How to support a loved one with substance misuse

It’s easy to think that substance use only affects the person concerned, but it can have a real impact on loved ones too. 

When thinking about the impact of drug use, we tend to focus on the physical and mental toll substance misuse takes on the person using. But drugs can have a huge effect on loved ones too, even if they’re not closely involved with that part of their life. 

It’s hard to be there for a loved one when they’ve got a problem with substance use. You might feel lonely, unloved, and frustrated with their behaviour, and that’s perfectly normal.  

Secrecy and trust 

Drug use almost encourages secrecy, and it’s not uncommon for people with substance misuse problems to hide their usage. This can be for many reasons: some examples include feeling ashamed of how much they rely on substances, wanting to avoid judgement from others, or hiding how much money they spend.  

Understandably, this may leave you feeling neglected and unloved. Addictions can change someone’s personality, leaving them irritable and unpleasant to be around too, so don’t feel bad if you feel like you’re liking them less and less. 


It’s important to talk openly about your concerns, even if it feels painful to start the conversation. Open communication is important to ensure you’re both on the same page.  

Not sure how to start the conversation? Choose a quiet place when you have plenty of time to talk – this isn’t a chat you want to rush. Don’t accuse them of anything – “I think you’re addicted” or “You have a problem” may not be what they want to hear, and they might react negatively, or shut down the conversation. 

Listen to what they have to say too. They’ll have feelings about their drug use, whether they’re concerned about it or not.  

Getting help 

Support from a partner or other loved ones can help make recovery feel less daunting. The key is to offer non-judgemental support and gentle encouragement to seek professional help. Accompany them to doctor appointments and suggest support groups. While it’s true that you can only help someone if they’re willing to be helped, sometimes having someone who can take the hard work out of seeking support is a huge help. 

Don’t forget about your own feelings during this process. Focusing so intently on someone else’s feelings and health may leave you feeling exhausted and like you’ve no time to focus on your own health. Consider seeking help for you too: there are specific organisations that focus providing support for families and partners of people who have a substance misuse problem, including DrugFAM [], Adfam [] and Families Anonymous [].