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You Can't Force A Loved One Into Addiction Recovery, But Here's What You Can Do

By Jennifer Mitchell
Medically Reviewed by Arpan Parikh, MD, MBA on January 27, 2021
Your loved ones have to make the decision for themselves, but there are plenty of other strategies that may help.

Nearly half of Americans have a loved one with a current or past drug addiction, according to a recent Pew Research survey. While you can’t force your loved one into addiction recovery, there are many things you can do that may improve the situation or encourage them to get help.

Don’t become an enabler

Family members of people with addiction want to help their loved ones, but often, “[they] inadvertently become part of the problem,” says Paul Brethen, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and certified addiction specialist. Family members who want to help may end up “bailing the person out every time he or she gets into trouble,” Brethen says.

This help shields your loved one from the consequences of their addiction. To avoid becoming an enabler, Brethen advises setting healthy boundaries. “Making it very clear what you will and will not do is a quick way of getting someone help,” he says.

Be non-judgmental

If your loved one has an addiction, avoid using terms like “addict” or “drug abuser” to describe them. These terms “just push people away,” says Dr. Omar Manejwala, a psychiatrist and addiction expert. He says you can’t shame a loved one into addiction recovery. “People with addiction often have more shame than you could imagine. If shame worked, they would have gotten well long ago.”

To help your loved one, try to avoid being judgmental. “Let them know you love and support them,” Manejwala says.

Suggest specific help

To encourage your loved one to enter addiction recovery, learn what problems they’re facing, Manejwala says. He says these problems could include housing, legal issues and domestic abuse. When you know what problems your loved one is facing, you can offer specific help. “Often, that’s a good start,” he says.

This specific help could also include finding a healthcare professional with expertise treating addiction, the National Institute on Drug Abuse says. Give the information to your loved one, and encourage them to get an evaluation. “Offer to go with them for an assessment, if they want to,” Manejwala says.

Protect your finances

Having a loved one with an addiction can take a toll on your finances. Family members may find themselves paying for their loved one’s rent and other bills, as well as rehab and other treatments. Some family members empty their retirement accounts or even declare bankruptcy due to their loved one’s addictions, according to Money, a personal finance website.

To protect your finances, set boundaries and avoid giving your loved one money or paying off their debts. The loss of this financial support may encourage them to seek treatment. “When you allow the pain of their addiction to be felt, it becomes clearer for [them] how bad things are,” Brethen says.

Remove yourself, if necessary

Recovery is a long journey. “People with diabetes don’t get better overnight and neither do people with addiction,” Manejwala says. To support your loved one, try to “be there for the long haul.”

However, family members may sometimes need to remove themselves from the situation. Distancing yourself may encourage your loved one to enter recovery. “Sometimes, it’s an ultimatum between getting treatment or being alone,” that makes people with addiction decide to get help, Brethen says.

You can’t force your loved one into addiction recovery, but you can support them by not becoming an enabler and offering specific help. Set healthy boundaries to protect your finances, and as a last resort, be prepared to remove yourself.

Treatment & Resources: General Information