Help A Loved One With Substance Abuse

It can affect any age, race, sex, gender, socioeconomic status, religious background or ethnicity. No one is immune to the possibility of becoming enslaved to a substance.


Help A Loved One

The ideas and information in these questions and answers were borrowed from the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities; Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations; Health Cost Institute; Health Services Research;; National Institute on Drug Abuse; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; United States Department of Labor. The original document source for questions 1-10 may be found at the following location:

5 Steps to Freedom

From Addiction

  • 1


  • 2


  • 3


  • 4


  • 5

    Continued Freedom

Avoidance Stage:


A person enslaved to a substance in this stage…

  • May be so distracted and/or discouraged by their addiction they are not able/willing to change
  • Is often not thinking about changing and is trying to pretend to be a happy user
  • Has learned/convinced themselves they are helpless in their addiction and feels that change is impossible and that they must ignore the negative consequences of their addiction
  • Cannot imagine the possibility of a different life
  • May feel defeated by prior attempts to change
  • Will often minimize/justify their problem, be argumentative, and be in denial that there is a problem
  • May minimize their addiction by saying things like "It's not that big of a deal" or "I'm not as bad as…"

Consideration Stage:


A person enslaved to a substance in this stage…

  • Is starting to have increased awareness of the negative impact of their addiction
  • Is struggling with whether or not changing their life will be worth the effort – will the benefits of sobriety (getting clean) outweigh the cost of using
  • Is unsure, reluctant, or ambivalent to commit to a particular course of action
  • Is feeling “stuck‟ - often procrastinating for an average of 6 months
  • May experience greater guilt and shame as they begin to evaluate their life
  • Might say things like, “I’ll make a change one of these days” or “I should probably make a change”

Preparation Stage:


A person enslaved to a substance in this stage…

  • Is beginning to see that they are responsible for their choices
  • Is starting to realize that they have the power to make life-changing decisions
  • Is beginning to gather resources, while looking for and evaluating different options
  • Has made the decision to change and acted upon it by beginning to develop a timeline and realistic plans to do so.
  • May be worrying about and/or comparing new plans to previous failed attempts to change
  • Is seriously planning to change a behavior in the next 30 days and has taken the beginning steps
NOTE: People in this stage must take these steps for themselves, but not by themselves.

Action Stage:


A person who is becoming free from being enslaved to a substance in this stage…

  • Has immersed themselves in addiction recovery and is actively pursuing activities to change or modify their behavior
  • Has begun their life makeover and is pursuing holistic life restoration and health in five areas of their life (Physical, Psychological/Emotional, Intellectual, Relationships, and Spiritual)
  • It is important that both the addicted person and their loved ones understand the differences between treatment programs before selecting a treatment program. Finding the right treatment program can put you or a loved one on the road to sobriety.
    1. Detox Program - Some people may need to get “clean” (get the effects of the drugs out of their system) so that they can begin their rehabilitation (life makeover). The first step for many addicts’ treatment is medically-assisted detox. Physicians and addiction specialists monitor patients’ vital signs and medical and mental effects while the drugs exit the system. Drug cravings are often intense during detox and can be difficult to overcome, which is why, during this period, many relapse.
    2. Inpatient Program (Residential Treatment) - This is an intensive program designed to treat serious addictions. These programs require patients to check themselves into a controlled environment to overcome their addictions. Patients stay at a clinic with 24-hour medical and emotional support. During inpatient treatment, residents are able to completely focus on getting well and sober without the distractions of everyday life.
    3. Out-Patient Program - Outpatient drug rehabs are part-time programs, allowing the recovering user to keep going to work or school during the day. These sessions focus on drug abuse education, individual and group counseling, and teaching addicted people how to cope without their drug. Outpatient drug rehab can be a good standalone option for someone with a mild addiction, or it can be part of a long-term treatment program.

Continued Freedom:

“I’m staying clean.”

A person who is no longer enslaved to a substance in this stage…

  • Has established new behaviors (i.e. alternative coping mechanisms or “go-to’s”) over a long term basis and is now able to sustain the healthy patterns of sobriety
  • Has made the specific modifications in their lifestyles as needed, and now they are adopting measures in order to prevent relapse
  • Has continued involvement in 12-step program or similar support groups
  • Is experiencing momentum because of their new self-sustaining behavior, and it is becoming second nature
  • Is constantly aware of risks/temptations and the possibility of relapse

NOTE: This stage can be compared to a person who has begun to workout at the gym for the first time. On the first day you are not as strong, flexible, and energetic as you will be a year later. The more you practice, the easier it gets. People are more aware of triggers and stressors that could lead to relapse. It is more than merely a routine exercise, but rather an integrated aspect of themselves.

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