A common situation that can occur for someone in recovery is to have a family member (a child, a parent, a spouse, etc.) that is still in active addiction. This can be a difficult situation to approach and can bring about some of the most extreme feelings of helplessness or powerlessness that a person will feel.

Often, the family member in recovery will go from feelings of fear and concern to feelings of anger and resentment to feelings of frustration to finally feeling baffled by the whole affair. Thoughts of “I conquered my addiction and got into recovery, why can’t you?” can be common. Often the family member in recovery will plead with the addict or alcoholic to get help and then get angry when they do not. It is important for the family member in recovery to remember their own journey of recovery, how painful and difficult it was to finally seek help. Empathy is important, however it is also important not to make excuses for the behavior suffering from addiction simply because you know what it’s like or what they’re feeling.

Here are some tips for someone that is in recovery on how to approach a family member still actively abusing drugs and alcohol:

  • Remember your own journey of recovery. Clearly, getting to a point of surrender and asking for help is not easy or painless. Do you remember using against your will, having to use or drink even though you didn’t want to? That is what your family member probably is going through. So keep that thought in the forefront of your mind. Getting to a place of admitting they need help is difficult. as it probably was for you.
  • Do not preach at or criticize. When you were in active addiction, how well did someone preaching at you or criticizing you work to get you clean and sober? Probably not very well. No one likes a preachy person, especially an addict or an alcoholic. And criticizing an addict or alcoholic for their behaviors and hoping that is will work to change those behaviors works about as well as criticizing your dog after it shits on your carpet will keep it from shitting on your carper again. The dog will just look at you and shit on the carpet again. Similar to the person with the substance abuse issue. You need to teach the dog to go outside by taking action to walk outside and showing it where to go, while also offering consequences. Which, in turn, brings us to…
  • Offer them consequences and hold the line. As the loving family member in recovery, it is your job to lay out consequences and hold the line on those consequences. If you are a parent, perhaps that means putting the addict child out of the house until they get better. For a spouse, it could be a separation or not allowing them to see the children while they are still drinking. Whatever the relationship is, you need to create consequences for the behavior and hold the line.
  • Detaching with love. Sometimes if your family member refuses to get help or stop their substance abuse, the only thing you can do is detach with love. The idea of detaching with love was originally utilized by Al-Anon and comes from the belief that addicts and alcoholics cannot learn from their mistakes if they are overprotected, also called enabling or adapting. Therefore, the idea is for the family member to detach from the addict or alcoholic in a self-loving and self-concerning way in an effort to no longer overprotect or enable. Without the enabling, often the alcoholic or addict lifestyle is threatened and they will be more likely to seek help for their addiction.
  • Remember the principles of the 12 Steps. If you found your recovery through a 12 Step fellowship like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), try to remember the principles you’ve been taught. Honesty, unselfishness, love. Attempt to apply those principles to your family member with the substance use disorder. This will have two benefits: 1) It will always keep you in a place of being helpful to them, as that is your only true aim, and 2) It will aid you in staying without resentment or frustration.
  • Always remember, you probably are the person with the least ability to help your family member. For whatever reason (emotional involvement, long standing history, inability to be objective), a family member in recovery is often the last person that is able to help their family member still in active addiction. Never try and save your family member. Your job is to attempt to remain helpful while also understanding that you need to find appropriate help for your loved one that is still suffering from substance abuse. How many times has someone with 20 or 30 years in recovery spoke about their child or their spouse having to find their own way. You can support and guide your loved one, but you need to be able to give up control and allow their own process to take place. Reach out and consult an addiction professional that can aid them in getting the detox, addiction treatment or drug rehab that they need. Reach out to your other friends in recovery and ask for advice and guidance. Never tell your addicted family member what to do, but rather be in a place where if they come to you for help, you can show them what you did and place them into the care of someone that is appropriate to help them just as someone was there to help you.


Dealing with a family member in active addiction to drugs and alcohol can be a terrifying and lonely process ripe with feelings of sadness, anger, frustration, helplessness and powerlessness. But you are not alone. If there are millions of people that suffer from addiction then there are millions of families that are affected by addiction. You are in an envious position, being in recovery yourself. You have experience in both addiction and recovery. You have principles that you can incorporate to help you deal with your loved ones addiction. You have your experience, knowing what worked for you. And you know that when they do seek help, there are resources like detox, treatment centers, drug rehab or the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous that they can go for help.

If you or someone you know is suffering from a drug and alcohol addiction and needs treatment please call us for help. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive addiction treatment in the area. If we aren’t the best fit, we will work with you to find a treatment center that fits your needs. Please call us at (410) 773-0500 or email info@marylandaddictionrecovery.com. For more information on all of our alcohol and addiction treatment services and resources, please visit the web site at www.marylandaddictionrecovery.com.

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