Drug addiction and substance abuse affect not only the addicted person themselves, but also their loved ones. Children, spouses, life-partners and parents all feel the impact of substance abuse.

While drug addicts need professional medical care and compassion to help them overcome their addictions, family members also need support and counselling to help them cope.

Denial and Enabling Doesn’t Help Addicts

Often, family members with the best of intentions can actually be doing more harm than good, without even realising it. Many addicts have close family members who are in denial about the problem, or who enable their addictive patterns by helping them to avoid the consequences.

Common unhealthy reactions to a loved one’s addiction include:

  • Denial: Refusing to admit that someone they love has an addiction problem, ignoring and avoiding the problem.
  • Co-dependence: An unhealthy attachment and involvement in a loved one’s life, a pattern of putting this other person’s needs before their own, and feelings of guilt when not taking care of the other person’s needs.
  • Enabling: Making excuses or defending the addict’s decisions or lying on their behalf to help them cover their tracks and avoid trouble.

While many people follow these behaviours because they believe they are helping or protecting the addict, they are unfortunately making the situation worse. The only way to truly help someone with an addiction is to face the facts and seek professional medical attention.

Advice for Family Members

If you have a relative or even a close friend with a substance abuse problem, here are some ways you can help yourself, and in turn, help them.

  • Learn the facts about addiction. Do some research and speak healthcare professionals. This will help you to separate the myths from the facts, and to better understand your loved one’s behaviour.
  • Don’t make yourself responsible for your loved one’s happiness or recovery. You can provide support, but they need to do the work to overcome their own addiction. You can’t do it for them.
  • Set healthy boundaries. Putting rules in place is part of loving someone without enabling them.
  • Attend family counselling sessions, where you and your loved one can discuss the issue in a safe, neutral environment with a professional.
  • Seek out support groups for families affected by addiction. Here you can connect with others who have been through similar experiences.

Once your loved one has admitted to having a problem and started the journey towards recovery, healing can begin. While they are going through this process, the best way to support them is to take care of your own emotional health and make sure you are getting the support you need as well.


10 Tips to Help Family Members of those Struggling with Addiction Cope. Retrieved from: https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/family-friend-portal/tips-help-cope/#gref