teen with substance abuse issues talking to therapist on couch

How To Help a Loved One With a Substance Abuse Problem

4 min.

Charlie Health is a mental health treatment for teens, young adults and families. Benefits of their group therapy sessions include improved communication, stress reduction and self-esteem.

By: Charlie Health Editorial Team

February 21, 2022


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Living with or dealing with a loved one with substance abuse issues can be challenging. You might feel helpless and powerless; like you’re unable to do anything other than watch your loved one spiral out of control—and that’s completely normal.

It’s not always easy to make the decision to support a loved one with a substance use disorder (SUD), but you have more power than you realize to support someone struggling with substance abuse. Your support can significantly improve their chances of recovery, giving them the push they need to recognize their problem and seek professional help.

From identifying the signs and symptoms of substance use issues to seeking professional mental health treatment, here’s how to help a loved one with SUD.

What are substance use disorders?

Substance use disorders involve the recurrent use of alcohol and/or drugs. Over time, ongoing misuse of substances can cause significant impairment, including health problems, relationship issues, and problems functioning in daily life, according to the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

It’s important to remember that mental health conditions and SUDs can affect anyone. Substance abuse problems often co-occur with other mental health problems, such as anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

SUDs typically change a person’s thinking, mood, and/or behavior. They can affect how your loved one relates to others and makes choices. Although substance abuse affects everyone differently, some common signs and symptoms include:

  • Changes in physical appearance, such as a lack of personal hygiene
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work, home, or school
  • Misusing drugs to avoid or alleviate withdrawal symptoms
  • Unexplained changes in personality or attitude
  • Sudden mood swings, irritability, or angry outbursts

How does social support influence recovery?

Social support can be a powerful catalyst in the treatment process. Research shows that individuals with substance use disorders who receive social support experience an increased sense of safety and optimism. At the same time, social support helps reduce stress and loneliness while combatting the shame, isolation, and secrecy surrounding substance abuse.

If you think your loved one might be struggling with their substance use, don’t judge them or make them feel ashamed. Instead, approach conversations with compassion and offer your support. Tell them that you love them and that you’re concerned about their wellness.

When you provide a safe space for them to open up to you, you’ll be one step closer to getting them the mental health care they need. In addition, participating in family therapy or couples therapy with your loved one can help you gain valuable insights into their mental health. Supporting your loved one during therapy sessions can also help you learn tools to support them on their journey, improve communication, and resolve conflicts.

If you’re helping a loved one navigate the treatment process, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Ultimately, seeking emotional support and making time for self-care will give you the strength to set healthy boundaries and continue supporting your loved one.

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What treatments are available for SUDs?

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Substance use disorders are common, recurrent, and often serious mental health disorders. However, SUDs are highly treatable with a combination of talk therapy and medication management. Everyone is different, so it’s important to explore different types of treatment and choose a treatment plan that fits your loved one’s needs and goals.

Some helpful mental health resources include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT, a form of psychotherapy, helps people understand how their thoughts, beliefs, and feelings influence their behaviors. By combining cognitive and behavioral therapy techniques, CBT helps people change the thought and behavioral patterns that contribute to substance use. Many therapists offer CBT in different settings, including group therapy, family therapy, and couples counseling, so you can support your loved one throughout the recovery process.
  • Online mental health services: Research shows that online mental health treatment can be an effective treatment option for substance use disorders and addiction. If your loved one needs more than traditional once-a-week therapy sessions, intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) can provide additional support from the comfort of their own home.
  • Support groups: Peer support groups and 12-step groups can be especially helpful during the recovery process, giving your loved one the opportunity to connect with other people and learn healthier coping strategies. Many support groups offer in-person meetings, but online support groups are also available. To explore support group resources for individuals with mental health conditions and their loved ones, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website.

Contact Us

Watching your loved one struggle with substance use issues can feel overwhelming, but your support can make all the difference in their recovery process.

At Charlie Health, we offer comprehensive virtual mental health treatment for adolescents, young adults, and their family members. Our intensive outpatient treatment programs consist of individual therapy, supported groups, and family therapy, with customized treatment plans based on your unique mental health needs. Our mental health professionals will meet you where you are so you can gain insight into your mental health and start feeling better. Reach out today.

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