Health Advocate Blog

Substance abuse in the family: What you can do

Having a family member—whether it’s your spouse, parent, or teen—who has a drinking or drug problem can create an unhealthy effect on the entire family’s well-being. Alcohol or drug abuse can spark arguments, money problems, issues with responsibilities, and may even cause isolation from friends and relatives in order to hide or cover up the problem. If you suspect a family member has an alcohol or drug problem, consider the following tips:

Speak to them privately as early as possible. Offer help and support without judgment. List specific examples of your loved one’s behavior that worry you, and urge them to seek help.

Avoid attempting to punish, threaten, bribe, or preach. Don’t use emotional appeals that may only increase feelings of guilt and compulsion to drink or use drugs.

Don’t hide or throw out alcohol or drugs. Don’t cover up or make excuses for the abuser, or shield them from the negative consequences of their behavior. Don’t drink alcohol or use drugs with them.

Don’t feel guilty or responsible for another’s behavior. You can’t force anyone to get help.

Look out for your own needs. Talk to your health practitioner or a mental health counselor or seek support from organizations like Al-Anon, which is for people worried about someone with a drinking problem. You may learn ways to take care of yourself and how to set limits with the family member who is abusing alcohol or drugs. This can help you focus more effectively on other important matters in your life. By helping yourself, you may be better able help the person with the problem.

Contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357). This service from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration offers individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance abuse disorders referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations, along with free publications.

Offer children support. Children in families experiencing alcohol or drug abuse need attention, guidance and reassurance from adults with whom they feel safe and who will offer them appropriate help for their age. They also need to just have fun and be kids. Look into participation in school or church-based support groups in your community.

Above all, remember that you are not alone. Drug or alcohol dependence disorders are medical conditions that can be effectively treated. Millions of Americans and their families are in healthy recovery from this disease.  Often a person with alcohol or drug dependence will need treatment provided by professionals just as with other diseases. Your doctor or one of the organizations listed here may be able to guide you.