I. Purposes of a Substance Abuse Hotline

Substance abuse hotlines are a resource for people struggling with addiction. People commonly call a hotline to contact an addiction professional since this is the most accessible path for many people who may not otherwise have regular medical care. Addiction professionals who work at the hotline can provide information and make referrals for people struggling with their addiction who may not know where to turn for inpatient care or counseling services. Substance abuse counselors can also provide information and advice for loved ones, such as referrals to local intervention providers and support groups that focus on co-dependency issues.

Substance abuse hotlines are not a substitute for 911 and other emergency services, but the professionals who work for them are generally experienced in talking with people in a crisis. In an emergency, a hotline professional may be able to help a caller get in touch with emergency medical or police assistance, point the caller toward a domestic violence shelter or other resources or just provide a third-person perspective to help people with addiction issues see the need to escape a potentially dangerous situation. In all cases, the person on the phone with a caller is empathetic and supportive, and above all, non-judgmental and understanding of what the caller is going through.

II. What Happens When You Call a Substance Abuse Hotline

Substance abuse hotlines can take different approaches to the services they offer, and they vary in the populations they serve, but all hotlines have a few things in common. In all cases, the conversations that take place on substance abuse hotlines are confidential, and all hotlines are willing to provide information and referrals anonymously if the caller so desires. Substance abuse professionals are not police officers, and the purpose of the hotline is not to get callers arrested or in trouble with the law. Instead, the hotline worker’s objective is to help people who are struggling with addiction to get help, by dispensing information and providing assistance without judgment.

The substance abuse professionals who work at hotlines are knowledgeable about addiction and related issues, but they’re not doctors. The person answering the call at a hotline cannot dispense medical advice or handle an active emergency. In case of an overdose, violent outbreak, automobile accident, or other emergency, the best advice is to call 911 and let professional first responders manage the issue. The time for the substance abuse hotline is generally later when it’s time to start looking for long-term solutions to addiction disorders.

As part of the process of helping callers, almost all substance abuse hotlines do have to ask certain questions to know what kind of help is required. These questions can sometimes feel personal, but callers do not have to give their names, and none of their answers are held against them in any way. Instead, the questions a substance abuse professional asks are a kind of triage, intended to determine which resources a caller needs to be connected with most. Specifics vary by hotline, but typical questions include:

  • Is your life in danger? Are you in an emergency situation?
  • Which substance(s) are you struggling with?
  • How frequently do you use the substance(s)?
  • How long have you been using the substance(s)?
  • Do you have any other physical or mental health issues?
  • Have you ever sought treatment for substance abuse?
  • Do you want to begin treatment for substance abuse?

It is extremely important to answer these questions as honestly as possible. Shading the truth or giving inaccurate information can result in getting a referral to a resource that may not be able to help, or in overlooking a major problem, such as a medical emergency.

When you call a substance abuse hotline, you should feel free to ask any questions you have about addiction and related issues. These questions are also kept confidential, and you can ask for information without fear of judgment, reprimand, or fear of legal or personal consequences. Substance abuse professionals generally confine the answers they give to subjects they know well and have been trained on, so their answers are likely to be accurate and helpful. Subjects most professionals can give good answers for include:

  • The dangers of substance abuse and addiction, including risks common to specific drugs
  • Treatment options for the specific substance, such as inpatient, outpatient, and support group approaches
  • The likely cost of treatment, as well as some information about insurance coverage
  • The availability of treatment centers in your area
  • Other treatment resources, including those that are available at no cost, in your area
  • Codependency, depression and other common issues the loved ones of people with addictions struggle with, as well as the resources available to help them deal with addiction in the family

III. National Substance Abuse Hotlines

Several substance abuse hotlines operate nationally for those struggling with addiction and their family members or other loved ones. Many of these hotlines also help people with other issues, such as mental health disorders and suicidal thoughts. This is an overview of some of the most widely used national hotlines for substance abuse.

Crisis Text Line

Crisis Text Line offers advice and referrals for anyone who feels that they’re experiencing a crisis. This can include drug and alcohol dependency, suicidal impulses, family problems, and other personal difficulties. To access the Crisis Text Line, text HOME to 741741 any time, day or night.

National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine

The National Alliance on Mental Illness operates a helpline for individuals and their loved ones who feel they may be experiencing a mental health crisis. People who know or suspect they have a mental disorder or who believe a loved one might be suffering from such an issue can call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) to get help. The helpline also accepts text contacts, and the alliance may be reached via email. Responses go out during normal business hours.

National Drug Helpline

The National Drug Helpline is open to any individual dealing with addiction issues, including family members and other loved ones. Resources are available for those struggling with any addictive substance, including alcohol, and professionals are available to help 24/7/365 at 1-844-289-0879.

National Institute of Mental Health Information Resource Center

The National Institute of Mental Health Information Resource Center hotline helps people suffering from mental illness find the resources they need to get treatment, including crisis intervention. Services are available in English and Spanish at 1-866-615-6464 or 1-866-415-8051 for TTY users. Live help is limited to regular hours, though online chat is also available.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline exists to help people feeling suicidal find the help they’re looking for. The lifeline also has resources to assist people with addiction issues to find help. Callers can reach the lifeline at any time of the day or night at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or 1-800-799-4889 for TTY users. Spanish-language services are available by calling 1-888-628-9454. Online chat is also available.

Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

Parents and other caregivers can reach out to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids at 1-855-378-4373, to be connected with information and assistance dealing with children’s addiction issues. Live services are available during regular hours only, but concerned guardians can reach the hotline by email and by text.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) operates a 24/7/365 hotline that refers callers to mental health and substance abuse resources in their area. All programs recommended by SAMHSA meet federal guidelines for assisting people with mental health and addiction disorders, and all inquiries are kept strictly confidential. Spanish services are available, as are English services, by calling 1-800-662-HELP (4357), or 1-800-487-4889 for TTY users. SAMHSA also operates an online treatment locator tool people can use to find addiction and mental health assistance nearby.

IV. Table of Substance Abuse Hotline Resources

Name of Hotline Phone Number Other Contact Options 24/7/365 Access
Crisis Text Line Text HOME to 741741 Text YES
National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine 1-800-950-6264 Email

Text NAMI to 741741

NO
National Drug HelpLine 1-844-289-0879 YES
National Institute of Mental Health Information Resource Center 1-866-615-6464
TTY: 1-866-415-8051
Online chat

Email

NO
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
TTY: 1-800-799-4889
Spanish: 1-888-628-9454
Online chat YES
Partnership for Drug-Free Kids 1-855-378-4373 Email

Text 55753

NO
SAMHSA’s National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
TTY: 1-800-487-4889
Online treatment locator YES

V. Substance Abuse Hotlines Offer Help to Those in Need

Overcoming addiction can be the struggle of a lifetime and finding help at the right time can be the difference between success and failure. Many of the people who are ready to start treatment need help to find the right programs and other resources nearby that can get them off to a good start. Likewise, many family members of people with substance abuse issues often feel helpless and confused. Finding help for themselves and their loved ones can make all the difference in the world for them.

This guide summarized what a substance abuse hotline is, what services it provides, and how it can help people with addiction and their loved ones when they need it the most. It’s also a resource that should help you quickly browse through the major national helplines and find the one that is best tailored to your personal needs. If you believe that you or a loved one is dealing with substance abuse issues, mental health problems or suicidal thoughts, calling a substance abuse hotline on this list may be the most important step you take toward recovery.

Note: The purpose of this guide is to inform readers about substance abuse hotlines and not to provide medical advice. Always consult with a physician or addiction treatment specialist if you feel you have a substance use disorder.