have variations in certain genes that regulate the brain’s reward pathways and response to drugs and alcohol. Environmentally, childhood trauma, stress, life changes, and mental health issues can change brain functions in ways that fuel addictive tendencies.
On a biological level, addictive substances flood the brain’s reward center with a chemical called dopamine, creating a powerful sense of pleasure and reward. With repeated use, the brain begins to associate drinking and substance use with this rush of dopamine, registering it as intrinsically rewarding and necessary for survival.
At the same time, the brain’s executive functioning and impulse control centers become impaired with excessive substance use. This makes it progressively more difficult to regulate cravings and moderate consumption. As the cycle of addiction takes hold, drinking and substance use are no longer about getting drunk or high, but rather about relieving negative emotional states and the withdrawal symptoms that occur in between uses.
Ultimately, nobody is to blame when an addiction takes hold of a loved one’s life, so harboring any individual resentment or pointing fingers often interferes with recovery.
Setting healthy boundaries with a loved one who’s struggling with addiction can be extremely challenging. However, when you love an addict, these boundaries are essential for your own well-being and for avoiding enabling behaviors that can prolong your loved one’s drinking or substance use.
It’s understandable to want to protect and care for someone you love when they’re suffering from addiction. However, some common behaviors like giving them money, lying for them, or perpetuating co-dependent relationships can actually enable their addiction by removing natural consequences and accountability.
On the other hand, abandoning your loved one or cutting off support completely rarely motivates change. The key is finding the delicate balance between supporting your loved one on their path to recovery while also maintaining boundaries that preserve your own mental well-being.
For example, you may choose to provide financial support for specific treatment-related expenses while refusing to give them cash that could be used to purchase drugs or alcohol. Or, you may be willing to provide rides to therapy or work, but not if your loved one has recently used or is under the influence.
Caring for a loved one dealing with an addiction often requires an incredible amount of physical and emotional energy. Without proper self-care, burnout, compassion fatigue, and frustration can quickly set in.
That’s why self-care is so vital when supporting someone with addiction. Simple practices like getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals, exercising, pursuing hobbies, and connecting with other supportive friends and family members can help replenish your reserves so you have the strength to maintain consistent boundaries.
It’s also common for the stress of addiction to negatively impact the mental health of family members. Seeking professional counseling or family therapy can help you process difficult emotions, regain perspective, and prevent resentment or enabling tendencies. Properly caring for yourself allows you to better care for your loved one while avoiding exhaustion that could lead you to compromise on boundaries.
Once you identify healthy boundaries that need to be put in place, clearly communicating those boundaries to your addicted loved one is the critical next step. Boundaries only work when they are concrete, consistent, and expressed directly rather than hinted at offhand. Often, interventions provide the best opportunity for doing so with a clean slate.
A professional interventionist can help you understand the importance of language in setting realistic, actionable boundaries as well as recovery goals. For example, saying, “I want you to stop asking me for money all the time,” leaves too much room for interpretation. A better boundary would be, “I will not give you any more cash going forward, but I’m happy to pay directly for a treatment program or other recovery-related expenses.”
Communicating boundaries compassionately but firmly, without guilt-tripping, blaming, or shaming, helps reinforce that consequences come from the addiction itself rather than from you. It also models good interpersonal skills for your loved one. Remember not to issue empty threats or consequences you can’t or won’t actually enforce. Addicts often become experts at testing and eroding boundaries, so following through on preset consequences shows you mean what you say.
Is it time to plan an intervention for your loved one? The Certified Interventionists at ALYST are ready to help.
Here’s what you need to know about the path to ongoing recovery for your loved one and how you can provide meaningful support along the way.
The road to recovery rarely follows a straight line. There are many ups and downs, setbacks, and milestones along the way. It takes an incredible amount of courage, commitment, and resilience to maintain sobriety in daily life.
In the early stages, withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings can be intense as the body adjusts to functioning without substances. This period requires close medical supervision and emotional support. Further along, addicted individuals must learn to create a new daily structure, cope with stressors, and avoid triggers that could lead to relapse.
At ALYST, we help participants and family members recognize that recovery is a lifelong process, not a single achievement. Lasting sobriety requires continuous self-work to identify unhealthy thought patterns, establish healthy routines, build a community of support, and find meaning in a sober lifestyle.
As a loved one, you play a critical role in motivating and encouraging. Here are some of the most meaningful ways to support them on their recovery journey:
- Express that you care, have faith, and take pride in their sobriety wins, both big and small
- Actively listen without judgment when they share struggles
- Gently encourage positive progress while reflecting on how far they’ve come when they feel discouraged
- Celebrate milestones while reminding them that recovery requires constant effort
- Provide reassurance that setbacks don’t mean failure
At the same time, be careful not to enable addictive behaviors or become over-involved to the point of sacrificing your own well-being. Maintain healthy boundaries and seek support when you feel overwhelmed.
At ALYST Health, we understand how difficult it can be for those struggling with addiction as well as their loved ones. While providing at-home treatment plans tailored to each individual’s needs, we also recognize that professional help is often necessary to successfully overcome addiction.
As a Joint-Commission-certified addiction treatment provider, we have real-world experience identifying when an addicted individual requires more assistance than family and friends can provide. There are several key signs that professional support should be sought:
- The person continues using substances despite negative consequences like legal troubles, relationship issues, or health problems.
- Previous attempts to get sober on your own or with conventional rehab have failed repeatedly.
- The person’s substance use is escalating over time rather than being brought under control.
- Family members and loved ones feel overwhelmed by their inability to help the addicted individual.
- The person expresses hopelessness about their substance use disorder or an inability to stop.
Seeking help at the first signs of problematic drinking or substance use provides the greatest chance for successful intervention and recovery. Our team can perform confidential assessments and customize treatment plans to assist individuals at any stage of addiction.
We offer a range of professional support options to make recovery realistic and sustainable for those struggling with addiction:
- At-Home Treatment: ALYST Health proudly offers the first and only fully accredited at-home addiction recovery program by the Joint Commission. Our creative approach addresses the challenges often encountered in traditional treatment settings. With 24-hour supervision and dedicated coaching, psychiatry services, therapeutic modalities (including EMDR, CBT, and DBT), and comprehensive treatment plans orchestrated by our skilled case management team, we empower your loved one with the resources necessary for ongoing recovery. We also provide ancillary services focused on well-being, such as dietary coaching, nutrition planning, life coaching, lab services, brain optimization, fitness instruction, acupuncture, massage therapy, and more.
- Virtual Care Team: For those who have completed a program and require post-treatment accountability and accessible treatment options, our Virtual Care Team is the ideal solution. We offer recovery coaching, therapeutic services, psychiatric assistance, and more, all delivered remotely.
- Accountability Program: Our Accountability Program is designed for individuals looking to validate their newfound recovery through secure and precise at-home lab testing. We conduct urine analysis for over 100 different substances, including illicit drugs and medication compliance. A dedicated case manager reviews the analysis results weekly with the individual and/or their family members.
Our dynamic services provided by accredited professionals allow customized, concierge support for your loved one’s unique situation.
Whether your loved one has tried rehab before or it’s the first time seeking help, ALYST Health invites you to explore our approach. If you still aren’t sure whether they need help, you can find clarity with our simple addiction quiz. When you’re ready to get started, contact our team to request a confidential consultation.