Trying to help an addict can be a long, challenging, and painful process for friends and family members. Unlike having a physically debilitating condition like cancer, an addict may not initially recognize the true danger of his illness or understand the inherent risks of not treating it. Before approaching an addict with the intention to help, it’s important to remember that, ultimately, no one but the addict himself is responsible for his recovery. Typically, an addict must be ready and willing to stop using and get help before the recovery process can even begin.

Talk to the Addict

Initially, attempt to talk with the addict in person. This approach can be less intimidating than staging an intervention with several people. Find a time when you can be alone with the addict and will be free of distractions or interruptions. Explain to the addict that you’re concerned about his behavior and ask if he is receptive to hearing your thoughts. Try to use non-blaming language and avoid raising your voice or getting angry. The addict will usually respond better if you convey that you are coming from a place of concern and compassion. It may help to talk about specific behaviors or incidents that have directly affected you as a result of the individual’s addiction.

If the addict is receptive to your thoughts and concerns, ask if he would be willing to seek professional help. Understand that the addict may not be open to discussing this option or that he may become defensive. If this is the case, let it go for the time being. Do not threaten or shame the addict. Instead, start communicating with other family members and concerned parties to begin planning an intervention.

Stage an Intervention

If the addict is in grave danger or is unresponsive to the concerns of loved ones, it may be helpful to stage an intervention. An intervention is usually conducted in a family member’s house or the addict’s home. It should be somewhere quiet where the addict feels safe. Do not attempt to lock doors or block the addict’s exits if the intervention does not go well. The addict should be able to leave at his will if he is not willing to be a part of the intervention.

Before organizing an intervention, it may be best to consult a professional substance abuse counselor, social worker, or other trusted health expert. Having this person at the intervention can be incredibly useful, especially if the addict does not respond well or becomes angry. Organize a time when friends, family, and other concerned parties can gather together. Allow at least a few hours for the intervention. Everyone in attendance should have enough time to communicate his or her thoughts and feelings.

Arrange to have the addict at the intervention and explain that you have gathered everyone there because you are concerned about the addict’s behavior. Have members explain specifically how the addict’s behavior has affected them and encourage them to express their concern for the addict’s welfare. It may also help to remind the addict of the consequences that could ensue if his behavior continues.

Offer the addict information and resources about different programs or treatment centers where he can start a recovery process. If he is willing, take the addict to a rehabilitation facility on the spot. If he is not willing, let him leave the intervention. You cannot force an addict to listen or to start a recovery program against his will.

Get Involved

Once the addict has started a recovery program, get involved with the process. If he is in a treatment center, visit him or send care packages if possible. Participate in family days or program sessions where you are welcome. Convey that you are willing to be a part of his recovery process and can support him in any way he needs. It may be helpful to purchase books or other resources that will help him in recovery. In general, it can be very helpful to the addict’s recovery if he has the support and involvement of his loved ones.

Let Go

Whether the addict is in recovery or still using, it’s critical for friends and family to learn the balance of involvement and detachment. Many professional resources are available to families and friends of addicts, such as 12-step programs like Al-Anon. If the addict is still using, explain to him what the boundaries of your relationship will be so long as he continues to use. It’s possible the addict will need to “hit bottom” before he asks for help or is willing to change. You may need to cut off contact in order to maintain your own mental health and emotional wellbeing.

If the addict is in recovery, show him support, but do not attempt to micromanage his life or his recovery process. Part of recovery is learning to be accountable and responsible for one’s own actions. In general, focus on yourself and determine how you can take care of your own needs. Unfortunately, loving an addict can be a difficult experience. The best thing loved ones can do to let the addict know you support him while still maintaining appropriate boundaries and protecting your own wellbeing.