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How to Help a Drug Addict or Alcoholic Boyfriend

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Addiction is a devastating illness that not only wreaks havoc on the lives of the people with the addiction, but on their loved ones as well. If your boyfriend is struggling with a drug addiction or alcoholism, it is natural to want to help him, although you may not know where to start. Some signs that your boyfriend may be addicted to drugs or alcohol include:1

Signs Your Loved One Is Drinking Too Much

  • Inability to control drug use.
  • Secretive behavior (especially surrounding drug use).
  • Neglected hygiene and appearance.
  • Appetite changes.
  • Weight loss.
  • Neglecting other areas of life (missed work, school, hobbies, or other personal and professional commitments).
  • Relationship problems (difficulty communicating, lashing out on loved ones, lying).
  • Continued use despite harm it is causing in one’s life.
  • Tolerance (needing more of the drug to achieve the same effect).
  • Withdrawal symptoms when the person stops using the drug (e.g., irritability, mood swings, sleep problems, nausea, vomiting).

Steps To Take When Helping an Addict or Alcoholic Boyfriend

There are some things you can do to encourage him to want to recover, but the choice to seek a sober life is ultimately his. If you want to help your boyfriend recover from drug addiction or alcoholism, a good first step is to learn everything you can about addiction and the treatment options available. The more you know about what he is dealing with, the better equipped you will be to offer support.

When dealing with a drug-addicted boyfriend, you must realize you can’t force him to recover. However, there are some things you can do to encourage him to want to do so, but the choice to seek a sober life is ultimately his.

It is important to be honest with yourself and with him about his addiction and his behavior. Let him know how it is impacting you, but only speak to your experience. This means using “I” statements, such as “I feel scared when you get drunk and I don’t know where you are.”

Remain calm and be careful with your tone and language so he does not feel attacked. Be as compassionate and supportive as possible, while also being firm about your feelings. Express genuine love and concern rather than place guilt or blame on him.

Remember that you don’t have to go it alone when trying to help your addicted boyfriend. Seek the help of friends and family, and consider staging a group intervention if he is not receptive to your personal suggestions. Professional, trained interventionists can guide you through the process and are an invaluable resource during this difficult time.

Things To Avoid When Helping An Addict or Alcoholic Boyfriend

When it comes to helping your addicted boyfriend, or anyone you love who is battling an addiction, knowing what not to do is just as important as understanding what to do.

Here are some things to avoid when trying to help your addicted boyfriend: 2

  • Do not use guilt, blame, shame, or other negative emotions. This will only make him defensive and less responsive to your suggestions.
  • Do not enable his behavior. You can help him, but do not enable him. When you enable, you take away the natural, negative consequences of his addictive behavior, making it easier for him to continue using. Examples of enabling include:
    • Lying to cover up his behavior.
    • Contributing to his addiction financially (paying for drugs, bailing him out of jail, getting his stuff out of the pawn shop).
    • Taking over the responsibilities he may be neglecting due to drug use.
  • Avoid ultimatums: they don’t work. Some might be tempted to say, “I’ll leave you if you don’t quit drugs,” but this approach often backfires and can potentially add to the stresses already faced by your boyfriend, and furthermore, creates an ultimatum situation that many find hard to follow through with.
  • Instead, set healthy boundaries—but only the ones you are prepared to stick to. And make the boundaries about what is best for you, rather than give away your power to him. For example: “If I think you’ve been drinking, I will not spend time with you.” This way, you are not setting the boundary on whether or not he thinks he’s drunk, but whether you do. It puts you in the driver’s seat of protecting your boundaries. Be clear. Be specific. And hold firm in a kind and loving way.
  • Do not argue with him or attempt to talk about his addiction when he is under the influence. He will likely not be able to have a rational conversation, and he may not even remember it the next day. If you can find the opportunity, wait until he is sober to have important discussions.
  • Do not join him. Don’t let his addiction influence you and cause you to spiral down a similar path. Hold your ground and maintain your sobriety regardless of what he is doing.

Treatment Options for Drug and Alcohol Addiction

If your boyfriend does admit he has a problem with drug or alcohol abuse and is willing to consider getting help, the next step is to explore his addiction treatment options. Let him know you will support him through recovery, and remind him that his addiction is a legitimate medical condition that should be treated like any other medical condition. Any treatment option first begins with a thorough drug assessment by a qualified medical or mental health professional trained in addictions treatment.

Girlfriend supporting boyfriend in medical detox

Some addiction treatment options that your boyfriend may want to consider include:3

  • Medically assisted detox.
  • Pharmaceutical treatments.
  • Outpatient treatment.
  • Inpatient treatment.
  • Individual and group therapy/counseling.
  • 12-step meetings or support groups.

Medically Assisted Detox

Depending on the severity of his addiction, your boyfriend may want to detox from his drug(s) of choice under medical supervision. To avoid uncomfortable, painful, and sometimes life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, your boyfriend’s physician may want to help him slowly taper off drugs or alcohol rather than quitting all at once. This may be done on an outpatient basis, or in more severe cases, in a professional detox facility, treatment center, or hospital. Physicians can prescribe medications to help ease withdrawal symptoms and make the detoxification process smoother.

Pharmaceutical Treatments

Depending on what drug(s) your boyfriend is addicted to, there may be medication-assisted treatments available. This may mean taking other prescribed medication to manage cravings and reduce relapse risks, or having his drug of choice temporarily replaced with a maintenance medication on either a short- or long-term basis. Some people take these prescribed medications to help stabilize themselves, and then have the doses gradually tapered to allow their bodies to readjust to life without drugs. Others may need to take these drugs on a long-term basis to avoid the harmful behaviors associated with their drug addiction. If this seems like a good option for your boyfriend, encourage him to discuss it with a doctor or therapist and find appropriate ways that you can support him in this during and after his treatment.