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13 top tips for helping someone struggling with addiction

When someone you care for is abusing alcohol or drugs or gambling it’s hard to know how to approach the subject of addiction. Clinical Nurse Consultant Karen Hanzal shares her practical tips for speaking about addiction.

St John of God Richmond Hospital Addictions Program

Speaking with your loved one about your concerns for their emotional wellbeing can be confronting for you, as it can be for your loved one.

If you are concerned about their substance use, keep the following tips in mind to help you guide the conversation and support your loved one through their addiction.

13 top tips for helping someone struggling with addiction

  1. Realise that while you can encourage people to change, you can’t force them to change. In the end, someone will only do something about their addiction when they are ready.
  2. Give them plenty of praise and acknowledgement when they reduce or stop their addiction.
  3. Tell the person that you care for them and that you are worried their addiction is damaging them.
  4. When they abuse alcohol, drugs or gamble withdraw your attention and other rewards.
  5. Use “I language” to explain exactly how their addiction affects you – for example “When you drink heavily I feel scared, because you are sometimes very aggressive to me”.
  6. Avoid attempting to discuss their addiction when they are affected by a substance.
  7. Avoid nagging them about their addiction, but do tell them clearly that you are concerned.
  8. Don’t protect them from the negative effects of their addiction.
  9. Tell them what will happen if they continue to abuse alcohol, drugs or gamble, however, this will probably not be effective if you haven’t followed through on your threats in the past.
  10. Don’t tolerate antisocial behaviour – having an alcohol or drug problem is not an excuse for assaulting or stealing from someone.
  11. Don’t let the problem overwhelm you – have your own life – eg friends, interests, work.
  12. Many people find support groups such as Al Anon (for families of those with problematic alcohol use) and Nar Anon (for families of those with problematic drug use) helpful in learning how other people in your situation cope.
  13. Give them the phone number of the mental health telephone access line 1800 011 511. This support number can provide contact details for suitable services in your area.
Karen Hanzal Clinical Nurse Consultant

About the Author

Karen Hanzal is a Clinical Nurse Consultant at St John of God Richmond Hospital's Alcohol and Other Drugs Program.