Helping Someone with Addiction? Tip: Don’t Judge.

Man feels he is a failure.

When someone slides gradually into full-blown addiction, they experience massive amounts of judgment from all sides as their deterioration progresses. This judgment takes many forms. And while it makes sense from the viewpoint of the person doing the judging, it has a truly brutal impact on the addicted person’s world.

As the addicted person’s world implodes, the judgment piled on them might sound like this:

  • “You betrayed me because you didn’t quit smoking pot/using heroin/snorting cocaine.”
  • “You were out drinking last night and you promised me you’d quit—you’re an idiot!”
  • “You’re a horrible father because you missed your son’s birthday party, again.”
  • “How could you show up high to Thanksgiving dinner? I hate you!”
  • “You got fired from another job? I’ll make sure you never see your kids again.”
  • “You should lose your children because you used drugs while you were pregnant.”
  • “You had to be saved from an overdose when your family needs you and relies on you. I never want to see you again.”
  • “We should just let you die—you’re obviously trying to kill yourself anyway.”

These comments fly in real life and in the online world. Every single one is a hammer blow to a person who is already overwhelmed by failure, losses and cravings he (or she) can’t resist. When he tries to get sober and withdrawal sickness begins, he can’t think of anything but getting more drugs to keep the sickness away. No matter what it takes. Every time he promises himself he will quit—and then he fails to keep this promise to himself—he digs himself into the muck a little deeper.

But his family—his spouse—his employer—they don’t see the desperation or the desire deep in his heart to have the pain and need for drugs go away. They only see this person who has betrayed them, stolen from them, changed into someone they don’t know.

A Helping Hand to Pregnant Women

Perhaps one of the most vulnerable individuals of all is the pregnant woman who is also addicted. Some women manage to stop using drugs during this time. Some women wish they could and can’t. And yes, some are so beat down or have been so abused themselves that they are beyond caring which is the saddest situation of all.

For the women who wish they could stop using drugs to ensure their babies are healthy and not born with drugs in their bodies, the State of Tennessee is now extending a helping hand. As they promote their new program,, they say, “We don’t judge. We get you help. And it’s confidential.”

Knowing that someone will help without judging makes it so much easier to make that initial decision to reach out for help to overcome this problem.

A Helping Hand in Massachusetts

Leonard Campanello portrait, Gloucester Chief of Police
Leonard Campanello, Chief of Police

In Gloucester, the Chief of Police decided to offer help instead of incarceration to the addicted population in his town. He offered to help—not arrest—anyone who would walk into the police station and ask for help. He and his staff worked hard to find a rehab facility for each person. This initial effort to help grew into the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative or PAARI.

According to coverage in the Boston Globe, in the first year of the Police Department’s efforts, those who did reach out for help received the help they needed 95% of the time.

No One Judges Harder than the Addicted Person Himself

Here’s the key to the entire problem: The addicted person is buried in guilt he generates himself. He (or she) knows the harm he has created. He knows the people he has hurt. He knows how badly he has damaged his own life. He knows. He blames himself.

Now, when someone judges, blames and accuses that individual, he is so overwhelmed that he is likely to break down and quickly try to shift the blame to someone else. His boss, his teachers, co-workers, his parents—anyone. It’s just a last-ditch effort to not be further overwhelmed with guilt.

Couple hugging at the beach

If you would help someone you care about who is deeply immersed in addiction, you’ll have to do it without judging. You’ll have to reach out with that helping hand and save criticism for some other day.

Even that is no guarantee that the person in need will accept your offer. But piling the person with more guilt and blame is a sure way to keep them buried under that burden they’re carrying.

It’s hard to skip the blame when that person is so clearly at fault. But once they have their feet under them and they have learned the skills they need to build a productive, positive life, that's the time they can take up the harm they have created and start repairing those relationships, one person or group at a time.


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.