Crisis Resource Guide
If you’re concerned about a loved one’s substance use or are in need of guidance with your own addiction-related question(s), use our quick guide to find the answers.
I’m Experiencing an Emergency
If you or a loved one is in immediate danger or are experiencing an emergency situation (violence, suicidal thoughts, drug overdose, alcohol poisoning, withdrawal from alcohol or certain drugs), dial 9-1-1 immediately.
Help! How Do I Begin to Deal With This?
First, take a deep breath and let it go. Addiction can be scary, but you’re not alone. Struggling with a substance use disorder or caring for someone who has one can feel overwhelming at times, but recovery through treatment is possible.
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of addiction, it’s good to understand what it is and how it manifests itself in someone’s life.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines it as a “primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry,” which leads to biological, behavioral, social, and spiritual changes in people.
In other words, although the path that led to this state may have been a person’s personal choice to use a substance, it is not ultimately their fault that they are now addicted. It is a mental health disorder that is linked to decreased control of one’s behaviors.1
What If This is Just Heavy Drinking?
It can be hard to determine the difference between social drinking and alcoholism. At times, they can look the same on the surface, but if you’re on this page, your instincts about addiction may be correct.
To help you further understand what alcoholism is, the below list indicates some common signs that may indicate a person is struggling with alcoholism, known clinically as an alcohol use disorder.2
If you or a loved one has experienced two or more of these criteria within the last 12 months3, you or your loved one may have an alcohol use disorder. If you have any of these symptoms, you should consult with a healthcare professional, as it may point to a problematic pattern of alcohol use that could benefit from treatment.
- Craving or a strong desire to use alcohol
- Inability to cut down or control alcohol consumption following persistent attempts or desire to quit
- A great deal of time is spent doing activities that involve getting alcohol, drinking alcohol, or recovering from its effects
- Alcohol use leads to giving up or decreasing important occupational, social, and recreational activities
- Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when abstaining from alcohol
- Often drinking more alcohol than intended or drinking for longer than intended
- Having problems fulfilling important responsibilities at school, work, or home due to regular drinking
- Continued alcohol use despite issues with interpersonal relationships caused or exacerbated by alcohol
- Repeated use of alcohol in situations in which it is physically hazardous (e.g., driving)
- Continuing drinking alcohol even when knowing that it is likely causing or worsening a physical or psychological problem
- A growing tolerance in which increased amounts of alcohol are needed to achieve intoxication or other desired effect
This is Just Normal Drug Experimentation, Right?
When it comes to using illicit drugs or legalized substances (such as marijuana) recreationally, it is not uncommon for individuals to experiment to explore their effects. However, frequent use, as well as physical and/or behavioral changes, may point to a more problematic drug use issue.
Since drugs interfere with the way neurons send, receive, and process signals in the brain, a person who misuses drugs may begin to feel flat, without motivation, and/or depressed when they aren’t using. Now, those taking the drug(s) often need to keep taking it in higher amounts or more frequently in order to get the same effects.4
Whether a person is struggling with drugs or alcohol, here are a few warning signs of potential abuse and/or addiction:5,6
- Appearing intoxicated more and more often.
- Appearing anxious, fearful, or paranoid, for no reason.
- Stealing money or valuables to pay for drugs.
- Lack of motivation; appearing “out-of-it” or tired.
- Becoming angry, sad, or lashing out when questioned about their substance use.
- Developing problems with cognition and memory.
- Poor hygiene or a neglected appearance.
- Unexplained change in personality or attitude.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when unable to use the substance.
- Being lethargic, sleeping more, sleeping irregular hours, or appearing unwell or tired.
- Developing problems at work (e.g., losing one’s job) or school (e.g., failing or dropping out).
- Becoming stressed or anxious if a social event does not include drugs or alcohol.
- Isolating from friends and family.
- Periods of unusual increased energy, nervousness, or instability.
How to Talk to a Loved One
Confronting someone about their addiction isn’t easy, and there is no one right way to do so. But the good news is, there are ways of communicating that may be more helpful than others when dealing with this sensitive subject. Although it may be uncomfortable, if it leads to a healthier life for your loved one, you’ll be glad you spoke up.
As you prepare to speak with your loved one, remember to approach your discussions with empathy and compassion. Below are some suggested do’s and don’t’s for when you’re ready to talk to them about addiction:
Keys to a Productive Conversation
- Identify the addiction as a disorder; no one plans to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. It’s not a moral choice.
- Provide specific examples of behaviors that have you concerned.
- Remind them that getting help or treatment is nothing to be ashamed of. Many people seek the assistance of professionals to deal with life’s ups and downs.
- Listen without interruption as they discuss their feelings, their perspective of what’s going on, and their concerns about treatment. Even if you may disagree, listen first – this is your time to be understanding.
- Remain consistent in your message not only with your words, but with your actions too.
- Set boundaries and keep them.
- Show them that their addiction does not mean they are any less loved by you.
- Help them understand that things can get better. Recovery is a tangible option.
- Offer your assistance in whatever way you are able and willing to participate in their recovery journey (but be sure it’s not in a way that’s actually enabling their addiction).
What to Avoid When Speaking to Someone You Love
- Don’t use blaming language, as this can just make them defensive
- Don’t get heated during conversation and use shaming language to convince them of their problem.
- Don’t contradict your words with your actions. Don’t say that you think their drinking is an issue and then invite them to share a glass of wine over dinner.
- Don’t use your experiences to relate with theirs. If you’ve never suffered from addiction, it may come across as condescending or insensitive.
- Don’t expect them to be ready to hear what you have to say during your first discussion. Be patient and if multiple conversations (spread out so you’re not nagging them) aren’t getting anywhere, consider other ways to approach the situation such as through an intervention or with the help of a mental health professional.
- Don’t force treatment on them. If they aren’t ready to take that step on their own, pressuring them may only drive them away.
What If They Don’t Want Help?
Substance use affects a person by interfering with how neurons (nerve cells) send, receive, and process signals through neurotransmitters. Substance use can lead to biological and behavioral changes, potentially impacting motivation, stress, decision making, problem-solving, impulse control, and more. This can make it difficult at times to discuss sobriety and treatment because they may have a hard time seeing the consequences of their behavior and/or they may not be ready or willing to admit they have a problem.4
But don’t give up, this is normal and expected. It may take a few discussions and help from others before your loved one is ready to seek treatment. Offer ways to help that person overcome barriers to treatment, refrain from any enabling behavior, and/or seek guidance for yourself by speaking with an addiction counselor or mental health professional.
Addiction not only affects the person with the disorder but also those around the individual. There are a number of dedicated groups for friends or family members of people struggling with addiction. Joining one of these groups may help you better understand what your loved one is going through, how to better reach them, and how you can cope.
What to Do in Violent Situations
If you’re dealing with someone who is showing signs of aggression, or you feel a scenario may turn violent, seek the help of your local authorities to de-escalate the situation. Substance use can lead to distorted thinking, poor judgment skills, difficulties with impulse control, and more4—which may make it more difficult to speak with someone with addiction while they’re in a highly emotional state.
Calling the local authorities on a loved one can be difficult, but if things begin to rise to an unsafe level, enlisting the help of those who are professionally trained in these types of situations can make a big difference. Feeling afraid when your struggling loved one is being aggressive is a perfectly understandable reaction, and calling the police may be the appropriate way to de-escalate a frightening situation.
Who Can I Call For Advice?
If you’re unsure of how to handle your substance abuse or that of a loved one, call our private 24-hour helpline to discuss your treatment options. The hotline is completely confidential and will be answered by American Addiction Centers admissions navigators. Offered at no cost to you, there is no obligation to enter into treatment by calling us.
For more information on our substance abuse helpline and the admissions process, check out the following guides: