It’s very common to be confused about how to help an addicted loved one. Addictions can go ignored by family members or friends who don’t want to push their addicted loved one away. Others have extreme reactions to finding out their loved ones are using drugs and just cut the addicted loved ones out of their lives altogether. Neither of these responses are likely to be ideal for helping a loved one onto the path to recovery. Most people would probably like to find a happy medium between saying nothing and completely alienating an addicted loved one. How can you help motivate a loved one to seek treatment for a substance use problem?
In case you missed it, our previous blog post outlined the reasons why it’s important for you to address a loved one’s drug problem: “Have an Addicted Loved One? Here Are 3 Reasons Why You Can Help.”
Planning to Talk to an Addicted Loved One
- Timing is everything. Consider when is a good time to broach the subject of drug use or addiction. Try to find a window of time when you’ll have enough time to talk thoughtfully and carefully with your loved one. The fewer interruptions or distractions, the better. If at all possible, make sure you bring up the subject at a time when your loved one is not under the influence of a drug, including alcohol. Talking to your addicted loved one while they are high or inebriated will likely not turn into a productive discussion.
- Stay calm and supportive. When you decide to talk to a loved one about drug use, your tone and demeanor can play a major role in how the discussion goes forward, or whether it does at all. It’s not usually a good idea to start by being confrontational. You might be justified in feeling angry by addiction-influenced behavior in a loved one. If you’re sincerely committed to helping motivate your loved one to seek treatment, try to put anger aside while letting them you know you care about their health and recovery.
- Creative an environment of support. Be aware of the social environment you create around your addicted loved one, especially if they are living with you. If you or others are drinking alcohol or using drugs too, it’s going to be a lot harder to encourage a loved one to seek treatment. If others are using, why should they stop? In addition, make sure your loved one knows that they have people to talk to about their problem. Draw some boundaries so that you’re not enabling addictive behavior, but make sure it’s in a broader context of openness, understanding, and support!
Understanding Barriers to Treatment
- Find out how your loved one feels. Once you have let your loved one know that you’re concerned about their drug use and think they might have a medical condition, ask how they feel about it. While this might result in denial of an addiction, it also gives your loved one an opportunity to express things they might have kept to themselves. No one chooses to be addicted to drugs or alcohol, so it’s likely your loved one has been wrestling with their problem for some time already. Be prepared to listen and acknowledge their fears and concerns.
- Help identify barriers to treatment. If your loved one is resistant to the idea of seeking treatment, try to be helpful in reaching an understanding of why they feel that way. Do they have specific fears about stopping their use of drugs? Are they skeptical or fearful of going into a professional treatment setting? Here are a few common barriers and how to address them:
- Fear of withdrawal symptoms. Those who have not struggled with addiction are often unaware of how uncomfortable and scary drug withdrawal can be. In addition to the mental hold of addiction, substance dependency can result in physical symptoms when the addicted person tries to stop using. It’s important not to downplay your addicted loved one’s fear of withdrawal. Instead, emphasize how professional treatment programs can help them get through withdrawal with minimal discomfort and maximum safety. Addiction professionals know how to ease withdrawal symptoms, allowing someone in treatment to make it through this uncomfortable period and get to the real work of recovery.
- Fear of failure. Addictions commonly result in vastly lowered self-esteem. Many people suffering from addiction reach a point where they maintain a false belief that they are beyond help. Whatever your loved one’s personal circumstances, let them know that recovery is possible for them. There is hope for everyone with addiction to find a healthier life if they decide to seek treatment.
Encouraging Hope for an Addicted Loved One’s Recovery
- Help your loved one understand the damage caused by addiction. It can be helpful to let your loved one know how their addiction is affecting other people, especially those close to them. Tell your loved one that you would like to talk to them about how their addiction is hurting their relationship with you. If your addicted loved one isn’t willing to talk about it, or if it’s difficult for you to talk about, try writing it down as a letter instead. Remember to be understanding and come from a desire to repair the relationship. Recriminations won’t be helpful.
- Emphasize what they could gain. The longer someone has an active drug addiction, the more alienated they often become, even to themselves. Encourage your loved one to believe that many of the things they lost to addiction can be restored if they decide to seek treatment. They can rediscover the person they were before they fell into the outward spiral of addiction. Damaged relationships can be repaired—and they can learn how by seeking out a treatment program that offers help in repairing the damage of addiction.
- Don’t stop trying if it doesn’t work the first time. Not everyone is receptive to talking about their drug use or possible addiction. You don’t need to force it, but don’t ignore the situation if you meet resistance the first time. By letting your loved one know you care about their well-being, you can leave the door open for future discussion. Your addicted loved one will probably keep wrestling with their problem. The next time you ask, your loved one might be ready to talk.