How to Help Someone with Substance Use Disorder

Medically reviewed by: Rachel Hughitt, MS
Wednesday, September 13 2023

When someone you care about struggles with a substance use disorder, it can be hard to know how to help. It’s important to approach this challenge with understanding, patience, and compassion. You can provide a listening ear, offer resources, and support them in their journey to recovery. 

Here, we’ll discuss different ways to start the conversation and support your loved one through their recovery. We’ll also share how  SonderMind can help your loved one get connected to a licensed therapist who specializes in treating substance use disorder, so they can get the help they need. 

Signs and symptoms of substance use disorder

Substance use disorder (SUD) can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe, with addiction being the most severe form. This occurs when a person is physically dependent on the substance, and starts to experience withdrawals in the absence of the substance. Men aged 18 to 25 are the most likely to develop SUD, and about 20% of people in the U.S. who have depression or an anxiety disorder also have a substance use disorder.

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the signs of substance use disorder include:

  • Unsuccessfully cutting down and controlling substance use 
  • Spending a significant amount of time to obtain, use, or recover from the effects of the substance
  • Having issues fulfilling responsibilities at work, school, or home due to substance use
  • Continuing to use the substance, even when it causes significant social or interpersonal problems
  • If it’s a prescription, taking it in larger amounts and for a longer period of time than instructed by your doctor
  • Giving up social, occupational, or recreational activities because of substance use
  • Using substances repeatedly, even when it puts you in danger
  • Developing tolerance (the need for increased amounts to get the same effect)
  • Recurrent substance use in physically unsafe environments

Four ways to support someone with substance use disorder 

When a family member is facing challenges with substance use, your support plays a crucial role in helping them access the treatment they need. By approaching the situation from a place of love and compassion, you can help create a safe space where your loved one feels comfortable opening up about their struggles with substance use disorder. Here are four ways to support someone experiencing SUD.

1. Understand the nature of substance use disorders

It's crucial to understand that substance use disorder is not a matter of willpower or morality; it's a complex disease that affects the brain. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, substances can alter the brain's structure and interfere with its normal functioning, making it incredibly challenging for individuals to quit on their own. Most importantly, substance use disorders are treatable, and people do recover from them.

2. Start the conversation

It’s important to express your concern for your loved one in a non-judgmental way, and let them know that you're there for them. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration advises to avoid confrontation. Instead, express your willingness to support them through their journey to recovery. 

When you’re ready to start the conversation, make sure you identify an appropriate place and time, like a private setting with limited distractions. Be sure to acknowledge their feelings, and be direct about your concern. Some questions you can lead with are:

  • I’ve been worried about you. Can we talk? If not, who are you comfortable talking to?
  • I see you’re going through something. How can I best support you?
  • I care about you and am here to listen. Do you want to talk about what’s been going on?
  • I’ve noticed you haven’t seemed like yourself lately. How can I help?

If relevant, you can also discuss family history of substance use. It may help them feel less alone.

3. Encourage professional help

Encourage your loved one to seek professional help. This could be from a doctor, mental health professional, or a substance use disorder treatment center. Remind them that seeking help is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness. If comfortable doing so, tell them you’ll help them find the right professional and stay with them throughout their journey. 

There are several benefits of therapy for those working to recover from substance use disorder, because recovery from drug addiction is more than just breaking the physical dependence on a substance. Some of these benefits include:

  • Identifying situations contributing to substance use
  • Learning behavior strategies for recovery
  • Reducing the risk of relapse

SonderMind can help your loved one get connected with a therapist who specializes in treating substance use disorder. Head to our website to get connected today.

4. Take care of yourself

Supporting someone with a substance use disorder can be stressful — remember to also take care of your emotional well-being and consider seeking support for yourself through therapy, self-care activities, or support groups such as Al-Anon.

One approach to treating SUD involves family counseling, with a focus on assisting family members in practicing self-care and pursuing their own recovery. Simultaneously, clients with SUDs are encouraged to initiate and maintain their own recovery journey, while also fostering improved family communication and relationships that can provide ongoing support. This comprehensive strategy aims to enhance the recovery process and promote lasting well-being for both individuals and their loved ones.

Remember, recovery is possible, and your support can make a significant difference to someone grappling with substance use disorder. Keep demonstrating love and patience, and remind them that it's never too late to seek help. 

SonderMind is here for you and your loved one

With the right guidance and care, individuals with SUDs can make significant progress in their recovery journey and reclaim their lives. At SonderMind, we offer evidence-based approaches to treatment that are tailored to each individual's needs. SonderMind goes beyond connecting you with just any therapist. We make sure that you are paired with the right therapist for you or your loved one’s needs. What’s more? Most people only wait about 10 days after being connected with their therapist to have their first session, which is 55% faster than the industry average of two to three weeks. Start the process today and get connected to a therapist in as little as 48 hours.

Get guidance throughout your mental health journey.

Stay connected and supported with the latest tips and information from SonderMind.