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How to Help an Addict or Alcoholic Friend

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Drugs and alcohol have the potential to be both mentally and physically addicting, making it difficult for the addict to make the right choices about getting clean. Family and friends may want to help, and the first step should be to consult an addiction professional for advice.

Various Causes of Addiction

“Determining whether people are addicted is less about the amount of drugs and alcohol they consume and more about the consequences.”
Recreational alcohol consumption and drug abuse does not automatically lead to abuse. The point at which it becomes problematic and addiction sets in varies by individual. Determining whether people are addicted is less about the amount of drugs and alcohol they consume and more about the consequences. If you have a friend who is unable to stop consuming drugs or alcohol, or their personal, professional or academic lives are suffering from it, it is likely that your friend is addicted.

No one really understands why one person becomes addicted while others do not, but it is likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors as well as overall mental health. Risk factors for drug or alcohol addiction include:

  • Relatives who suffer from addiction
  • Traumatic childhood experiences, such as severe abuse or neglect
  • Mental illness
  • Experimenting with drugs or alcohol at a young age
  • The type of drug used
  • The manner in which the drug is taken, as smoking or injecting certain drugs can increase the potential for addiction

Did You Know?

The initial goal of any effective drug rehabilitation program is to get addicts to understand and acknowledge that they have a problem.

Importance of Understanding

drug addiction Learning how to help an addicted friend or family member is much easier if you have a good understanding of the basics of addiction. When people are addicted, they suffer both physical and psychological factors that make them unable to change their behavior. As the disease continues, the addict builds up a tolerance for the drug, making it necessary for them to take increasingly larger amounts to feel the same rush.

Before you can help a friend on drugs, you must understand that drugs alter the way the brain functions. The rush or high that an addict feels when he or she consumes drugs is caused by the brain releasing the hormone dopamine. The addict’s brain remembers the feeling of pleasure it got from the dopamine and craves more. It treats the drug consumption as if it were a survival mechanism such as eating or breathing. Blaming the addict or simply asking them to stop usually has little to no effect.

Did You Know?

The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion states that alcohol addiction can cause physical as well as mental problems, including heart disease, cancer, liver failure, antisocial personality disorder, anxiety and depression.

What are Some Common Myths?

Experts agree that addiction is a disease, but some people believe that there is nothing you can do to reverse it. While there may not be a cure for addiction, you can control addiction through therapy, exercise and medications so it no longer takes over your life.
“The longer the addiction continues, the stronger it becomes…”
Addicts do not have to hit rock bottom in order to get to a point where rehabilitation will be successful. Learning how to help an addicted friend or family member involves getting them started on the recovery process as soon as possible. The longer the addiction continues, the stronger it becomes and the more drugs the addict must consume to get the same high.

Dealing with a drug-addicted friend may mean forcing them into treatment, despite the popular belief that addicts must want to help themselves in order for rehabilitation to be successful. Addiction treatment does not need to be voluntary to work well, which is why the legal system often makes drug rehabilitation part of sentencing.

Did You Know?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that in 2009, over 500,000 hospital emergency room visits stemmed from alcohol consumption combined with drug use.

What You can do to Help

professional helpIf you have a friend or family member who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, there are things you should do. How to help an addicted friend get into treatment begins by opening a discussion. Start by talking to them about your suspicions and concerns, and let them know that you are ready and willing to lend them as much help and support as needed. Prepare yourself for the inevitable excuses and denial of the problem by detailing specific incidents and examples of negative behaviors that have resulted from the addiction.

Keep safe during the pre-rehabilitation period and never put yourself in a dangerous situation. Dealing with a drug-addicted friend, for example, does not mean that you should put yourself at risk by accompanying them to purchase drugs or allowing them in your house. If alcohol is the cause of the addiction, never ride as a passenger in a car that is driven by the alcoholic.

The top lesson to learn about how to help an addicted friend or family member is to make the time to take care of your own life. No matter how much you want to help, you cannot let their problems overshadow your needs. You will need a strong support network of family, friends and addiction professionals in your corner, and we can help you put that together. Call us today for more information on creating a support network at .

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The editorial staff of is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands of pages for accuracy and relevance. Our reviewers consistently monitor the latest research from SAMHSA, NIDA, and other reputable sources to provide our readers the most accurate content on the web.
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