Become a member of Allies in Recovery and we’ll teach you how to intervene, communicate and guide your loved one toward treatment.Become a member of Allies in Recovery today.

How to Spot if Someone Is Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol

You may be asking yourself whether or not your loved one has a problem with alcohol or drugs. It is not an easy question to answer, as there are almost as many definitions of problem use as there are experts.

*This post originally appeared on our Member Site blog, where experts respond to members’ questions and concerns. To take advantage of our current special offer and get full access to the Allies in Recovery eLearning program for families, click here.



Allies in Recovery addiction family intervention drugs alcohol Allies in Recovery
Illustration © Eleanor Davis

Ask yourself, “is my loved one’s use causing problems?”

The problems may be subtle ones. For instance, perhaps your loved one’s pot smoking causes her not to finish tasks. Or maybe she is so passive she doesn’t even start that task. Is your loved one overly focused on alcohol or a drug, to the detriment of other things in their life?

My hunch is that if you are reading this article, there is something seriously wrong with your loved one’s behavior around drugs and alcohol. There will be little doubt in your mind that their problem is so serious that solving it is going to involve abstaining from alcohol and drugs.

In a previous post looking at what triggers people to use drugs and alcohol, I asked you to list the signs that tell you your loved one is using or drinking, for example when he smokes pot his left eye droops. There is an exhaustive list of signs and symptoms by drug in the Supplement section of the Allies in Recovery membership site.

The three stages of addiction to drugs or alcohol

Once you know they’re on something and you’re concerned they may be addicted to drugs or alcohol, you may want to identify what stage they are in. I see three stages to any drug and alcohol problem:

  1. “There is no problem.” Your loved one has no intention of stopping. You might say that they “use with abandon.”
  1. “There may be a problem.” In this stage your loved one has noticed that taking a drug or drinking may be a problem so they start making changes to their behavior, like switching to wine from hard liquor or only doing cocaine on weekends.

I like to think of these changes as small experiments in getting sober. They often don’t work because the problem is actually bigger than they first realize. BUT these experiments provide critically important opportunities for learning about their addiction. With each successive failure, these experiments provide a growing recognition that the problem is bigger and harder to resolve than they first thought.

  1. “I’ve got to stop this.” The third stage is when they get that resolve and commit to stopping. Now they’re having periods of abstinence. Perhaps they have even long periods, with maybe the rare and ever briefer relapse. They may also show an emotional commitment to living a sober life. As the relapses get shorter, abstinence gets longer, and finally there is abstinence without relapse.

Remember, it’s a process

The bad news is that some people will get to Stage 3 and resolve to stop, only to give up and go back to using with abandon or to ineffective efforts at controlling their use as described in Stage 2. This is what makes drug and alcohol problems so confounding and infuriating.

Yet I don’t believe all is lost if you see your loved one going backwards. When they’ve recognized the need to quit once (Stage 3), they never entirely forget the problem is serious, even as they slide back to what looks like use with abandon or smallish efforts at control.

Somewhere in their thinking is the knowledge that the alcohol or drug is the problem. Knowing how to react to your loved one, you can help move them more quickly towards Stage 3 again, and a resolve to quit. That is what we teach family members to do here at Allies in Recovery. Learn more about how we can help.

Yes, the family DOES have a role to play. Your stance, behavior, and choices DO make a difference. At Allies in Recovery we are absolutely convinced of this. “Tough love” is not a successful technique. Our learning platform is set up to help family members learn the techniques that will reduce conflict, build that bridge of communication, and be effective in guiding your loved one into treatment. Together we will move your loved one towards recovery. Learn more here.

Related Posts from "Drug Addiction Treatment"

Real Allies in Recovery Success Stories: Families Share How CRAFT Helped Their Loved Ones with SUD

Read real success stories from families who used the CRAFT approach to help their loved ones with Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Learn how CRAFT helped them engage their loved ones into treatment, and how it improved their relationships and reduced stress levels. Discover how you can use the CRAFT method to help your loved ones find recovery, and visit for more stories and resources.

How Do I Prepare for My Daughter with SUD to Come Home? And What About Her Boyfriend?

Her daughter is involved with a man who may be sabotaging her efforts to stop using substances. But she’s expressed some readiness to get help, and mom wants to support her in any way that she can. Mom’s working on ignoring the bad-news boyfriend while setting up guidelines for her return home. She needs guidance on the details…Allies in Recovery weighs in with some CRAFT-based tips.

My Son is in Detox for Fentanyl – What Medication is the Best Option?

Our member seeks guidance about helping her loved one find the right medication for Opioid Use Disorder. Her son has tried Suboxone and Methadone and is looking for an alternative. He has concerns about sleep and anxiety, and our member is wondering which medications may best suit his needs. Allies Director Dominique Simon-Levine gives a detailed answer, as well as some great CRAFT pointers for supporting his recovery.

How Can We Help our Daughter Find Residential Treatment?

What her daughter needs—a solid residential treatment program for women—should not be so hard to find. Unfortunately, such programs often are. We sorted through some of the options in the state where this Allies in Recovery member lives, so she can focus her search on a program most likely to help her daughter continue to improve. The family can also keep doing CRAFT to help support the relationship with their daughter in recovery, and to take care of themselves in the process. Staying in touch with Allies staff can also help support them.

In-Person & Virtual Recovery Resources for Your Loved One

ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS (AA World Services, Inc.) Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other, that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. This is an informational website for anyone interested in learning more about their organization, 12-step program of recovery, and how to find local meetings. PHONE: 212.870.3400 Click here for Online AA Meetings What is AA? What to Expect in an AA Meeting  What is Anonymity in AA?  AA INTERGROUP ONLINE MEETING FINDER IN THE ROOMS In The Rooms offers over 150+ weekly live online meetings, a variety 12-Step and Non-12- Step Fellowships, and Specialty meetings. Some of our most popular meetings are AA, NA, ACA, Al-Anon, and Nar-Anon meetings, and much more. In The Rooms has 69 live online AA meetings weekly, so there’s bound to be one that fits your schedule! We have specialty AA meetings too, like AA Pride (LGBTQ). We also have an Agnostic AA meeting, if you’re seeking a meeting without a secular approach to recovery. We have 30 NA meetings on ITR weekly. Like AA, there’s also an NA Pride meeting (LGBTQ) and an Agnostic NA meeting. For support for the family, friends, and allies of those in recovery, In The Rooms has both Al-Anon and Nar-Anon meetings, which each meeting, 1-3 times a week. We also have many other 12-step fellowship groups, like Gamblers Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and Sex Addicts Anonymous, CODA, Dual Diagnosis, and much more. If you can think of a Recovery fellowship, we probably have it.  FULL LISTING of LIVE VIRTUAL/ONLINE MEETINGS  12Step.Org We strive to provide information, tools, and resources for working a 12 Step program (or any program using 12 step principles for recovery) in as simple and effective way as possible. Online Meeting Calendar Online Video Meetings Phone Meetings Forums, Text Chats, and Email Meetings List RECOVERY DHARMA Recovery Dharma is a peer-led movement and community that is unified by our trust in the potential of each of us to recover and find freedom from the suffering of addiction. We believe that the traditional Buddhist teachings, often referred to as…

I Think I’m Ready to Ask Him to Leave – Even Though I’ve Been Doing CRAFT

An active Allies in Recovery member wrote in to our “Pose a Question” blog with an update about her partner who continues to use substances and to be emotionally volatile, despite having previously done a 30-day recovery program. While she says that participating in our Wednesday night support group with Kayla, along with other CRAFT resources on our site, has been “a huge help” with her own well-being, she still isn’t having success in engaging her loved one into treatment again. She asks: Has the time come to ask him to leave?

Is Suboxone a Good Thing for Your Loved One?

An Allies in Recovery member is overwhelmed by all the conflicting information and stances on Suboxone. Her 40-year-old son has struggled for 15 years with opioids and other drugs, and his new treatment plan includes Suboxone. Is this a good thing? CRAFT Trainer and Family Recovery Advocate, Laurie MacDougall, weighs in with an array of facts and lived experience.