How Do I Know It’s Okay to Tell Somebody they Need Help?

2 min read · 4 sections

It is difficult to see a friend or loved one struggling with substance abuse. You may wonder how to tell somebody you think they would benefit from rehab.

Often, you may want to speak up, but are fearful that the person will become angry with you, or maybe you just don’t know what to say. You may also wonder if you are overreacting to the situation.

Does My Loved One Have a Problem?

One of the first steps is to determine whether or not the person appears to have a problem with drugs or alcohol.friend about to tell somebody they need help

For example, do they take more of a substance than they originally meant to? Is your loved one engaging in dangerous behaviors, such as drinking and driving, or using a substance with the knowledge that it makes their mental or physical health worse? Are they unable to stop using, despite trying to do so? Do they lack the ability to perform at work or school due to drug or alcohol use, or neglect family responsibilities such as caring for their children?

If you see these signs, your loved one may have a substance use disorder. Remember that quitting drugs or alcohol is very hard, and once a person is addicted, their brain isn’t making rational decisions. Sometimes, when a person is addicted, they need someone around them who is thinking clearly to intervene on their behalf.

Should I Say Anything or Just Wait?

Is it okay to tell somebody they need help? If you think your loved one has a substance use disorder, you can gently encourage them to explore for themselves if they might have a problem. Sometimes just having a conversation with them can open the door to them asking for help. This is not always the case, of course, and you may need to persuade them to seek help.

At this point, some people mistakenly assume that pressure doesn’t work to get someone to enter treatment. Oftentimes, the belief is that a person must want to go to treatment for it to work. Or that they must hit rock bottom before treatment can really be effective. However, this is not the case, as research has shown that treatment does not have to be voluntary to work. 

What is the Best Way to Tell Somebody They Need Help?

However you approach your loved one, do not undertake an aggressive and highly confrontational intervention approach to persuade a person to seek help. These types of interventions can end in disaster. It is best to rehearse what you want to say ahead of time and stay unemotional, while factually stating what you have seen and how the substance use is affecting their relationship with you.

Don’t be afraid to speak up, but do not shame or blame your loved one.

If you give consequences, such as telling them they have to move out if they don’t go to treatment, be prepared to actually do it. It is also best to have a treatment program on standby that you have already researched in case they agree to go to treatment.

Bottom Line: It is Better to Say Something

Know that any time you suspect your loved one may have a substance use problem, it is better to speak up while there is still time to undo the damage and get them help, rather than waiting until it is too late.

It is better to have them get angry or get upset with you than to not say anything and for them to overdose or have a serious accident. Even if it feels awkward or scary to speak up, it is better to try than to stay silent.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). How to recognize a substance use disorder.
  2. US News and World Report. (2016). How to stage an intervention
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