how to support a loved one suffering from addiction

Being part of someone’s support network is incredibly brave and thoughtful, but we understand this can have challenging effects on your own health. We’re here to help you navigate your emotions and recognise that looking after yourself is just as important as helping someone you care about.

In association with our partner psychologists, Psych Health.

Helping a loved one through an addiction can be extremely difficult. But remember, you’re not alone. We provide mental, physical and financial health support services to all ICAEW chartered accountants and ACA students, as well as their families, as well as a 24/7 support line.

Here are some additional tips to help you navigate your feelings and support someone with an addiction.

how to navigate your feelings


In challenging circumstances like helping someone through addiction, we may feel like we’re failing our loved one or that we're not a supportive-enough parent, partner, or friend.

It’s important to remember, though, that only the person with the addiction can decide to get better in recovery. You can’t be responsible for their actions; the motivation to recover must come from them.

It can be painful or demoralising to feel we’re not enough of an incentive or reason for a loved one to change. Still, we must remind ourselves that the best we can do is be there to support them.

isolation and loneliness

Living with or supporting a loved one struggling with addiction can be isolating. Sadly, this isn’t an uncommon emotional challenge when caring for someone.

Remember the people who are there to help, listen, or distract you. Because a strong support network can help you feel safe and supported.

stress and anxiety

Supporting someone with an addiction can be very stressful, and it’s important we acknowledge how we feel.

Pay close attention to signs of stress and anxiety, such as fatigue, sleep or appetite disruptions, jumpiness, irritability, or difficulty with concentration or decision-making to make sure you’re not neglecting your own health.

It's best to protect your mental health before trying to help another.

manage your coping mechanisms

How have you been dealing with the situation? Have you been in denial for a while or trying to distract yourself? It’s natural to want to think the best of our loved ones or hope for change, but this can strain our behaviours and coping mechanisms.

Keeping a check on your mindfulness, coping tactics, and habits  will help to ensure you’re in the best mindset to help someone else.

how do you help a person who has an addiction?

If you have a friend or relative battling addiction, you may be wondering how you can help them.
You may want to share options for them to overcome their addiction, like individual counselling, talking to a professional, offering financial assistance or visiting rehab centres. While these may be important to discuss later, we suggest starting by just being there to listen as this will encourage open communication and build trust.

Here are some tips to help you form healthy conversations and avoid barriers.

let's start with what not to say

It can feel challenging to approach someone and have a sensitive conversation about a suspected addiction. Therefore, it may be helpful to think about possible communication barriers first:


Shame can be corrosive and profoundly affect your loved one's self-esteem, which is likely low.

Avoid saying things like, "you should be ashamed of yourself” or “how can you do this to us?”

criticism or blame

Criticising may lead to shame or a defensive response that breaks communication or recovery.

For example, "you've ruined your life."


Apparent or underlying threats can convey a message of power which may lead to defensiveness.

Therefore, try not to say things like, "you'd better stop or…."

demoralising words

These may make your loved one feel judged, discouraged, or rebellious.

For example, “weak-spirited."


lecturing or arguing

This approach could convey a sense of authority or superiority over your loved one.

This might sound like, "I know what you're going through, and I know you need to do this..."

closed questions

These can make your loved one feel interrogated or answer quickly, like "Yes", "No", or "I don't know."

For example: "how could you not stop this?"

humour or overbearing positivity

This diversionary tactic may give the impression that you aren't sure how to handle the conversation or issue.

This might sound like, "look on the bright side…"


You may mean well, but it could come across as pity instead of empathy.

An example of this would be, "I know you're having had a hard time, but..."

how do I approach talking to a loved one with addiction? 

Before you think about what to say, consider how you care for yourself. What state are you in mentally and emotionally? Perhaps you’ve come to the end of your tether, have been anxious for a while, or are angry. You should enter any conversation with a neutral mind, having prepared yourself for a difficult conversation.

educate yourself

Learn as much as possible about the addiction. This will help you understand what your loved one is going through and how to support them.


It can be helpful to rehearse your main questions or tone when responding to difficult answers, but don’t spend too much time on this.

It’s best to avoid trying to predict what your loved one will say or the conversation's outcome, as this can lead to discomfort if things don't go as planned. Instead, pick a maximum time to rehearse, like an hour, and stick to it.

open questions

When rehearsing, think of open questions that you can ask about their wellbeing and addiction. These questions can help invite your loved one to answer in detail and feel more considered.

A good starting point is, "Tell me a little more about..." or "What are your feelings about..."

mindfulness techniques

This conversation may be stressful, so practising your body language or grounding techniques can help manage your stress response.

Breathing exercises such as box breathing – breathe in for four, hold for four, exhale for four are good examples.

Another useful exercise is 'Drop 3' – relax your jaw, drop your shoulders, and relax your tummy.

set boundaries

While it is important to support your loved one, it’s also important to set boundaries. Be clear with yourself about what you will and won't tolerate, and then stick to this. If the conversation begins to cross these boundaries, you’re entitled to pause or stop altogether.

If you’re worried about someone who you think may have addiction, see our guide to Recognising the Signs of Addiction.

further reading 

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what is addiction?

Our recent research has revealed that 1 in 7 accountants believe they know at least one person through work who has an addiction. To help you understand addiction better, discover the different types and recognise the signs of addiction, read this guide below.


what are the causes of addiction

Discover the complex and varied causes behind addictive behaviour, from psychological factors to environmental triggers, and learn how habits can escalate into addiction.


habit vs addiction: what’s the difference?

Are your daily routines just habits or something more concerning? Can a habit turn into an addiction, and how can you tell the difference? With 1 in 10 accountants sharing with us that their drinking habits have negatively impacted their life, we explore the distinction between a habit and an addiction...


understanding addiction: how to overcome it

Addiction is a difficult journey, but it's not impossible to overcome. In this article, we'll explore where to find help and the steps you can take to recover from addiction.

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your questions answered 

Who is eligible for support?

We support past and present members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW), ACA students, ICAEW staff members, and the family and carers of members and students. 

  1. No matter where your career takes you, past and present members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England Wales (ICAEW) are eligible for caba’s services for life, even if you change your career and leave accountancy 
  2. ACA students (ICAEW Provisional Members) who are either an active student or have been an active student within the last three years are eligible for caba's services 
  3. Past and present staff members of the ICAEW or caba are eligible for caba's services for life, even if you leave either organisation. Please note, for former employees, our financial support is only available to those who have had five years continuous employment with either organisation 
  4. Family members and carers of either an eligible past or present ICAEW member, ACA student or past or present employee of the ICAEW or caba are eligible for caba's support. We define a family member as a: 
    1. spouse, civil partner or cohabiting partner 
    2. widow, widower or surviving civil partner who has not remarried or cohabiting with a partner 
    3. divorced spouse or civil partner who has not remarried or cohabiting with a partner 
    4. child aged up to 25. Please note, children aged between 16 and 25 are not eligible for individual financial support 
    5. any other person who is dependent on the eligible individual supporting them financially or are reliant on the eligible individual’s care 
    6. any other person on whom the eligible individual is reliant, either financially or for care 

You can find out more about our available support both in the UK and around the world on our support we offer  page. 

Are your services means-tested?

If you need financial support, we carry out a means test where we consider income, expenditure, capital and assets.  

*Please note none of our other services are means-tested. 

I’m an accountant, but not a member of ICAEW, can you still help?

Unfortunately not. We only support past and present ICAEW members, their carers and their families. If we are unable to support you, where possible we will point you to help elsewhere.

caba has supported me in the past; can I receive support from caba again?

We understand that circumstances change. If we’ve helped you in the past there’s no reason why we can’t help you again. You can contact us at any time. Please call us if you need our help.

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