How you can help

Have you have spent years worrying about, and looking after, someone who is using drugs? If so, the concept of taking care of your own needs first might be a little foreign. The thing is, you can't actually change anyone else no matter how much you want to.


Consider setting some boundaries or limits. Think about behaviour that is vital for you to have trust, stability and respect in your home or relationship. Without boundaries, you end up feeling helpless. What will you tolerate?

If you are a parent, reiterate that you pay the rent or the mortgage or own the house. The drug user would be at a disadvantage without a place to stay. Though they may pretend it wouldn’t worry them to be on the streets, it would.

Where do you start with setting boundaries?

  • Define the boundary and consequence that everyone agrees on and can live with.
  • Set the boundary and communicate the understanding of all parties.
  • Keep the boundary.

Boundaries will change as circumstances change. With each change, make sure the new boundary is clear. Boundaries encourage a drug user to take responsibility for their actions, help them develop awareness of how they are affecting others, protect the rest of the family from the substance use and behaviours, and break the cycle of family drama, such as mums always rescuing their sons.


You might think enabling is just a term from the movies. But it’s very real.

Enablers remove the natural consequences of a person’s drug use. They smooth things over so the person using drugs is not hurt or exposed. You, and other people in your family or friend circle, might be filling this role.

So, you might tell people at a barbecue that your wife has stayed home because she has a migraine, but in fact she’s hungover. You might buy gifts on your brother’s behalf at Christmas time because you know he’ll spend everything he has on drugs. Or you might continually allow the drug-free rules of your house to be broken because you don’t want to follow through with kicking your daughter out of home.

While these acts are well-intentioned and might help maintain a sense of calm or order, they are not helping. In fact, they are robbing the person using drugs of what is known as the “gift of desperation”.

Evidence has shown that an addict who experiences the damaging consequences of their addiction has powerful incentive to change.

A person who is dependent on drugs will feel they have hit rock bottom once friends and family stand back and let them feel the confronting consequences of their actions.

So, you tell people at the barbecue that your wife is hungover. You let your brother be the only person who doesn’t contribute to Christmas. And you stick to your guns if the daughter you let come back does not respect your wishes by bringing drugs in to your home.


Read up on treatment options  and talk to your loved one about options which might suit them. Offer to support them, but make sure they know that support is conditional on them following through.

Supporting recovery

Alcohol and drug addiction are considered “family diseases”. What that means is that the drug dependence weighs heavily on the family, but also that the family plays a key role in recovery.

This is why many of the formal rehab centres offer educational programmes for family. The residential facilities usually invite families to visit. Family and friends have their own support group in the AA family of fellowships. Al Anon provides companionship with other people who are watching someone battle addiction, practical advice on how to address a loved one’s drug use, and education about addiction, enabling and the recovery process.

For more information, call the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797. You do not need to cope on your own.

Roles of family and loved onesIt's good to surround yourself with whanau and supportive loved ones who can help you on your journey.

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Tips for loved ones

  • Accept the person has a problem needing attention.

  • Don't try to talk to the person about your concerns when they are under the influence of drugs/alcohol.

  • Don't cover up or make excuses for the mistakes they make when they are intoxicated.

  • At every opportunity, let the person see the consequences of his or her behaviour.

  • Don't nag, scream or lecture. It will only cause feelings of anger and resentment.

  • Don't accept rude or physically abusive behaviour as normal or understandable. It is never OK for you to be mistreated by anyone.

  • Don't feel guilty if you are upset because they have broken a promise to you. People with drug problems often make promises that they can't keep, and it is natural that you would feel disappointed or hurt.

  • Don't judge the person as weak, stupid or lacking in willpower because they can't control their drug use. Drug dependency can happen to anyone.

  • Don't feel sorry for the person with the drug problem. When you feel pity, it is more likely that you will try to take care of the person rather than encourage them to get the help they need.

  • Don't blame yourself for the problem. Other people's actions do not cause drug dependency.

  • Do learn all you can about drug problems.

  • Do make sure you have at least one person who you can talk to about your feelings and worries.

  • When the person opens up and admits they need help, assist them to access appropriate support services.

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But it’s so hard knowing whether he is really trying and not getting it or whether it’s just crying to me because he wants the attention from me.