How to Ask for Help With Addiction

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on May 03, 2022
4 min read

If you’re thinking about asking for help with drug or alcohol addiction, congratulations! It’s a great step toward getting your life on track from a chronic disease.

Addiction is a long-term brain disorder. Some experts also call it a severe “substance use disorder.” By either name, it’s a health problem that millions of people in the U.S. have. You’ve probably heard how it can damage your health, hurt relationships, or even lead to death.

Treatment can help you recover from addiction, though. And even if you’re not ready for treatment, you can begin your journey to recovery by making a brave choice: deciding to reach out to somebody for help. Here are some of the people you can consider talking to, so you can start getting the support you need.

A close family member, like a parent or a sibling, could be one of your biggest supporters as you make the effort to recover. If you decide to tell them you have a drug or alcohol use disorder, just know that they might react in a variety of ways. There’s a chance they could respond negatively, expressing emotions like shock, shame, confusion, or anger.

The thought of that happening could seem scary. But if your family member does have a negative reaction, it doesn’t mean they’re judging you -- even if it seems that way. They might just be worried about your drug or alcohol misuse itself, and how it’s taking a toll on your health or life.

You could let them know that you’re asking them for help because your goal is to safely stop using drugs or alcohol. You could also let them know that top experts say addiction is a medical condition -- not a sign of weakness or a flaw that people overcome with willpower alone.

It’s also possible that your family member might not be surprised when you tell them about your substance use disorder. They may have seen possible signs of your challenges already, since addiction can cause symptoms like:

  • Changes in your mood (such as anxiousness, grouchiness, or sadness)
  • Spending less time with people who care about you
  • Trouble at school, work, or home
  • Losing interest in your favorite hobbies
  • Acting out in ways that could hurt your health
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight changes

Even if your loved one doesn’t react the way you’d hoped at first, they might still give you their full support as you try to recover.

Still, if you don’t feel comfortable asking someone close to you for help, there are other people you can reach out to.

Yes. If you have a regular doctor, ask them if they’re comfortable talking about substance use disorders and treatment. If they’re not, have them refer you to a doctor who would be open to discussing it.

You could also get help from an addiction specialist. That’s a board-certified doctor or psychiatrist who specializes in caring for people with addictions. You can find out if there’s one in your area by checking the American Society of Addiction Medicine’s physician directory. You can also search the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry’s physician locator.

You could ask your doctor or an addiction specialist questions like:

  • How can I stop or cut back on using drugs or drinking alcohol?
  • What type of treatment might be right for me?
  • Once I get treatment, what can I do to avoid using drugs or drinking again?
  • Are there community resources that could help me once I’m in recovery?

In general, get a checkup from a doctor if you:

  • Can’t stop using a drug or drinking alcohol
  • Keep using it even though it’s causing you harm
  • Have done risky things like share needles or have unsafe sex
  • Think you’re having symptoms of withdrawal after you stop using drugs or drinking

Call 911 right away if you’ve taken drugs and:

  • Think you’ve overdosed
  • Feel like you might pass out
  • Have trouble breathing
  • Have seizures or convulsions (shaking)
  • Feel chest pain, pressure, or other possible symptoms of a heart attack
  • Have any other symptoms that worry you

If you’d prefer to talk to someone other than a relative or a doctor, think about confiding in a close friend. You could also open up to a trusted teacher, professor, or guidance counselor if you’re still in school, or a spiritual or faith leader if you know one.

You could also consider going to a local meeting of an organization like Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous.

Another option is to call a helpline. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a national line that’s free, confidential, and available around the clock at 1-800-662-4357. It doesn’t offer counseling, but it does connect you with a trained specialist who can refer you to local treatment centers, support groups, and community-based groups.

If you’ve had thoughts about taking your own life, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. It offers support that’s free, confidential, and available 24/7.