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Addiction comes in many different forms, but how you can help is almost always the same.

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Addiction is a difficult topic to discuss – and it’s also a difficult topic to define. When people hear the word “addiction” most people think of substance abuse problems such as alcohol, opioids and other prescription or illegal drugs. And with a reported 23 million or more Americans addicted to alcohol or drugs, it’s a fact that many addictions are substance-related.

But there are other addictions, too. Impulse-control disorders are addictions and include kleptomania (compulsive stealing), pyromania (an obsessive desire to set fires) and gambling. There are also behavioral addictions, like compulsive exercising, eating or shopping; sex or pornography addictions; cutting or self-harm; or being addicted to social media or video games.

“Addiction can feel helpless, but it’s important to know that there is help and treatment for all. While an individual battling a substance use disorder or addiction is often a highly personal experience, addiction also affects family, a spouse or loved ones as well. Trust may begin to erode; a loved one may begin to withdraw or isolate themselves; control may begin to seem lost. Therefore, it’s so important to create a space that invites an open conversation free of shame and judgment. There are many dedicated professionals out there that can help, from inpatient treatment to outpatient programs.”

Thomas Lorando, LMSW, Psychiatry 

Although the focus of addictions may differ, the main symptoms are similar. These include:
  • Obsessing about the focus of the addiction – talking about it constantly or trying to convince others to join in
  • Continuing the addiction, even if it’s proving harmful to the person or to others
  • Not being able to control the addiction
  • Denying the addiction
  • Hiding addiction behaviors from friends and family
  • Becoming depressed or ill because of the addiction
If you suspect that someone you’re close to is dealing with addiction, no matter what they’re addicted to, it’s helpful to realize that you can’t solve the problem for them. But there are a few things you can do to help:
  1. Open the lines of communication. Be honest and sincere, but never judgmental. Offer your unconditional support. Let the person know you’re there to help, wherever and whenever they need it.
  2. Be committed. If “whenever” ends up being in the middle of the night or another inconvenient time for you, do whatever it takes to help.
  3. Do some legwork. If the person is willing to seek help for their addiction, help them get started by compiling a list of treatment programs, support groups and mental-health counselors they can reach out to. Accompany the person to appointments if they ask.
  4. Get help for yourself, too. It’s hard to live or work with an addict, especially if the addiction is also hurting you personally, professionally or financially. Find a counselor or a support group to help you cope.

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Date Last Reviewed: October 11, 2019

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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