There are so many articles out there that promise to teach you how to talk to a loved one about drugs and alcohol. Most of them are filled with good information and useful tips but most of them also approach the issue from the perspective of prevention. The idea is to teach your kids and teens about addiction before it happens so that, hopefully, it won’t.

Drug Problem

Nobody is ever going to say that this is a bad idea. Unfortunately, not every kid or teen comes from as open and supportive an environment as yours. So what should they do? How do you teach your kids to approach someone else’s addiction and to hopefully get that person to find the help that he or she needs?

You do it by learning how to do it yourself. If there is someone in your life who is struggling with addiction here is how you approach the situation responsibly and empathetically.

#1. Check Your Privilege

First and foremost you have to understand the difference between addiction and affinity. A person can have a drink every night and not have a problem. The difference between addiction and affinity lies within the person’s autonomy. If he or she regularly makes statements about having to have a drink, that’s a bad sign.

Pay attention to “quantity descriptors.” People who have an addiction often do not realize just how much or how often they are choosing to partake. For example, if you watch a friend pound back eight drinks in a night but he insists he only had “a couple,” that’s a bad sign.

#2. Ask Questions

The first approach you should take with the other person should feel like information gathering. “Hey, do you realize that the only place we hang out anymore is at this bar?” or “Do you really want that fifth drink? Isn’t it getting expensive?” Your loved one might still get mad but asking for answers isn’t a terrible thing. It can also help you figure out just how much of a problem your friend might be fighting.

#3. Get Backup

If you’re noticing that something is off, you’re probably not alone. Ask other people who are close if they’ve noticed your loved one’s excessive drinking/drug use. Ask people you trust and make sure that they know you’re not gossiping but that you’re genuinely concerned. They might have insights you don’t. If they are concerned as well, you can approach your loved one together.

#4. The First Confrontation

The first time you confront your loved one about their drinking or drug use, expect that it will go badly–in spite of your good intentions. Calmly tell them that you are uncomfortable with how much they have been consuming and that you are worried about their health. Remind them how much you love them. Tell them about any personality shifts you have noticed or behaviors that have worried you. Do not raise your voice. Try not to accuse (“you always” statements are a bad idea). Yelling and accusing will put the person on the defensive.

Encourage the person to talk to a professional about their consumption levels–a doctor, a therapist, someone. Expect them to refuse.

#5. Kicking it Up a Notch

If you’ve talked to your loved one about their consumption (you’ll want to try at least a few times) and you know that you aren’t the only person who has noticed a problem, it’s time to “go a little bigger.” In this article about getting a family member into treatment, Michael’s House recommends working with a professional intervention specialist to help convince your loved one that real help is needed.

From here, how you proceed is up to you, your friends and family and any professionals you’ve enlisted (like the intervention specialist) to help you with the confrontation. There are definite steps involved in getting someone into rehab or treatment that you should follow.