How to help an addict who doesn’t want help

by Renee W.

I knew I desperately needed help, but deep down, I wasn’t ready to give up my addiction. I didn’t know how I would survive without my drug of choice – alcohol.

My addiction lasted ten years, and while I had a few periods of sobriety in there, nothing stuck.

My addiction was always raging in my mind, just waiting for the opportunity to devour me yet again.

Finally, I was given ultimatums by not only my employer but my husband: Either you get help, or it’s over. You will lose your job and your family.

At the time, I was furious and could not understand how those “mean-hearted people” could just throw me away. They must have hated me and wanted me to fail. I seriously believed that at the time.

Looking back, they acted out of love for me and pushed me into what I needed: help for my addiction.

I wish I could say that I went to rehab, everything clicked right then and there, and I was healed. The truth is, I did go to rehab, went through the motions like I was so good at doing, and the whole time, secretly resented my employer, family, and friends.

After I got out of treatment, painful months passed where I continued going through the motions. I went to meetings. I told everyone I was great. I did not drink. I was still miserable.

Until one early morning in early autumn, I was up drinking my coffee and reading my sobriety readings, and it hit me. I was free. I was truly free. For the first time in my life, I did not want alcohol. I did not obsess over it. I was done. I am done.

So, this brings me to the point of my article: how can you help an addict who doesn’t want help? Is it even possible?

Can you help an addict who doesn’t want to help themselves?

Woman sunrise lakeside

The short answer is yes. However, it’s not a clear-cut, simple answer.

I have been in recovery groups for years and have heard countless stories of the miracle of recovery. Each of these stories is unique, but they all start with recognising the addict is powerless in the addiction and at the point of surrender. However, when this surrender begins varies greatly. My point is, very rarely do addicts just decide one day they need help and they seek it out on their own.

Most of the time, an addict is “forced into help” by court systems, employers, or family and friends.

Going to rehab physically removes the addict from the drugs and is a necessary first step.

However, what really matters is after rehab.

While some people go through the motions as I did, sometimes treatment is the push needed to achieve lifelong sobriety, even though entering treatment was not “voluntary.”

The truth is an addict has to ultimately want help and use the resources necessary in order to stay sober.

How can you help an unwilling addict?

There are many ways to help an addict who doesn’t want help, but here are a few.

Educate yourself on addiction

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Addiction is defined as a “chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences.” It is a brain disorder that “involves functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control.”

It is important to realize that addiction is a disease, and the addict is not at fault for having this disease.

That does not mean an addict is not responsible for his or her actions or that he or she cannot get help, though.

The more you educate yourself on what addiction is, the better you will understand the addict in your life.

Show your support

Sit down with your loved one and explain your concerns. Let them know you are aware of their addiction (with some it may be more obvious, but others try to hide it and truly believe they are doing a good job). Avoid sounding judgmental or condescending, but express that you want to help. Ask how they believe you can help. Keep the communication as open as possible.

Set boundaries

Loved ones often confuse helping an addict with enabling one, and this is a huge mistake.

According to an article from PsychCentral, “enabling behaviours keep someone from dealing with the negative consequences of their actions.” If you find yourself trying to solve the problems and protect the addict from consequences, stop, and set boundaries.

Boundaries are key to making sure that you’re not enabling, which will ultimately help both you and the addict. This also means distancing yourself emotionally.

Do not let your emotions be dictated by the progress (or lack of progress) of the addict.

Stage an intervention

Interventions do not have to be what you see on TV. An intervention is when a group of people, typically family and friends, come together to confront the addict on their addiction and behaviour and make a plan on how to seek treatment.

Interventions should be carefully planned processes.

Take care of yourself

In the midst of the turmoil of a loved one’s addiction, you may forget what you need for yourself.

The old saying goes, “You cannot give what you do not have.” If you are not taking care of your needs (emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically), you cannot effectively help someone else.

There are many support groups out there, including Al-Anon, that prove helpful for family members of addicts.

The bottom line

If I had not been forced into treatment by my employer, family, and friends, I would not have gotten the help I so desperately needed.

What I saw at the time as an insensitive, judgmental play on their part was actually a deep act of love and concern and, ultimately, saved my life.

You cannot recover for an addict, but you can absolutely take positive steps to help them get the help they need. And don’t lose hope.

There is always, always hope.

Related Articles


Get in Touch

We treat all of our clients with the utmost care, dignity and respect. Call now for a totally confidential, no obligation conversation with one of our professionals.

Whether you’re calling for yourself or someone you know, you needn’t suffer alone.

If you or someone you know could benefit from our services please do not hesitate to contact us.