How to Support Someone With Substance Abuse Family Issues

Five Ways to Help

It could be your best friend, a co-worker, or a relative, who confides that their parent, child or spouse is having difficulties related to use of alcohol or drugs. What should you do? What should you say? Here are five research-based suggestions of ways to help someone with substance abuse family issues.

Let Them Talk

Models illustrate listening skills
Allow the person space to talk. Image (c) Jon Wisbey, Freeimages

People often worry that they don't know enough about addiction to know the right thing to say, and fall into the trap of blaming the family member or the user. Allowing the close family members of someone with alcohol or drug problems to talk about their experiences, and listening non-judgmentally to what they say, is far more helpful. So instead of trying to think of what to say, simply give them to space to talk about what is going on, with the understanding that it need not go any further than the two of you.

Provide Information

Even if you don't know much about alcohol, drugs or addictions, there is plenty of information available on this website, and elsewhere. You may have more access to the internet and other resources than the person who is reaching out, or they may be too embarrassed or anxious to seek information themselves, so this is another way you can help. Finding accurate information for the family member can give both you and the family member a better understanding of what is going on. Knowing the facts can be much more helpful than speculating about the worst case scenario, which may never even happen.

Read Tips for the Relatives of People with Addictions

Discuss Ways of Coping

There are many different ways that family members try to cope with a close relative's alcohol and drug use. Exploring the ways they have tried to cope, and discussing the advantages and disadvantages of different ways of coping in their particular circumstances can help them find better ways of coping. One of the most effective ways for family members to cope is to find support for themselves, so if you feel comfortable providing informal support, just by being someone to talk to, that is a way you can help. On the other hand, if you don't feel comfortable with fulfilling an ongoing support role,  for example, because you have problems of your own, or because you are also close with the person they are speaking about, you can help bridge them to another source of support, such as a support group like al-anon.

Read How to Support Someone with an Addiction

Discuss How Support For Family Members Can Be Strengthening

You may not feel you can provide all the support they need, but discussing the ways that support for family members can be strengthening will help them get through the experience, and seek further support. Many family members feel isolated and alone, and realizing that it is OK to seek support will be a great help to them.

Find Sources of Support For Their Particular Difficulties

There are many different types of stresses and strains that can affect the close relatives of people with substance abuse family problems. Try and figure out with them what the particular stresses are that they are experiencing, and whether there are additional sources of help or support for those stressors.

Read My Parents Drink Too Much



Orford, J. et al. Coping With Alcohol and Drug Problems: The Experiences of Family Members in Three Contrasting Cultures. New York: Routledge. 2005.

Just Being There Helps

Although it can seem difficult, even shocking, to hear that someone has substance abuse family issues, you don't have to fix the problem to help. Just being someone that cares makes a big difference in the life of someone struggling with alcohol, drugs or addiction in the family.

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