How to help an addict

Dealing with addiction can be very difficult for the family and friends of an addict. They are often in the most difficult position, because they don’t want to create rifts in their relationship or alienate addicted person. Dr Cheryl Rezek shares her tips for identifying addiction problems.


To protect that an addict from getting into trouble, friends or family might make excuses for them, bail them out financially, cover their tracks or take on their responsibilities as a way of keeping the peace. They will often try to do everything possible to hold their relationship with the addicted person together and reduce the risk of retaliation, whether physical, emotional or verbal.

Are you really helping them?

If you are trying to help an addict, ask yourself what you are doing that is allowing that person's behaviour to continue. It may be, even if it is hard to acknowledge, that you go out late at night to fetch them because they can’t drive or have missed the last train, and you would prefer to have them safe. Or perhaps you threaten to leave the relationship but always return despite endless arguments. Maybe you just accept the other person’s behaviour as part of their personality, despite feeling lonely and uncared for.

Seek outside help

This assistance is often given with the best of intentions but it is co-dependent behaviour that allows the situation to remain the same. If this sounds like you or someone you know, you should seek professional help or that of a support group to learn about what steps to take. Arguments and attempts at reasoning usually go nowhere. Setting boundaries and sticking to them is essential - if you make a statement, stick with it even if it is difficult.

They have to help themselves

If the using person refuses to admit to a problem, then you must make a decision as to what you need to do. It isn’t easy, but you are responsible for taking care of yourself just as the person using needs to take responsibility for what they are doing and the consequences that come with it (debt, prosecution, separation, loss of job and so forth). You cannot fix that person. You can assist, be supportive, give encouragement and deal with your own part in the situation, but you cannot ultimately be responsible for the person continuing his or her destructive behaviour.

Most people with a serious addiction need to hit their own point where they finally say to themselves 'I need help'. Once people are in recovery, you still need to keep to your boundaries and limits. Relapses occur, but excuses for it won’t help. Most importantly, remember that every action has a consequence for both of you.