D&M Consultants Brisbane

What to do if you are concerned about a loved one’s addiction

By D&M Consultants

It is natural to be concerned about the people we love especially if that person is using drugs or alcohol compulsively.

We understand the frustration that comes from wanting someone to change when they don’t seem ready or willing to engage in a change process (see our blog on Stages of Change for more). It is especially challenging if we have genuine concerns that the person will be harmed as a result of their behaviour.

It might be helpful, however, to note that there are a number of ‘common’ factors which can influence the process of change. These include: environmental influences, the individual’s inner strengths, their support system and opportunistic events (Norcross, 1999).

At D&M, we feel strongly that change happens when someone is ready – and even though you may not know when that day will be you can influence them. This is why planting seeds for change is critical. Individuals who may be struggling with an addiction will benefit greatly through having support from others (Hubble et al., 1999). But this may come at a cost to you if you are not prepared or aware.

So, what action steps can you take to support someone into recovery?

1. Know your boundaries and limitations

What are you willing to help your loved one do? For example, you could drive them to an AA meeting, support them with making appointments with a therapist (if they are open to that suggestion), provide them with a meal and a shoulder to cry on.

What are you not willing to do to ‘help’ your loved one? For example, give them money, offer them free accommodation long term, buy them cigarettes, or drive them to their ‘dealer’ (yes this happens). Anything you do that a person should be able to do for themselves is called ‘enabling’. This behaviour while understandable actually hurts your loved one as it keeps them in their destructive cycle – what you are doing is preventing them from facing the consequences of their behaviour.

2. Listen when they are wanting to talk

You are their closest ally. You don’t need to be a therapist to listen. It is so easy to get into wanting to ‘fix’ things for our loved ones. We want their pain to go away. We want them ‘better’. Unless someone is asking for help, chances are, they just want to feel heard, acknowledged and validated.

However, if they are looking for validation for their behaviour you can help them by withholding approval. Support them to want to change e.g. ‘I hear you are in [emotional] pain, what can you do for yourself that doesn’t involve drugs/alcohol’? and ‘How can I help you with that?’

3. Enquire with loving curiosity

We are not asking you to be a therapist or skilled motivational interviewer, but you can ask questions to your loved one when they are expressing challenges. Rather than criticising or getting angry or upset, perhaps you could notice, are there any moments where your loved one does actually express that they want to change – perhaps they just don’t know how.

Listen for the ‘DARN’ messages (Miller & Rollnick, 2013).

D – Desire for change Are they wanting or desiring a change? Example: “I want to be able to stop gambling”
A – Ability for change What is their ability for change? Example: “I would like to be able to only drink on the weekends…”
R – Reasons for Change What are their reasons for wanting to change? Example: “I want to get healthy for the kids, I really do”
N – Need to change How strong is their need to change? Example: “I can’t keep going on like this…something has to change”

4. Offer opportunities for them to seek support

Usually what happens for people who suffer with an addiction is that there will be at least a few moments in time (usually when they are distressed, ‘coming down’, feeling depressed) where they might contemplate wanting help. Do you know hotlines, local support groups, therapists that your loved one can make contact with?

Directing your loved one in the right direction, could make all the difference. Once they find a connection with a therapist or external support system, they may have increased hope and belief that they have the ability to make small steps towards change (Sprenkle & Blow, 2004).

5. Seeking out your own support

In both systems and feminist theoretical practice, the focus is on the ‘collective’; there is a recognition that individuals exist in a context (Dominelli & Campling, 2002; Kast & Rosenzweig, 1972). As much as you try not to, you may feel anxious about your loved one much of the time. You may find it difficult to sleep, concentrate, eat or even function in your own life. This makes sense given you have an attachment to that person, but it is also unhelpful.

Al-Anon talks about a concept ‘detaching with love’, which is the idea that the family has to let go of their loved one’s problem. This gives you permission to let them experience any consequences associated with their drinking, drug use or other addictive behaviours and focus on your own health and well-being.

Seeking your own support is imperative in this recovery journey. Not only are you modelling healthy coping strategies for your loved one, but you will develop resources and support with how to better manage in your own life.

At D&M, we offer counselling support for both individuals seeking recovery, and those who are impacted by someone suffering from addiction. Contact us for more information.


Blow, A. J., & Sprenkle, D. H. (2001). Common factors across theories of marriage and family therapy: A modified Delphi study. Journal of marital and family therapy27(3), 385-401.

DiClemente, C. (2003). The process of human intentional behavior change. In Addiction and Change: How addictions develop and addicted people recover. (pp. 22-43). New York: Guildford Press

Dominelli, L., & Campling, J. (2002). Anti oppressive social work theory and practice. Macmillan international higher education.

Hubble, M. A., Duncan, B. L., & Miller, S. D. (1999). The heart and soul of change: What works in therapy. American Psychological Association.

Kast, F. E., & Rosenzweig, J. E. (1972). The modern view: a systems approach (pp. 14-28). Harper & Row.

Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2013). Motivational interviewing: Helping people change. Guilford press.

Norcross, J. (1999). Foreword. In M. A. Hubble, B. L. Duncan, & S. D. Miller (Eds.), The heart and soul of change: What works in therapy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Prochaska, J. O. (1999). How do people change, and how can we change to help many more people?.

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