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
- 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 to Help Your Addicted 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.
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 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 assessment by a qualified medical or mental health professional trained in addictions treatment.
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.
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.
Outpatient treatment takes place on a part-time basis, allowing for relatively uninterrupted personal and social interactions as well as the ability to continue working or going to school during treatment. This means your boyfriend could continue to live at home throughout his treatment while periodically visiting the treatment center for a combination of detox, counseling, therapy, support groups, 12-step programs, and medical care.
Inpatient rehabs often have similar treatment regimens as outpatient facilities, except treatment happens on a full-time basis in a residential facility. Patients typically lives at the treatment center for anywhere between 30 and 90 days—sometimes longer in severe cases. If your boyfriend chooses to attend such a treatment facility, you will have to adjust to the idea of being apart for that time. Depending on the rehab facility, you may have limited or no visitation with him during treatment. However, phone calls and emails may be an option. You will want to discuss this with him and find a way to provide your ongoing support during the inpatient rehab process in some appropriate way.
Individual and Group Therapy/Counseling
Counseling and therapy can help your boyfriend address the underlying psychological issues that are contributing to his addiction, as well as help him learn new coping strategies for dealing with stress, drug cravings, and other things that drive his drug or alcohol abuse. You can support him by participating in therapy sessions with him (as allowed) and encouraging him along the way. 12-step meetings or support groups: 12-step meetings and other support groups provide your addicted boyfriend with the linear step-by-step process and support of a group on the road to recovery. You can attend these meetings with your boyfriend (if they are not closed to non-addicted people) or encourage him to attend on a regular basis to help support and maintain his sobriety.
People More Likely to Seek Treatment for Alcohol than Any Other SubstanceAlcohol, or ethanol, is the number-one substance of abuse in addiction treatment attendees, as reported by a 2017 Recovery Brands survey. 68.85% of people in recovery engaged in treatment for an alcohol abuse problem, and nearly 53% of people sought alcohol abuse treatment more than any other substance. Out of all the substances that people abuse and receive treatment for, alcohol is the most pervasive. Luckily, it’s easy to find treatment. Call our helpline at 1-888-287-0471 to begin recovering from substance abuse today.
Aftercare and Additional Support
As your boyfriend recovers, celebrate with him the little steps of his recovery along the way. It’s important to remember that recovery is an ongoing process. Be prepared to help him long after treatment ends. Encourage him to follow up with aftercare programs and attend weekly 12-step meetings and support groups. Let him know he can also rely on you as a listener if he is having an intense drug craving and feels he is at risk for relapse.
While helping your boyfriend with his addiction, remember to take care of yourself as well. By taking care of yourself physically and emotionally, you will be more equipped to help your boyfriend when he needs support. If at any time his addiction becomes too emotionally draining for you, you may want to consider leaving the relationship, or taking a break while he leans on professional support. While it is okay to offer your love and support, you do not want to do so at the expense of your own well-being. It can also be helpful to know that having feelings of anger, frustration, guilt, or sadness are all perfectly normal for loved ones of addicted people. Tend to your emotional wellbeing as much as you do to his.
Al-Anon has many support groups available around the country for those with loved ones who are facing an addiction. Consider attending a support group to talk with others who are also helping addicted boyfriends, spouses, friends, and family members.
- National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. (2015). Signs and Symptoms.
- National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. (2015). Helping a Family Member or Friend.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research Based Guide—Evidence-Based Approaches to Drug Addiction Treatment.