First Steps: How to Get Help for Yourself or Someone Else

Finding outside help may be the key to conquering addiction.
Finding outside help may be the key to conquering addiction.

If a beloved family member or friend is in the throes of drug or alcohol addiction, it's very likely that you want to help them. But where do you start? You're worried about your family member, you're scared of what others will think, you're afraid of how your life will change and you feel really isolated by all of these feelings and the helplessness that ensues. You're not alone -- addiction commonly frightens families into secrecy and silence. For both the addict and his or her family members, having a problem with drugs or alcohol feels shameful. This is because many people aren't aware that addiction is a disease, like diabetes or cancer. It's a disease of the brain that takes over the personality and the ability to function in life, and it needs to be treated as such. Here are some first steps to take in getting the help you need for both your loved one and yourself.

Reach Outside of the Family

One of the biggest mistakes that families make is trying to keep an addiction a secret and dealing with it alone. The disease of addiction is tricky and sophisticated, and recovery begins with the family. Most families don't have the tools or the knowledge needed to help an addict overcome his or her dependency without the help of an outside professional. And the addict certainly can't be counted on to help him or herself. If an addict had the coping mechanisms necessary for self-regulation, he or she wouldn't have become an addict. To put it in perspective, if you got diabetes or cancer, you wouldn't try to deal with it on your own. The first step to dealing with addiction is to reach out for professional help. You can start by calling any major treatment center, such as The Betty Ford Center or The Caron Foundation. These national centers have a range of specialists -- from therapists and doctors, to psychiatrists and interventionists -- who all specialize in addiction. You can also contact the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD). They have local chapters that may offer resources in your area.


Find a Professional that You Trust

We've established that you can't do this alone, so finding the right person to help guide you through this process is essential. The type of recovery program that your friend or family member needs depends on the stage of chemical dependency that he or she is in, as well as factors such as home and work environment. The best way to proceed is to hold an intervention with the aid of a professional, who can help diagnose the stage of the disease and suggest a treatment plan. Every interventionist works differently. For example, Kristina Wandzilak, the Executive Director of Full Circle Intervention and host of TLC's new show "Addicted," doesn't believe in surprise interventions. When she's in charge, everyone knows ahead of time what's going to happen. So, even if the addict doesn't show up, Kristina uses the opportunity to intervene with the family. She believes that behind every addict is a co-dependent who is unknowingly allowing it to happen. Bringing family members together for education and support is an important first step in helping your loved one get on the road to sobriety.

Decide on a Treatment Plan and Placement

The main purpose of an intervention is to come up with a treatment plan that suits the individual. Wandzilak describes it like this, "Everyone arrives at treatment with their own special basket of issues, and you want to find a treatment center that can address all of the issues in their basket." Most centers have specific programs, and it's essential to recovery that the program is a good fit for the specific problems of the addict. For example, you wouldn't want to put a 18-year-old meth addict in a program full of Fortune 500 Company CEOs. This is why randomly choosing a rehab center off of the Internet is ill-advised. A professional interventionist should be able to recommend the best program for your loved one.

Get Help Now

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence -- 800-NCA-CALL

Betty Ford Center -- 800-434-7365

Caron Foundation -- 800-854-6023

Full Circle Intervention -- 415-747-8224