Hearing the word ‘addiction’ triggers thoughts about drugs, alcohol, nicotine, gambling, sex, … A substance or behavioural addiction is a complex condition, defined by a lack of control that leads to harmful consequences for the individual and often their environment. Addictive behaviour is based on an individual’s brain activity, often the thinking is distorted. Due to changes in the brain structure and function, the individual experiences intense cravings, changes in personality, might move in an abnormal way among other behaviours.

Whether it is your parent, son/daughter, partner or a close friend – seeing a loved one struggling with an addiction is tough. The situation might often get overwhelming and seem hopeless. So how can you support someone struggling with addiction and what to be mindful of?


  • Be compassionate and empathic
  • Only speak about the addiction when the person is sober
  • Be honest about how you feel and communicate openly
  • Speak about the affects the addiction has
  • Fixing the problems caused by the addiction is not your job, they need to deal with the consequences themselves – Be supportive
  • Encourage the person and help them celebrate small steps of progress
  • Set clear boundaries and know your limits
  • Encourage the person to seek professional support in a therapist or treatment program
  • Seek support for yourself
  • Educate yourself about the addiction for better understanding
  • Give the person space to share their feelings and struggles with you
  • Be a positive example
  • Practice self-care and patience
  • Have realistic expectations

Dealing with an addiction is tough and facing this reality is most important – the life of the addicted person and aspects of your life might be out of control. Therefore, being assertive and saying No are the first steps towards change and making sure your addicted loved one realizes that they cannot manipulate you.

To support a loved one struggling with addiction, you need to be healthy and find a good balance – also to avoid making things more difficult.


  • Blame, criticize or shame the person
  • Ignore the problem – It is there!
  • Speak about the addiction when the person is high or engaged in the activity
  • Lecture, preach or moralize
  • Punish the person
  • Try to change the person or force them to quit
  • Take on the responsibility or try to protect the person from the consequences of their addiction
  • Enable by lying for the person, covering things up or excusing their behaviour, giving them money, …
  • Threaten the person
  • Take their behaviour or refusal for help personal
  • Expect immediate change and have unrealistic expectations

Finding an effective way to support your loved one struggling with addiction might take some time. In case you expect to find an easy way – It does not exist.

It is not their fault, addiction is a disease and blaming is often counterproductive for recovery. Many addicts are reluctant to seek treatment and support for several reasons and the risk of relapse is high. However, it is not helpful to focus on that.

The best you can do is to make sure that you are able to deal with the high stress levels when supporting a loved on with an addiction and acknowledge that reaching out for professional support is okay in a tough situation like this. 

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.

Franziska Richter is a transcultural counsellor with Willingness Team, offering counselling sessions to individuals and couples. She is particularly interested in trauma, addictions, migration, sexuality, and eating disorders.