Watching a loved one go through a hard time or struggle can be difficult to endure. When someone you love has an uncontrolled substance abuse problem, like drug addiction or alcohol dependence, you may feel powerless.

Sometimes, it can seem like the person you loved has died. People with addiction often undergo drastic changes in personality and behavior. They might do things that they would never have considered before, like stealing from or lying to their spouse, parents or children. They might make decisions that endanger both of them and others.

You don’t have to remain a powerless observer. What can you do to help a loved one struggling with addiction? 

Approach them with compassion, but show the impact of the addiction

Addiction often stems from untreated underlying mental health conditions or some kind of trauma. People self-medicate to control their experience of the world around them. While you don’t want to make them feel judged or socially isolated, you also want to let your loved one know how their behavior affects you and the other people in your life.

Those caught up in the throes of addiction may not realize that their actions hurt the people they love the most. Finally seeing the situation from someone else’s perspective might motivate them to make a major change in their behavior and get the help they need.

Be supportive, but don’t enable the addiction

You can love and support your struggling family member without facilitating their addictive behavior. Supportive actions might include encouraging them to engage in activities that they find joy in while sober and helping support them with accountability when they try to change.

Enabling can look like making excuses for bad behavior or even financially supporting someone’s addiction. There can be a fine line when it comes to money. Helping pay for a defense attorney if they’re facing a drug charge, for example, could be helpful. Giving an addicted loved one cash because they’re broke, on the other hand, might just fuel their addiction.

Letting someone know that you love them no matter what is important. Still, you also need to expect them to work on their addiction. Going through therapy, starting rehab or joining a support group could all be steps in the right direction.

You may find that you need counseling or to join a support group yourself in order to handle your trauma from dealing with your loved one’s addiction. There are resources available online to assist with everything from talking about the addiction with your loved one to getting them into counseling or rehabilitative services.