Drew Lewis
December 20, 2019

What to Do When an Addict Disappears

Being caught in the throes of addiction is to be caught in a state where logic, consideration, and reason are thrown out the window in exchange for the pursuit of using.  Otherwise, sound individuals will engage in irrational or out-of-character behavior, lying, stealing, cheating, and using any means possible to achieve their end.  This is one of the most hurtful symptoms of addiction.

Addicts will sometimes disappear.  It could be for a few hours, or it could be months.  It is extremely hurtful and worrisome to their loved ones.  What do you do if a friend or family member disappears?

Step 1: Call your law enforcement agency

Call agency for your town, county, and nearby towns. Ask if the subject has been seen. Suggesting that they could be in trouble.  Describe any known associates or hangouts.

Step 2: File a missing person’s report.

There is no time limit to do this, you can file a report immediately and have all law enforcement keeping an eye out for your loved one.  The vast majority of missing persons cases are resolved by the missing person themselves within 72 hours.  However, there’s the consideration of additional danger for addicts, as their situations are intrinsically more complicated.  Give local law enforcement as much information as possible.


Contacting local authorities and filing a missing person report may be necessary to find an addict who has disappeared.

"Be prepared to provide information on the missing person, including birth date or age, physical descriptions, and most importantly, any medical information.  Police will also need to know the circumstances surrounding the disappearance and the last location where the missing person had been seen or was known to be.  Also, provide any known associates and telephone numbers of persons who know the missing person.  Other helpful information that may be provided: cell phone numbers, email addresses, or social network information.  When an adult person has been reported missing to police, he or she is entered into a nationwide database; this will assist other law enforcement agencies in finding the missing person."

The above text, taken from the Los Angeles Police Department website, covers some of the information you could provide to make law enforcement’s job easier.  Others include what clothing they may have packed to take with them, what kind of vehicles they may drive or have access to (and plate numbers if possible), any known associates or friends that may be helping them, and any present or prior significant others.  Additionally, as many recent photographs as you can find will help with the description.

Step 3: Call the Coroner

It is by no means a pleasant thought, but contact your local, county, and state coroner’s offices to canvas for your missing addict. A description may help identity a John or Jane Doe that otherwise would be kept in unidentified storage.

Step 4: Contact homeless shelters and the Salvation Army.


Homelessness affects people who are addicted to drugs. Homeless shelters may offer them hope in a dark time.

Acquire a list of homeless shelters in your area, and call them every day.  Homeless shelters are often a revolving door of clientele. Over 35% of homeless people have a substance abuse disorder.

The Salvation Army has a missing person program, available here.  This program specializes in locating missing adults.

Step 5: Put in work

Create a Facebook profile with pictures of the missing individual and post in local area Facebook groups.  Raise community awareness by posting flyers everywhere, check your local ordinances first.  Notify local church groups and charities, put up posters in bus stops, businesses, restaurants and anywhere else that will allow it.

Now what?

If your loved one has not been turned up after this searching process, it may be time to hire a private investigator, or “PI.”  Here are some guidelines for employing and retaining the services of a Private Investigator.

  • Get a referral.  If any of your friends or relatives have had reason to use a Private Investigator, they can recommend a good practitioner to you that they are comfortable with.
  • Check their license.  Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Wyoming, do not require licensing for PIs.  Every other state does, so make sure to ask the tough questions before you commit to using a PI.
  • Make sure they have an office.  A small-time PI operating out of diners and parking lots is less likely to have the experience and contacts necessary to perform a difficult task like this.  Verify the address over the phone, and drive-by (or use google maps) to verify.
  • Ask for information about their experience and education.  What qualifies them to be a private investigator? Look for a well-seasoned individual with a lot of time spent dealing with this particular issue.
  • Does the PI have liability insurance?  If so, for how much?
  • Discuss confidentiality with the PI.  Does he have a confidentiality agreement?  What is he going to do and what guidelines will he follow regarding the storage or transmission of your personal information or that of your loved one?

A private investigator may have more resources to help find your loved one who has disappeared.

  • Get a contract.  A contract represents an enforceable promise to achieve an outcome.  A PI unwilling to sign a contract (or even provide one) throws up major red flags.
  • Choose a specialist.  There are a variety of PIs in a variety of specializations.  Find a PI that specializes in locating missing persons. A PI who primarily spends their days tailing cheating spouses is not going to get the same results who wakes up and lives, breathes, and works missing persons.
  • Choose a PI who offers a money-back guarantee.  The majority do not. A quality PI will have faith in their work, and try to instill that faith in you.
  • Prepare yourself for the outcome.  There is a possibility your loved one or friend may not wish to be found, and will deeply resent your interference in the throes of their addiction.  There may be other secrets unrelated to substance use that the PI may uncover, and if you are unprepared for them, it may prove quite a shock to you.

In closing, keep heart:  the majority of missing persons will show back up on their own within 72 hours.  Your addict may stay away longer, but anecdotal evidence dictates the majority of addicts will resurface when they need support from their family.  Do the best you can do, and wait.


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