Actions to take for those with an addicted loved one

By: Tom Bannard, recovery@vcu.edu, (804) 828-1360

A mentor of mine always says that one of the most powerful forces on earth is inertia. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion, while still, objects tend to stay still. As a family member, it is incredibly difficult to move yourself and your loved one towards recovery, and it is often unclear what the correct action is. I would suggest that starting to move is the most important action. These recommendations are stated in no particular order, but I hope will give you some ideas on ways that you can get the momentum going towards recovery.

1. Get Educated

Two books to start with:

  • Get Your Loved One Sober- Robert Myers
  • Love First – Jeff Jay and Deborah Jay

Don’t like reading?  Take a course or watch videos:

  • Pleasure Unwoven & Memo to Self are great places to start. Both are available on www.vimeo.com
  • Take a course on Community Reinforcement And Family Training (CRAFT) at www.cadenceonline.com

Attend the Family Education Program

Read up on Recovery & Change

Stop Talking Dirty - The Language of Substance Use has changed.

  • Rather than saying "Addict/Alcoholic" - We are talking about Substance Use Disorders and using person first language. Ie. I have a loved one with a substance use disorder, or I have a loved on who is in Recovery. Many families feel great shame and stigma around their loved one's substance use. This is unhelpful to their recovery or the family's sanity. Your loved one has a health condition, in many cases a bad one. Let's figure out how to treat it.
  • The Term Substance Use Disorder better represents the spectrum of challenges with substances, which range from mild to severe. At all levels, substance use should be addressed and treated.

2. Get Support

  • Individual counseling is often very helpful for families as they navigate very difficult circumstances.
  • 12 step groups such as Al-AnonNar-Anon, and Families Anonymous offer mutual aid support to families.
  • Additionally, SMART Recovery offers online family meetings
  • Northstar Community is a Christian community that focuses on recovery. It is an open and accepting, un-churchy church.
  • Celebrate Recovery is a Christian based recovery program, which is used by many faith communities of different denominations.

3.  Get Naloxone

Naloxone is a drug that reverses opioid overdoses. If your loved one is using opioids, getting yourself and your loved one access to this life-saving drug is essential. Free Trainings are available periodically, and the drug can be purchased from most pharmacies. The drug also goes by the trade name Narcan. The drug is covered by insurance with a physician's prescription; however, a prescription is not required to purchase. 

4.  Arm yourself with resources

Unfortunately, there are insufficient resources in our community to treat all the people who need treatment. Families who can educate themselves on the most effective resources have the greatest chance of getting their loved one into effective treatment. While this post will not include suggestions about individual facilities or providers, it is worth finding several people who have “no skin in the game” to get some recommendations from or find an interventionist whose job it is to know these resources. 

Get to know treatment and recovery resources – Resources to explore include:

  • Inpatient Detox
  • Intensive Outpatient
  • Short-Term Residential Treatment (Less than 30 days)
  • Long Term Residential Treatment (60 days or more)
  • Outpatient physicians
  • Recovery Housing
  • Continuing Care Support
  • Recovery Community Organizations

Know what you can afford

  • If residential treatment is needed, find out what if anything is covered by insurance. Here are some tips for finding treatment.
  • Always ask, what is the maximum out of pocket expense? Try to get as much as you can in writing.
  • Talk to your insurance company, try to get treatment pre-approved. Find out what they cover.

Grill the Residential Facilities – You are spending a lot of money on treatment, ask questions.

  • What is the average length of stay?
  • What do you do to connect them with follow up support?
  • Do you provide continuing care support? What are your outcomes?
  • Do most clients step down into recovery houses?
  • How is the family involved in treatment? Do you have a family program?
  • What is your facility’s particular strength? Why is my loved one a good fit?
  • What other facilities would you suggest that I look at for my loved one?

Listen – A few things to look for:

  • Do they really treat addiction as a chronic illness? This means long-term treatment. If they are a 30-day provider, what do they do to match the patient with long term support? What do they suggest if there is a return to use?
  • Clinical Humility - If they say they do everything, chances are that they may not be particularly good at anything. If they are able to identify the things that they do particularly well (Ie. We are really good with young adults, or professionals, or trauma, etc.), and it matches the need for your loved one that is good. If they don’t have contacts at other facilities, beware.
  • They should offer support to families, and it should be free.
  • They should have clear and meaningful outcomes, and if they don’t they should admit it. They should be able to send you a document that outlines their outcomes and their methods of measuring them. Treatment providers are finally moving in this direction but they are not there yet. Asking this question of all providers is a way of advocating for better treatment in the future.

5.  Buckle up for the long haul

Addiction is a chronic disease that must be managed - Your loved one will need to learn to manage the disease over the long term. The majority of people will not find recovery the first time they seek help. This does not mean that treatment was a failure.

Recovery is not binary – People tend to think of addiction in very black and white terms, not drinking/using=success, drinking/using=failure. This can be problematic as it leads to the oversimplification, “he can just not use, and he’ll be fine.”  Recovery is about a lifestyle change and happens slowly over a long period of time. Often people have a slip or a lapse during that time. Family member’s ability to respond compassionately, yet firmly during these lapses can make all the difference in recovery.

30 days of recovery is barely a start -  The vast majority of people need a number of recovery supports to be successful with long-term recovery. For many people, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous SMART Recovery, or Celebrate Recovery serves this purpose, but other supports can be critical to augmenting this support. Length of engagement is incredibly important in predicting recovery outcomes. This can include:

  • Recovery Housing
  • Employment support (Through EAP Programs, Lawyers Helping Lawyers, Physicians Help Programs)
  • Recovery Coaching
  • Medication
  • Individual Therapy
  • Intensive Outpatient
  • Group Therapy
  • SMART Recovery
  • Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Narcotics Anonymous
  • Celebrate Recovery
  • Refuge Recovery

Look at crisis as an opportunity – With your loved one’s next crisis, look for opportunities to get them into treatment. Most people are ambivalent about change most of the time. Looking for windows of opportunity to engage people in positive change helps get people into treatment and start the road to recovery.

Recommended Resources for Families


  • Get Your Loved One Sober: Alternatives to Nagging, Pleading, and Threatening by Robert J. Meyers and Brenda L. Wolfe - Amazon
  • Love First A Family's Guide to Intervention by Jeff and Debra Jay - Amazon
  • Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change by Jeffrey Foote - Amazon
  • Addiction Recovery Management: Theory, Research and Practice by John Kelly and William White - Amazon