7 Ways to Tell If Your Loved One Has an Addiction

And what you can and can't do about it

1. Trust your gut.

When observing a spouse, relative, or friend, look for certain telltale signs of addiction.

2. Watch for withdrawal symptoms.

People with an addiction sometimes try to stop on their own. If so, you’ll see signs of withdrawal and patterns of reuse. Sometimes medical monitoring is needed for withdrawal. 

3. Stay detached, but with love.

When dealing with a loved one’s addiction, remember this: You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it. You can address the issue of addiction with your loved one but any behavior change is up to them.

4. Consider mental health.

About 8.9 million persons have co-occurring disorders; they have both a mental health and a substance use disorder. The relationship between the two is complex and the treatment is difficult. Medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, and drug and alcohol counselors must work as a team to unravel and diagnose the problem and define the treatment.

5. Don’t judge.

Addiction is a disease. If the addicted person had a heart attack, would you stand back and blame them for their diet or lack of exercise or weight control? Most likely, you would rush to help. Alcohol and drug dependence is just like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. It’s just as life-threatening if left untreated.

6. Begin the conversation and keep expectations low.

It’s hard to know what to do or say, but the stakes are high—you may literally be saving a life. 

Remember these guidelines:

Do . . .

  • Bring up the issue when the person is sober
  • Express your concern in a caring and honest way
  • Talk about the effect the drinking or drug use has had on whatever he or she cares most about: career, children, sports, physical health
  • Have a support person with you or available by phone
  • Write down what you what you want to say ahead of time so you're prepared

Don't . . .

  • Bring up the issue when the person is drunk or high
  • Use a blaming tone
  • Offer solutions; you are not a chemical dependency professional
  • Try to change behaviors
  • Do this alone
  • Despair or take it personally if the conversation ends badly; you have planted a seed

7. When your loved one is open to professional help, start with a professional assessment.

Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and other addiction treatment centers have professional staff who conduct individual screening assessments to determine whether someone has an addiction. A professional assessment is the best way to clinically assess the problem, establish the facts, and determine what treatment will help lead to recovery and sobriety.

Are you or a loved one struggling with alcohol or other drugs?

Call toll-free to speak confidentially with a recovery expert now.

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