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How to Tell Someone You Have an Addiction

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

November 18, 2023

Table of Contents

Telling someone that you have an addiction can be challenging, but there are many ways in which you can make things easier on yourself. 

This might seem hard to believe if you are shrouded in shame and guilt, possibly even in denial that you are dealing with alcohol or drug abuse. 

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While articulating your substance use issues to your loved ones might be a traumatic experience, having the courage to admit you need help is the first vital step on a lifelong journey of sober living

The most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health – NSDUH 2020 – paints a bleak picture of addiction in the United States. More people are grappling with drug addiction than ever before, with 40 million adults having drug or alcohol addiction. With 28.5 million adults meeting the criteria for alcohol use disorder, and over 21 million people experiencing a major mental health condition, how do you know if you are perhaps part of these swelling numbers?

How Do You Know If You’re an Addict?

DSM-5 is the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This updated version supersedes DSM-IV, the American Psychiatric Association’s benchmark diagnostic tool. 

Alcoholism (alcohol use disorder) and drug addiction (substance use disorder) are both diagnosed using the criteria laid down in DSM-5. 

While there is no substitute for a formal diagnosis from a healthcare professional, you can nevertheless ask yourself the following eleven questions based on the previous month. If you respond honestly, you should then gain a powerful insight into whether you have an addiction. 

  1. Have you ended up drinking more than you intended or drinking for longer than you intended?
  2. Have you tried and failed to cut down or stop drinking more than once?
  3. Do you spend large chunks of time drinking or recovering from the after-effects of alcohol?
  4. Have you craved alcohol so powerfully you were unable to think of anything else?
  5. Does drinking or being sick from drinking frequently interfere with your obligations at home, work, or school?
  6. Do you continue to drink alcohol despite the problems it causes with your interpersonal relationships?
  7. Have you cut back on activities you previously enjoyed to make more time for drinking?
  8. Have you found yourself in potentially dangerous situations as a result of drinking on more than one occasion?
  9. Do you continue to drink alcohol even though it makes you feel anxious or depressed?
  10. Has tolerance built so you need more alcohol than before to achieve the same effect?
  11. Do you experience withdrawal symptoms when the effects of alcohol wear off?

Alcohol use disorder is diagnosed according to the number of positive responses to these questions, as follows: 

  • Mild alcohol use disorder: 2 or 3 symptoms
  • Moderate alcohol use disorder: 4 or 5 symptoms
  • Severe alcohol use disorder: 6 or more symptoms

Substance use disorder is diagnosed using the same criteria, but with drugs – prescription medications or illicit drugs – substituted for alcohol. 

By answering these questions, you should now have a much clearer idea of whether you are addicted to alcohol or drugs. 

Addiction begins in many ways and if you feel you meet the criteria for addiction, there are many different circumstances dictating who you might want to confide in about your problem. Maybe you are a teen still living at home and you need to broach the topic of addiction with your parents. Perhaps you want to admit to your partner that you think you are addicted to alcohol or drugs. It could be a friend you’re trying to help. 

We’ll explore some of these situations to help you get the help you need, starting with how you can tell your parents you’re dealing with a drug or alcohol problem.

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How to Tell Your Parents You’re an Addict

You cannot take any meaningful steps toward recovery until you admit you have an addiction. 

Despite this, the idea of telling your parents or family members that you are an alcoholic or a drug addict can still be frightening. 

Feelings of fear and reluctance are natural, and you may also feel you have disappointed your parents or let them down. 

While everyone’s circumstances are different, the following framework should help you streamline approaching your parents about addiction: 

  • Choose the right moment
  • Make sure you are sober
  • Remember: your parents may already know you have an addiction
  • Be prepared to educate your parents about addiction
  • Approach your parents honestly and openly
  • Apologize for your mistakes
  • Ask for help and explain why you want help

Choose the right moment

Once you come to terms with your addiction to drink or drugs, it’s normal – indeed, it’s vital – to act decisively. 

While the concept of rock bottom is mythologized in popular culture, this is a construct better suited to reality TV than reality. Few medical experts or addiction specialists advocate waiting for things to get worse before seeking addiction treatment. 

Having said that, you should not rush into approaching your parents on a whim. It’s important to choose the right time and place. 

The ideal location is somewhere calm, quiet, and private. Broaching the topic in a crowded restaurant is inadvisable. 

If your parents have busy schedules, you should also strive to approach them at a convenient time. 

Make sure you are sober

With the right time and place in mind, make sure you are sober for this big conversation. 

If you are tempted to bolster your courage with drink or drugs, ask yourself if your judgment is clear after using substances. Beyond this, it’s hard to relay a request for help with addiction with authenticity if you are under the influence at the time. Do yourself a favor and stay sober. 

Remember: your parents may already know you have an addiction

If you are still nervous about tackling this topic with your parents, take heart in the fact they likely know you are struggling with substance use anyway. 

Most alcohol use disorders and substance use disorders prompt physical, emotional, and behavioral changes. Your parents could know more than you believe.

This will not always be the case, though. Sometimes, you may need to give your parents some insights into addiction in general, as well as your specific problems with substances. 

Be prepared to educate your parents about addiction

If your parents know little about addiction, show them this definition from the National Institute on Drug Abuse

A chronic and relapsing disorder.” 

This should help you to explain to your parents that addiction is widely considered a disease. 

The second part of the definition is that addiction is characterized by “compulsive substance use despite adverse consequences.” This should help your parents to see that perhaps you are not behaving in this way deliberately. 

Approach your parents honestly and openly

Tell your parents how you started using drink or drugs and remember to be honest. 

Be honest, too, about your desire to change and your motivation to engage with the appropriate level of outpatient treatment. 

Apologize for your mistakes

Most people using drink or drugs tend to hurt their family members in a variety of ways, almost always unintentionally. 

From lying and stealing money to breaking promises and taking advantage of enabling behaviors, you should apologize for any transgressions during this initial conversation with your parents. 

Ask for help and explain why you want help

If you have researched the sort of help available, tell your parents the type of treatment you feel that you need. 

For those with no idea of how to find the right rehab, now is the time to pool your resources with your parents. Look together for therapists, addiction treatment centers, a mental health professional, or alcoholics anonymous support groups near you so you can kickstart your recovery with all the help you need in place. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides offers a treatment locator tool that can help you, your family, and friends find professional help and treatment options.

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How to Get an Addict to Tell the Truth

There are many red flags for a person struggling with addiction. Lying is one of the earliest identifiable signs that addiction is developing. 

People addicted to drink or drugs lie for many reasons, often lying about alcohol intake and lying about their behavior when confronted by loved ones. Shame often underpins these lies, as does outright denial. Also, addiction triggers changes to the function and structure of the brain, often leading to someone speaking with less than complete honesty. 

Some people lie to enable them to continue using substances, claiming they do not have a problem at all. Prolonged alcohol abuse or substance abuse can lead to problems with decision-making and other areas of routine executive functioning. 

The more you understand about addiction in general, the more easily you can establish why your loved one is lying in the face of what appears to be overwhelming evidence of substance abuse. You are seeing the actions of your loved one being controlled by the substance and its effects rather than seeing your loved one as they really are. Once you grasp this, it becomes less frustrating to deal with any lies they might tell. 

If you have no success in confronting your loved one about lying on your own, you could consider a formal intervention.

My Best Friend is an Addict, What Now?

Someone with an addiction will present a wide variety of symptoms that can range from destructive behaviors, mental illness, financial issues, and more. While these symptoms vary from person to person, it is worth looking out for the following signs of mental and physical addiction is you suspect your friend or close family member is abusing drink or drugs:

  • Physical signs of addiction
  • Behavioral signs of addiction
  • Social signs of addiction

Physical signs of addiction 

  • Sleeping problems
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
  • Tremors
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Pinprick pupils
  • Profuse sweating
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Bloody nose
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Runny nose
  • Impaired coordination
  • Slurred speech

Behavioral signs of addiction 

  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Lack of motivation
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Neglected responsibilities
  • Self-isolation
  • Socially withdrawing
  • Poor personal hygiene and appearance
  • Risky behaviors
  • Stealing or selling possessions
  • Preoccupation with obtaining substances

Social signs of addiction 

  • Financial difficulties
  • Legal issues
  • Drug paraphernalia
  • Socializing with people who abuse substances

If you feel your friend exhibits many of the signs and symptoms of physical and psychological addiction, here are some concrete steps you can take to help them get back on track: 

  • Educate yourself about addiction treatment
  • Speak with your friend and encourage them to engage with addiction treatment
  • Offer your unconditional love and support
  • Remain involved with your friend’s recovery journey 

Educate yourself about addiction treatment

You should consider investigating outpatient rehab programs near you if your friend has a relatively mild addiction. If you feel they need more intensive and residential treatment, you could also explore suitable facilities. 

The more you know about addiction treatment, the more effectively you can help your friend to connect with the help they need.

Speak with your friend and encourage them to engage with addiction treatment

Initiate a conversation with your friend about substance abuse when they are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. When approaching your friend about addiction, try to create a dialogue instead of delivering a lecture. 

Tell your friend the specific behaviors you have observed, emphasizing that you are concerned about the effects of their substance use, both on them and their family. 

Reinforce that you are approaching them purely from a position of love and concern. 

Impress upon your friend how engaging with addiction treatment is the best chance they have of reclaiming their life before things get even worse. 

Do everything you can to ensure your friend finds a suitable treatment facility with an appropriate level of care for their needs. 

Offer your unconditional love and support

Even if you need to have tough conversations with your friend, make certain you remain loving and supportive throughout. 

Remain involved with your friend’s recovery journey

Recovery in an ongoing process rather than a single event. Stay involved in your friend’s well-being and recovery journey rather than assuming they are cured by simply heading to rehab. 

Addiction is a chronic condition with no cure, but it is treatable. It is also a relapsing condition, so be prepared for your friend to slip up – data shows that between 40% and 60% of people recovering from addiction will relapse at least once – and be supportive if they relapse rather than becoming angry or frustrated.

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Recovery Support at Renaissance Recovery

Whether are trying to seek treatment for yourself or a family member or friend grappling with an addiction to drink or drugs, we can help here at Renaissance Recovery. We offer a variety of outpatient programs at varying levels of intensity for alcohol use disorder, substance use disorder, and co-occurring disorders led by an addiction expert and mental health professional. 

If you commit to recovery here at Renaissance Recovery, you will benefit from evidence-based therapies, including: 

  • Individual counseling
  • Group counseling
  • Talk therapies like CBT and DBT
  • Medication-assisted treatment

We also provide access to a range of holistic therapies for a whole-body approach to recovery and healing. 

To take advantage of this opportunity to create a solid foundation for your loved one’s recovery, reach out today at 866.330.9449 and learn about our treatment program which includes outpatient treatment, support groups, and an alumni community.



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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