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Living with a drug or alcohol user? What do I need to know?

By Tim Woodley

Living with someone abusing drugs and alcohol isn’t easy – it can even be dangerous. You’re worried about the extent of their use and if there’s a growing dependency behind it and you can sense that their problematic substance misuse is affecting the wellbeing of the household.

It’s a common picture across the UK. What to do about it? Today, Help Me Stop’s addiction professionals are offering advice on living with a drinker or drug user.

If you need someone to talk to about your concerns, we’re right here, right now. Call us on 0208 191 8920 or email us.


Start by understanding addiction.

If you are living alongside someone battling with addiction and substance misuse, it’s important you start by educating yourself properly on what problematic drug and alcohol use and addiction is and how it works. Many of us live with misconceptions about addiction, many of which we learn in life through the media.

One of the most important things to learn? Addiction is a disease. It is not a moral failing or a sign of a lack of willpower on behalf of the person using drugs and alcohol. It changes the brain, and over time a person who is abusing substances will see their brain physically rewire itself to interpret drugs or alcohol as a reward. In most cases, addiction and substance misuse are coping mechanisms people use to alleviate feelings of anxiety, stress, lack of self-esteem, depression and anger – emotions they often feel due to trauma experienced earlier in life. Statistically speaking, the majority of individuals who develop an addiction to drugs and alcohol have experienced significant trauma earlier in life in some manner.

Because of how much the brain changes when substance misuse continues and grows, addiction itself is considered a chronic, long-term disease. However, like other lifelong diseases such as diabetes, it can be beaten, but the most effective way of doing this is through professional help using intensive psychotherapy and peer support, although in some cases medical support is also required. Bearing this in mind, it is important to accept that you probably are not the right person to “fix” the person you are living with, and that getting professional help with this is in the best interest of both you and them.


It’s not your fault.

We encourage you to keep in mind that you didn’t cause their problematic use or addiction and that the blame game is something that problematic drug and alcohol users often use to justify their use. They can also use it alongside denial to remain in their self-imposed state. The typical examples of this include:

  • ‘You made me feel miserable so that I must drink or use drugs to feel better’
  • ‘You don’t understand, my boss expects too much from me. Work is too stressful, so I need alcohol or drugs to unwind’
  • ‘If you were a better wife, husband, partner etc. I wouldn’t have to drink or use drugs’
  • ‘You’re a killjoy. I’m only having a good time like everyone else’

Ultimately, the responsibility to begin a path to recovery lies with the person using drugs and alcohol. What you can do, is take some steps to protect yourself and your home – and to gently guide the individual towards choices that will help them. We encourage you to consider the following actions.

Set firm boundaries: Substance misuse and dependency are things that lead a person to manipulate others. In an effort to sustain their current ‘setup’ so they can continue using drugs or alcohol, they may ‘gaslight’ you and push boundaries. Being out late, coming back loudly and asking for money are common examples. Set firm boundaries here to make it clear what you will and will not tolerate.

Don’t compromise yours or others safety: Yours and others safety is paramount. This is a particularly important point if the individual is abusing alcohol, which has stronger ties to domestic violence, psychological and verbal abuse, and aggression. If you begin to feel unsafe or a particularly violent incident occurs, be firm. You may want to ask the person to leave your home temporarily and you should be prepared to contact the Police if required. This is very important to remember if there are children in the home; even if there is no physical violence, they will be affected by the psychological and verbal abuse.

Continue practising self-care: It’s understandable to neglect ourselves when we feel stressed and worried about anything, but it’s important you continue to take time for yourself. Maintaining your emotional wellbeing is vital in any situation, but it’s doubly important when you are living with someone who is misusing substances. The healthier, happier and supported you are, the better you are suited to withstanding any difficulties they may bring – and you’ll be better suited to help them recover, too. There are some helpful free self-help support out there for families that we recommend you access.

Discuss treatment: Always remember you don’t have to be a physically or psychologically addicted to get help; the sooner a person resolves their issues with drugs and alcohol, the better.  Help Me Stop offers accessible online rehab and accessible in-person rehab. Our Dayhab programmes are highly affordable and effective and can fit around work and family life. Help Me Stop also offers conjoint family sessions and a dedicated family programme. What to say, when to say it and how to suggest someone needs treatment needs to be thought out and planned. We have written some previous blogs on this subject on our website or call us for some free advice


If you just need to talk, we’re here. Please get in touch.

Sometimes all you need is an understanding and non-judgemental addictions professional to speak to about your issues and concerns. It’s our mission and pleasure to provide that for you; just give us a ring on 0208 191 8920 today or email us if it’s easier. We’ll happily listen, understand and help where we can.

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