5 Ways to Support a Loved One with Substance Use Disorder


According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2019) 20.4 million Americans have struggled with substance use disorder. Yet, addiction is something that is still so stigmatized. This stigma carries so much shame it often prevents people from seeking and receiving the support they need. 

For example, in 2019, of the 21.6 million people in the United States who needed substance use treatment, only 2.6 million people received it. While only one of the barriers to care, stigma is something that we can all take steps to address. 

If you are someone looking to support someone in your life who struggles with substance misuse it’s important to recognize the dangerous effects stigma can have on those who struggle with substance use disorder, and address it when it comes up. Below are 5 other ways you can support those in your life who struggle with substance misuse or substance use disorder. 

1). Address Your Language

A lot of language around substance use is outdated! Just like other health fields, our knowledge on the science of addiction and the experience of substance use disorder is constantly progressing. A lot of the outdated language is also loaded with stigma, and very dehumanizing. Shifting to person centered language when talking about substance use disorder (ex. “Dirty test results” becomes “actively using”) helps to remove some of that shame and stigma from the conversation. 

2) Educate yourself

Millions of Americans struggle with substance use, but it’s still widely misunderstood. Taking time to learn about addiction is a good step to take to support a loved one struggling with substance misuse. Ask yourself:

  • Do you know the common causes of addiction? 
  • Do you know the genetic factors? 
  • Do you know the social/cultural/environmental factors that contribute to substance misuse?
  • How much do you know about the physical experience of addiction? 
  • Do you know how substance use disorder can affect your brain
  • What  experiencing withdrawal feels like?

Taking time to learn thoroughly about addiction + recovery can help you understand more fully what your loved one is going through/how they might need support. It also helps to signal to your loved one that you are taking their experience seriously, and are a safe person to turn to for support.  

3) Find a support group for yourself

Being a loved one of someone struggling with substance misuse will come with it’s own challenges. While being a source of support to your partner is important, you should have a place of support as well. A support group for other loved ones can be a great place to express and explore your own needs and concerns. 

4). Learn about harm reduction & adjust your expectations

Substance use disorder is very difficult to manage, and those who are working on their recovery might not always be able to stop using completely. In fact, it is very unlikely that stopping use all at once would even be a safe option. It’s also important to remember that there are a lot of factors that contribute to substance use that will need to be addressed for a full recovery. Because of this, it may be necessary for you to adjust your expectations. Talk with your loved one, what is realistic? What are their goals in recovery? Learning about the harm reduction model can help you find ways to support their recovery in ways that are realistic to them + their circumstances as well as adjust your expectations of what their journey of recovery might look like. 

5) Ask them!

Of course, the best way to figure out how to support someone is to ask them. “How can I support you in your recovery?” or “What support do you need from me as you manage this?” If there was anything you read when doing your own research (local groups, methods of support others have used, etc.) you can bring those up, ask if there is anything that sounds helpful to your loved one there, or if the support they want from you is different. Make it clear you’re there to support them in the way they think is best. 

Do you need support navigating substance use recovery or supporting a partner through substance use recovery? Contact us today, we can help!