Person in shadow seated on the floor of a hallway, while resting his head on his folded arms resting on his knees

It can be very difficult to be a bystander in a situation like this, knowing that the person on the other side can improve their life if they just acknowledge the problem and take the right steps to combat it.

In this situation, you may feel like you have exhausted all your options when it comes to trying to help someone with substance abuse disorder—and the reality is that sometimes that may be true. But that doesn’t mean you should stop trying. Helping an addict or alcoholic takes education, persistence, and patience.

The following are points to keep in mind when attempting to intervene or help someone battle substance abuse and addiction.

Develop An Understanding Of What Denial Is

In order to understand what goes on in the mind of someone battling substance abuse and in denial, it is important to understand exactly what denial is in a situation such as this.

According to Merriam-Webster, the psychological definition of denial is “a condition in which someone will not admit that something sad, painful, etc., is true or real.” Often it is difficult for addicts and alcoholics to reach out for help because they don’t think any problem exists—denial is that powerful. Denial can also be a coping mechanism of sorts. Someone with a substance abuse disorder may have an inkling that something is wrong, but they may remain adamant in their denial of a problem in order to keep drinking or using.

Do Not Enable An Addict Or Alcoholic

Sometimes family members and friends of someone with a substance abuse disorder make the mistake of enabling the addict or alcoholic through their own behaviors. In this sense, enabling means that family or friend’s actions allow the addict or alcoholic to continue their self-destructive behavior. This could mean paying their legal fines, bailing them out of jail, or even continuing to forgive them time and time again. In order to stop enabling someone, it may feel like you’re too harsh or mean. But ultimately, when you stop enabling someone it is a sign of how much you care for them.

This can often be a sign of codependency. If you think that you might be in a codependent relationship, it’s important to seek help not just for your loved one, but yourself.

Pay Attention To How You Approach Someone With A Substance Abuse Disorder

If you broach the topic too often or too aggressively, threatening legal action or rehab, it is likely the addict or alcoholic in your life will begin to pull away and seek comfort in using. Social stigma can be the biggest barrier to treatment for those unwilling to seek treatment.

Before confronting the addict or alcoholic, think through what you want to say. This may mean planning an intervention. Come up with specific instances that demonstrate how their addiction has become detrimental to their life and the lives of those around them. Try to convey how their addiction has affected you specifically. Do not cast blame or negativity, but rather focus on why you why like to see your loved one lead a better, substance-free life. Express that while there is no easy cure for addiction, you are committed to helping in any way possible.

Make It Clear That You Will Help When They Are Ready To Seek Treatment

Even if this is not the case immediately after confronting a loved one about their addiction, it’s important to express that your support is not going anywhere. They should know they have someone to turn to when they are ready to confront their problem and take action by seeking treatment and recovery. When someone is ready to undergo treatment, it is important that they have support and feel as if people care whether or not they recover. Knowing someone cares about their well-being may be a positive factor in their recovery.

Though not all of these suggestions will work in every situation, they are a good place to start if you are unsure how to help an addict in denial.

How to Help Someone with a Drug or Alcohol Addiction

Find the Help Your Loved One Needs

Friends and family members play vital roles in the recovery process. We offer a variety of resources for friends and families of those who may be struggling with an addiction.

If it’s time to get professional help for your loved one, contact us today. We have a proven track record of providing caring and successful substance abuse treatment at our beautiful facilities in Palmer Lake, Colorado. We look forward to hearing from you.

Editor – Melissa Carmona
Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
Medically Reviewed By – Nanci Stockwell, LCSW, MBA
A dynamic leader and award-winning business strategist, Nanci Stockwell brings years of industry experience in behavioral health care to her role at Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” March 2021. Accessed April 28, 2021.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Overview of Alcohol Consumption.” Accessed April 28, 2021.

Maier, Scott. “Alcohol Abuse Increases Risk of Heart At[…]on and Heart Failure.” University of California San Francisco, January 2, 2017. Accessed April 28, 2021.

Bishehsari, Faraz; Magno, Emmeline; Swanson, Garth; et al. “Alcohol and Gut-Derived Inflammation,” Alcohol Research Current Reviews, 2017. Accessed April 28, 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol Use and Your Health.” February 23, 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol Poisoning Deaths infographic.” January 6, 2015. Accessed April 28, 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol Poisoning Deaths.” January 6, 2015. Accessed April 28, 2021.

LaHood, Anthony J.; Kok,  Stephanie J. “Ethanol Toxicity,” StatPearls, April 17, 2020. Accessed April 28, 2021.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “What are symptoms of alcohol use disorder?” Accessed April 28, 2021.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.