Struggling with a Drug-Using Loved One? You Have to KNOW WHEN TO DRAW THE LINE

Wife is thinking

This is one of the most important and one of the hardest lessons any person dealing with an addicted loved one ever has to learn. There is a point where you have to draw a very hard line and then you have to stick with your decision. Should you continue struggling to help them? You see the good in them so it’s very hard to know what to do. Where is that line and what should happen when you feel it’s time?

It’s an extremely tough decision. If this is the situation you are in, here’s something you should know: You’re far from alone. Whether you’re a man or a woman, parent, spouse or child of the addicted person, unfortunately, there are millions of others in the same situation or worse. Many other people are struggling with the same decision.

What Does Your Current Experience Look Like?

Before we look at the actions you should take, let’s take a look at what you’re experiencing as a result of this person’s problems. Probably something like this:

  1. They’ve promised to quit drinking or using drugs, probably many times. Each time they failed.
  2. They’ve been ill or injured more than once and serious medical bills have resulted.
  3. They have accumulated a list of legal problems including arrests, incarceration, probation, DUI, DWI, and others.
  4. Family funds, assets and valuables have been drained or disappeared. Debts are increasing.
  5. They don’t work regularly but might have mysterious money from time to time.
  6. They neglect or are hostile to their loved ones, sometimes with snide, belittling, fault-finding remarks.
  7. Any attempt to reason with them about their condition turns into critical accusations toward the person trying to help.
  8. They are often missing and fail to show up for important events.
  9. Their personality has experienced a dramatic shift for the worse. They are often angry, paranoid, cruel or aggressive.
  10. They’ve been to rehab from one to ten or more times or they haven’t been to rehab at all.

I hope you haven’t yet reached the point where you’ve experienced all these problems. I hope you’re earlier in this process of gradual but relentless self-destruction that happens to a deeply addicted person.

Most families have experienced many or all of these phenomena before deciding to insist on rehab for the addicted person. Some are fearful they may be overreacting. The truth is, it’s never too soon for an intervention, but it can be too late.

If you suspect drug use or are experiencing undesirable behavior, it’s time to take action, even if your situation has not reached the level described by the list above. In fact, it’s better for everyone involved if it’s not allowed to get this serious.

Finding the Right Help

Family alcohol problem

Most people in this situation say that their loved one is “someone they don’t know anymore.” I believe it. The fact of the matter is that drugs and heavy drinking alter a person’s personality for the worse, often dramatically. If the drugs or alcohol can be eliminated from the situation, in many cases, their original personality will partially or completely return.

Yes, they have to remain sober to hold onto their own personality! But they can come back, the way they were before. They can be the person you love again. But they have to get effective help for that to happen.

Have they been to rehab before? If they didn’t do well once they got home, it might not work to send them to the same kind of program that didn’t work before. Look at the principles the program is based on. Make sure they make sense to you. You should understand why different therapies would help a person recover and stay recovered.

Right at this point, it is smart to bring in an interventionist who has helped other families in this situation. Getting an addicted person to drop the pretense that “everything is fine” and they don’t need help is very challenging. A professional interventionist who has been through this process multiple times knows what they are getting into and how to push through the objections. If you need a referral to a trustworthy interventionist, you can call the helpline at Narconon and we will recommend one.

Don't fall prey to the lies and manipulation that so often accompany addiction. You need to learn how to love and help, but not enable.

It's also important that you take care of yourself and ensure that you are in the best state you can be in physically and emotionally. However, chances are that a large part of the stress you are going through right now is due to your loved one's addicted behavior! So, yes, take care of yourself, but no, don't delay taking action. You need to be prepared to do everything in your power to get help for your loved one.

Setting a New Standard of Behavior

This is where doing a professional intervention comes into play. A professional interventionist gives the family the objective support they need at this time. They are not embroiled in the grief and anger of the family and have not been on the same roller-coaster of living with the addicted person for years. The interventionist will help the family define their expectations and demands related to accepting their offer of rehab.

Interventionist talking with a young addict

As part of a professional intervention, the family and the interventionist will make it clear to the addicted person that a new standard of behavior is expected. That standard starts with the individual accepting that offer of rehabilitation. It also means that the family will withdraw any support they have been providing that could have enabled the drug use and addiction of their loved one if this offer is not accepted.

Before the intervention is staged, the family and the interventionist should agree on the exact steps they will take if the person does not go to rehab.

It might mean changing the locks on houses or properties the addicted person has keys to. It definitely means that any access to cash or bank accounts will be cut off.

It might be necessary to contact other family members that your addicted loved one will try to get money or other assets from and warn them that this person can’t be trusted at the moment. Consider cutting off payment of other bills you might have been covering, such as car payments, utilities and rent. If you make things too easy for this person, there might not be enough reason for them to face their need to go directly to rehab.

You definitely need to take measures to ensure that anyone who might be inclined to continue enabling the drug user isn't able to. For example, maybe mom or grandma has a soft heart. They’ll believe any sob story and part with all the money they have on hand at the moment. You might need to help them secure their valuables as well until your loved one has agreed to recovery. Otherwise, your loved one might see an escape route out of your insistence on a new standard of behavior.

When Do You Draw the Line?

Drawing the line means that you do whatever it takes to stop the self-destruction. If the slide into self-destruction has been going on for a while, your loved one has lost the ability to pull themselves out of this slump. It’s time for you to take action. By this time, you have undoubtedly made many, many appeals for change that have been unanswered.

Many families have found that bringing a professional interventionist into the situation was the right way to break the pattern of self-destruction and the abuse that may have been suffered by the family.

Actually, you don’t have to wait until lives, finances, career and health are wrecked. It’s better to draw the line earlier than this so you have a greater ability to help the other person.

With the right program, your loved one can get their life back. It has happened tens of thousands of times for graduates of the Narconon drug and alcohol rehabilitation program and for graduates of other good-quality programs. It can happen for you and your loved one, too.


Reviewed and Edited by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC,CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.