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How to Help Someone Get Off Drugs

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

July 25, 2022

Table of Contents

Learning how to help someone get off drugs could mean the difference between early intervention and effective treatment or ongoing addiction to prescription medications or illicit drugs.

Each year, SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) publishes data from NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health). According to NSDUH 2020, 40 million adults in the U.S. have substance abuse disorder (the clinical term for drug addiction).

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With drug addiction so widespread, discovering how to get someone off of drugs effectively may help you or a loved one in need to engage with the appropriate drug rehab program.

What To Do If You Think Someone Is On Drugs

Substance use disorder is a chronic and progressive condition that often begins with experimental drug use in a social setting.

The sustained use of any addictive substance leads to tolerance forming. When this occurs, you need more of the substance or more frequent doses to achieve the same rewards. Physical dependence typically follows when substance use continues.

If you want to know how to help someone addicted to drugs, you must first identify the nature of the addiction. We’ll highlight some general signs of drug abuse as well as some substance-specific signs so you can start determining how to help someone on drugs engage with the right type of treatment.

Identifying the Problem

Here are some of the most common signs of drug abuse:

  • Changes in behavior.
  • Increased desire for privacy.
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities.
  • Problems at school.
  • Poor performance at work.
  • Altered physical appearance.
  • Dramatic changes in interpersonal relationships.
  • Bloodshot eyes.
  • Dry skin.
  • Financial problems.
  • Lack of energy and constant fatigue.
  • Appetite changes.
  • Disrupted sleep patterns.
  • Defensiveness when approached about substance use.
  • Denial of substance use.

You should also be aware of some signs and symptoms of drug abuse specific to the following substances:

  1. Opioids
  2. Stimulants
  3. Marijuana
  4. Club drugs
  5. Benzodiazepines and barbiturates

1) Opioids

Opioids are a class of drug including:

  1. Prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin.
  2. Semi-synthetic opioids like heroin.
  3. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Signs of opioid abuse include:

  • Sedation
  • Lethargy
  • Slow reaction times
  • Mood swings
  • Constipation
  • GI issues

If someone dependent on opioids does not access to the substance, they may appear anxious and present with flu-like symptoms.

2) Stimulants

Common stimulants of abuse include cocaine, crack cocaine, and meth.

Typical signs of stimulant abuse include:

  • Unremitting energy
  • Rapid speech
  • Rambling
  • Paranoia
  • Hostility
  • Dilated pupils
  • Nosebleeds
  • Runny nose

3) Marijuana

Marijuana and any cannabis-based product like edibles can induce euphoria. Other signs of marijuana abuse include:

  • Increased appetite
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Slow reaction times
  • Lack of coordination
  • Relaxed demeanor
  • Paranoia

4) Club drugs

Three of the most common club drugs are:

  1. MDMA (Molly)
  2. Ketamine
  3. GHB

Those abusing club drugs often display the following signs:

  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Insomnia
  • Increased body temperature
  • Dizziness
  • Impaired coordination
  • Excessive sweating
  • Clenched teeth
  • Slurred speech

5) Benzodiazepines and barbiturates

Benzos and barbiturates are CNS depressants prescribed to treat sleep disorders and anxiety disorders. Common examples include Xanax and Valium.

Someone abusing this class of prescription medication may exhibit the following signs:

  • Doctor shopping
  • Balance issues
  • Blurry vision
  • Lack of inhibitions
  • Confusion
  • Involuntary eye movements

Is It Addiction?

How to get someone off drugs most effectively hinges on determining the scope and severity of the addiction, as well as isolating any co-occurring mental health conditions. These factors will influence whether inpatient or outpatient treatment would make the best fit for your loved one.

NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) defines drug addiction as a chronic, relapsing brain condition. Central to drug addiction is the compulsive acquisition and consumption of drugs despite obviously negative outcomes.

While there is no cure for addiction, most drug addiction respond positively to a combination of the following evidence-based therapies:

  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Counseling (individual and group)
  • Psychotherapy (talk therapy like CBT and DBT)

Drug addiction is diagnosed according to responses to these eleven questions in DSM-5-TR related to substance use over the previous year:

  1. Do you frequently use drugs for longer than intended or in greater quantities than planned?
  2. Have you tried and failed to moderate or discontinue substance use?
  3. Are you spending disproportionate amounts of time obtaining drugs, using drugs, and recovering from their effects?
  4. Have you experienced cravings for drugs?
  5. Are you failing to meet your personal and professional obligations due to substance use?
  6. Do you continue to use substances despite drug use triggering recurrent social and interpersonal problems?
  7. Are you spending less time doing things you once enjoyed due to substance use?
  8. Do you take drugs in potentially hazardous situations?
  9. Do you continue taking drugs in spite of inflaming a physical or psychological condition through substance use?
  10. Has tolerance built so you need more of the substance to achieve the same effects?
  11. Have you experienced drug withdrawal symptoms in the absence of the substance?

Drug addiction is diagnosed as mild, moderate, or severe SUD (substance use disorder) as follows:

  • Mild SUD: 2 or 3 symptoms
  • Moderate SUD: 4 or 5 symptoms
  • Severe SUD: 6 or more symptoms

Research shows that most mild and moderate addiction respond equally well to outpatient treatment as residential rehab. Residential rehab, also known as inpatient rehab, is normally advisable for those with severe addictions, co-occurring mental health disorders, and unstable home environments.

How to Help Someone With a Drug Problem

When approaching a loved one you suspect of substance abuse, keep the following simple pointers in mind:

  • Explain to your loved one that you are concerned about their substance use.
  • Focus your concern only on the issue of substance use.
  • Avoid using stigmatizing language like drug addict when speaking with your loved one.
  • Demonstrate empathy and understanding.
  • Do not take a confrontational approach.
  • Leave guilt and blame aside while remaining as objective as possible.
  • Provide options rather than demands.
  • Reassure your loved one that you will support them throughout detox, rehab, and recovery.


If you suspect a loved one is using addictive substances, some form of intervention is advisable.

You may be lucky and find your loved one is relieved when you approach them concerning addiction and recovery, agreeing to engage with treatment.

In the event of unsuccessful approaches, you might need to consider staging a formal drug intervention. If so, engage the services of an experienced intervention specialist. Check out our guide to staging an intervention right here.

Early intervention in cases of drug addiction can improve health and functioning in the person abusing substances. Additionally, catching a substance use disorder before it develops into a more severe SUD can mean the difference between a straightforward course of outpatient treatment and a more expensive stint in residential rehab.

Unfortunately, SAMHSA data reveals that less than 10% of the 40 million adults in the U.S. with substance use disorder engage with any treatment at all.

Treatment Recommendations

Inpatient and outpatient rehab will both provide your loved one with access to the same array of treatments and services. With inpatient rehab, they will remain at the treatment facility throughout therapy, typically from 30 to 90 days. Those engaging with an outpatient program attend weekday therapy sessions and return home in between sessions.

Addiction treatment starts with detox. The detoxification stage varies in duration according to many variables, including:

  • Substance of abuse
  • Amount of substance being abused
  • Duration of substance abuse

A medical detox streamlines the intensity of withdrawal symptoms and cravings through the prescription of FDA-approved medications.

MAT (medication-assisted treatment) is especially effective for treating opioid use disorder and heroin use disorder with these medications:

  • Buprenorphine
  • Methadone
  • Naltrexone

MAT is almost most beneficial when delivered in combination with behavioral interventions.

Psychotherapy like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) can help your loved one to identify what triggers them to use addictive substances. A therapist will then help them create healthy coping strategies to avoid engaging in destructive behaviors like drug abuse.

Other forms of psychotherapy like DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) can also be effective for treating addiction, as well as alternative approaches like CM (contingency management).

Counseling, both individual and group, also forms a core component of all the best rehab programs.

Support System

Recovery from drug addiction is not a single time-limited event like detox but a lifelong process. The strength of a person’s sober support network can sometimes mean the difference between sustained sobriety and relapse.

Try to help your loved one to establish the following support system:

  • Sober friends
  • Supportive family members
  • Peer-support meetings if appropriate

You should ensure that you help your loved one throughout their recovery without enabling their addiction or their behaviors.

Most crucially, though, you should make certain that your loved one connects with the right level of care to promote sustained recovery from addiction.

Get Someone Off Drugs at Renaissance Recovery

If your loved one has been struggling with an addiction to prescription medications or illicit drugs, we can help here at Renaissance Recovery Center.

We specialize in the outpatient treatment of both addictions and mental health disorders. Anyone suffering from a co-occurring disorder can access integrated dual diagnosis treatment at our California rehab center.

If you feel that your loved one requires more support and structure than a traditional outpatient program provides, we also offer more intensive programming as follows:

  • IOP (intensive outpatient program): 12 to 15 hours of therapy sessions per week.
  • PHP (partial hospitalization program): 30 to 35 hours of therapy sessions per week.

All Renaissance treatment programs offer you access to a personalised combination of research-based interventions and holistic therapies for a whole-body approach to recovery.

When your loved one completes their course of treatment, they can shift to a less intensive level of care or transition directly back into daily living.

Remember: addiction is a chronic and relapsing condition. Recovery is a lifelong event. We’ll help your loved one beyond discharge with aftercare and an alumni program available throughout recovery.

To help someone get off drugs today, reach out to Renaissance at 866.330.9449.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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