Addictive Behavior That May Be Problematic for Friends and Family

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Addictions can sometimes cause people to display behaviors that are problematic and extreme. These behaviors can create issues in the individual's life and can be difficult for family and friends to understand.

Learning more can help you better contextualize these behaviors, find supportive resources, and learn strategies for coping.

Troubling Behaviors Related to Addiction

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, one of the defining features of addiction is that it leads people to engage in compulsive behaviors that persist even when they lead to negative and harmful consequences. While addiction is not an excuse for these behaviors, it does help explain why they happen.


A person who has an addiction may lie for a wide variety of reasons. They might lie to avoid confrontations about their drug or alcohol use. They might also mislead friends and family because they don't want to change their behavior. It might also be a way to avoid being on the receiving end of negativity or disapproval.

While such behaviors can be frustrating and destructive, it is important to remember that these lies are often motivated by feelings of shame, embarrassment, regret, and fear.

Being empathetic, enforcing your own boundaries, and encouraging your loved one to seek treatment may be helpful in this situation.

Hiding the Addiction

People who have a substance, alcohol, or behavioral addiction often conceal the nature or severity of the problem. This often includes hiding evidence of the addiction or making excuses for behaviors caused by the addiction.

People addicted to illegal drugs must be discreet in terms of where they store and keep their drugs and paraphernalia—needles, pipes, etc.—often hiding them from family members. Those with an alcohol use disorder may hide bottles around the house. People with a sex addiction may hide their pornography, website links, or evidence of affairs.

Respect your loved one’s privacy, but when you stumble on evidence of addiction, don’t accept a weak explanation or excuse. Acknowledge your awareness and enforce the consequences of crossing your boundaries.


People who have an addiction may also avoid talking about the issue. This is a way to keep family members in a position of enabling the addiction by threatening the risk of exposing what's happening. This places a burden on the whistleblower and makes them responsible for the subsequent social shaming of the family.

If this avoidance of the issue is accompanied by other issues such as abuse, it is essential to seek help. Break the silence and tell someone who can help.


People who have an addiction may also resort to stealing, often out of a sense of desperation. This might involve taking money from a loved one's wallet, using money out of a joint bank account, or even sometimes more serious acts of larceny.


Denial involves refusing to face the reality of the addiction, often by minimizing or rationalizing the problem. This denial can prevent the person from getting help and make addiction persist for many years.

It's natural for change to take time and to progress through stages. But if you get stuck along with your loved one, you may actually be keeping them stuck, too.

Often, it's only when an individual with an addiction recognizes the consequences such as the loss of a relationship that they will actually move into action.

What You Can Do

There are a number of strategies that you can use to deal with problematic addictive behaviors. It is important to take care of yourself and seek support and help.

Create and Enforce Boundaries

A boundary is a limit to what you are willing to tolerate or accept in a relationship. Examples of boundaries you might set with a loved one who has an addiction include telling them they cannot drive while under the influence, not allowing drinking or substance use in your home, and refusing to make excuses to cover up the individual's alcohol or substance use.

You can establish boundaries by first clearly explaining your expectations. Let them know that if the line is crossed, you will leave the situation. Once you have set those limits, it is important to follow through with the consequences.

Learn More About Addiction

Becoming educated about the effects and treatments for addiction can help you feel more knowledgeable and empowered. Seek out information from trustworthy sources that provide trustworthy information back by science.

Some resources you might consult include: 

Find Support

Support groups and helplines can also be an excellent resource for the family and friends of an individual with an addiction. These resources can connect you with information, peer support, counseling, and information about treatment.

Consider reaching out to an organization such as Al-Anon family groups, Alcoholics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or SMART Recovery.

A Word From Verywell

Dealing with a loved one's addictive behavior can be difficult, so it is important to find ways to cope. It is also essential to ensure your own well-being and safety and reach out for help if you are in danger.

Because addiction is a brain-based condition that is influenced by brain chemistry, genetics, experience, and other factors, it can be very difficult to overcome. However, it is important to remember that addiction is treatable.

Encourage your loved one to seek help. Suggest that talking to their doctor is a great place to start. Their doctor can recommend treatment options which may include medications, psychotherapy, support groups, and other recovery resources.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Rocca G, Verde A, Gatti U. Impact of alcohol and cannabis use on juvenile delinquency: Results from an international multi-city study (ISRD3). European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research. 2019;25(3):259-271. doi:10.1007/s10610-019-09413-7

  4. Clarahan W, Christenson JD. Family involvement in the treatment of adolescent substance abuse. Family Therapy with Adolescents in Residential Treatment. Published online 2017:231-243. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-51747-6_13

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By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD
Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada.