Family or Friend of a person with an Unhelpful Addictive Behaviour - What Might Help?

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

Advantages (benefits & rewards)

The unhelpful addictive behaviour of someone I am close to might have a significant impact on my emotional and physical well-being. It might be like living on a roller coaster, potentially putting heavy pressure and stress on my ability to cope.

If I feel I have ‘tried everything’ and nothing seems to be working very much, I may have already decided that it's time for something to change in my approach.

Whether I am looking to support a Loved One toward a positive lifestyle change, whether I am looking to restore some balance to my own life, or whether I am looking to accomplish both, this section will help me towards understanding why I might alter my thinking or behaving, and how I might alter my thinking or behaving.

Professional Help

This is other than professional therapy. When I am having serious difficulties managing my relationship with my Loved One, it is highly recommend that I seek professional help in addition to using this Program for Family or Friend.

I might consider regularly assessing, after a reasonable time, whether any assistance I utilise, or any professional I am consulting, is likely helping, neutral, or seems to be unhelpful.

Why Might I Change?

The unhelpful addictive behaviour of someone I am close to might have an enormous impact on my own well-being. It might be like living on a roller coaster, putting huge pressure and stress on my, and/or my family’s, ability to cope.

I have probably tried lots of different ways to manage the situation and help my Loved One (LO). However, some of these strategies may be wearing me out and actually reducing my ability to cope. Without meaning to, these strategies may also have hindered my LO from facing the consequences of their actions and therefore reduced their reason or motivation to change.

An example of an unhelpful coping strategy is:

  • Keeping my LO’s behaviour secret from family and friends – thereby isolating myself and denying myself sources of potential support.

  • Covering for or “protecting” my LO – e.g., calling their boss when they are too hung over to go to work the next morning and telling a “white lie”; being their alarm clock and waking them in time to go to work.

  • Becoming a nurse – e.g., cleaning up after them when they have vomited all over themselves and tucking them into bed.

  • Being controlling – e.g., trying to physically stop the person from using by doing things like flushing drugs down the toilet, pouring alcohol down the sink, or physically restraining them in some way.

  • Supplying them to “keep them safe” – e.g. buying my LO drugs or alcohol to have at home so that “they don’t go out and get into trouble.”

  • “Nagging” – telling them over and over how terrible/destructive their behaviour is and that they need to stop.

  • Pleading with them to stop using – especially when they are under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol and therefore not in a helpful or rational frame of mind.

  • Trying harder – to be a better parent or partner or friend. Exhausting myself by trying to be more giving and more understanding - often out of a sense of responsibility or perceived guilt.

  • Obsessing over the unhelpful addictive behaviour – continually thinking about my Loved One - leaving no time for thinking about my own needs or those of other family members.

  • “Rescuing” my LO when things get tough – e.g. giving them money when they have run out due to their drug and/or alcohol use.

How might MY Coping and Helping Behaviour be Working?

1. What might I have done to try to cope with a situation and get my LO to stop using?

2. Reflecting on what has worked, and what hasn’t worked - possibly from the list above.

3. Discussion point:

The only person whose behaviour I might reliably control might be ME. Setting a clear boundary, respecting myself and focusing on my own life might enable me to stay sane and cope better. It might also allow my Loved One to experience a consequence of their action and perhaps make an informed choice for themself.

“Rather than a thing changing, I might change” – Henry David Thoreau

The Stages of Change that might occur

Rather than an event, change is likely a process. Rather than happening overnight, it may take effort to achieve. Although making a change may ask for some planning, persistence, practice and patience, it may perhaps result in making MY life more manageable.

Psychologists have identified five stages that people tend to go through when making a change. These stages might help to gain an insight into where I am in relation to making a change.

*Note: I may not necessarily move between these changes in a straightforward way. I might move forwards and backwards through these stages. BuiLD views change as tending to be an “upward spiral” rather than a straight line.

Stages of Change for a Family or Friend


Sometimes termed “denial”; at this stage I feel there isn’t a problem with my own behaviour and I am pretty much in complete control of the situation. I may be completely focused on trying to change the behaviour of my Loved One (LO) and are unaware of any reason to change my own behaviour.


I am beginning to reflect on my responses to my Loved One and wonder if they are really helpful. I start to question a behaviour of mine and am considering exploring an alternative.


I have reflected on my behaviour and my response to my Loved One and have decided that these are not as helpful as I’d like. I have decided that I want to change. I begin to develop a new strategy, think about a supportive person, set a goal and make a plan.


At this stage I am putting a plan into effect. I am evaluating my new behaviour and observing what is working well and what is not working so well. I am actively working toward a goal I have set for myself.


A thing seems less difficult. Making a helpful decision is becoming more intuitive and I am beginning to see a benefit of the change I have made – at least in me.

Sometime, despite my best intention, I might slip back into an old way of responding. This is called a slip or lapse or relapse. This may be common, rather than inevitable, and may be a part of a growth process. Rather than beat myself up, it is perhaps better to learn what I might from my result and get back on my purposefully chosen track.

Exercise – Change Motivation Assessment

1. How might I feel about altering my behaviour?

On the line below, I might mark where I think I am on the scale:

Not considering change - Thinking about changing - Already changing


0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

2. What might help me move forward?

(It might be as simple as “Keep practicing”)

3. Importance vs. Confidence.

In order to make an alteration, it may be helpful to think that alteration is important.

It is also likely helpful for me to feel confident about being able to make that alteration.

On the line below, I might mark HOW IMPORTANT I THINK IT MIGHT BE TO MAKE THAT ALTERATION, on a scale from one to ten:


0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

On the line below, I might mark HOW CONFIDENT I FEEL ABOUT BEING ABLE TO MAKE THAT ALTERATION, on a scale from one to ten:


0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

“The first step in me changing a thing might be to accept it.” - Carl Jung

Benefit Cost Matrix (BCM) - Weighing the Pros and Cons

I might choose a way of responding to my Loved One (e.g. yelling, avoiding, nagging) that I am thinking about changing. It might help me to make it specific - for example: waking my partner after they’ve been up partying all night so that they don’t oversleep and miss work.

  • I might list all the advantages of continuing that behaviour of mine and all the disadvantages of continuing that behaviour of mine.

  • Then I might do the reverse: that is, list all the advantages of ceasing that behaviour of mine and all the disadvantages of ceasing the behaviour of mine.

  • It might help me to label each item either “Short-Term (ST)” or “Long-Term (LT)”.

Continuing the Behaviour of ________________________

Advantages (benefits & rewards)

Disadvantages (costs & risks)

Ceasing the Behaviour and instead ________________________

Advantages (benefits & rewards)

Disadvantages (costs & risks)

An Alteration Plan

1. The alteration I prefer to make is:

2. An important reason I prefer to make this alteration might be:

3. A step I plan to take in altering my behaviour might be:

4. The way another person might help me might be:


Possible way they might help me:

5. I might know that my plan is working when:

6. A thing that might interfere with my plan might be:

7. How important might it be that I work towards making this alteration:

Not at all Important Most Important


0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

8. How confident might I be that I might make this change?

Not Confident Very Confident


0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

“When I am no longer able to change a situation, I might be challenged to change myself” - Viktor Frankl

Additional Resources:

Book: "Get Your Loved One Sober: Alternatives to Nagging, Pleading and Threatening" (GYLOS) by Robert J. Meyers, Ph.D. and Brenda L. Wolfe, Ph.D. Based on Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT)

Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change”

Almost Alcoholic – Is My (or My Loved One’s) Drinking a Problem”

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