Finding out that a loved one might be struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction sometimes creates a difficult situation. Family members or close friends of an addicted loved one can be concerned about their welfare but also unsure what to do about it. Doubts about intervening might cause family members or friends to put off any conversations about drug use, and as time goes on, their addicted loved one continues to use, falling deeper into addiction.
It’s an understandable reluctance. I know I should say something, but what if they don’t take it well? How can I help if they shut me out of their life? Is it really any of my business? It isn’t uncommon to have thoughts like that, but we should look at a few reasons why it’s important to push through the doubts and talk to your addicted loved one about their problem. These three reasons to talk to your addicted loved one show that the benefits of helping your loved one far outweigh the costs of letting an addiction continue without speaking up.
It’s Hard for Your Addicted Loved One to Recover Alone
If your addicted loved one is isolated in their use of drugs or alcohol, it can be incredibly difficult for them to make a change on their own. Of course, it’s just common sense that a person can change a negative habit or behavior if it’s pointed out to them by others. But with substance use problems specifically, it’s even harder to change completely on your own. This is simply the nature of addiction—a chronic disease that changes important chemical processes in the brain. You can learn more about that in our blog post, Why Addiction is a Brain Disease.
Talking to your addicted loved one about seeking help lets them know they don’t have to fix their problem all on their own. In fact, the difficulty of recovering from substance use disorders on your own is one of the main reasons that addiction treatment programs exist in the first place. Talking to your loved one can be an opportunity to let them know that treatment for addiction works, and that most people who get treatment are able to stay in recovery. On top of that, it’s important to let your addicted loved one know that you really care about their well-being. Addiction can drive people into isolation and alienation, often leading to mental health problems and worsening substance use. Let your loved one know that you’re there for them and you want them to be healthy and happy!
Talking Can Help Remove Barriers to Treatment and Recovery
When a person is struggling with a substance use problem on their own, they often face a lot of doubt about stopping their drug use. By initiating a conversation about why your loved one is using addictive drugs and if they want to stop, you might be able to help dispel some of those doubts. Remember that the addictive property of drugs and alcohol makes it difficult for your addicted loved one to accept reasons to stop using. It helps to hear rational reasons from others.
For example, your loved one might fear the stigma of being labeled a drug addict. If you approach your loved one with compassion and understanding, you might be able to show them that they can seek treatment without being shamed or rejected socially for their behavior and medical condition. They might be much more willing to find treatment if they feel they are being helped rather than judged.
Another common barrier to treatment is fear of drug or alcohol withdrawal. Lots of people try to quit using on their own only to find it an intensely uncomfortable or even quite painful experience. Instead of downplaying that fear, you can explain to your addicted loved one that it’s actually a good reason to seek professional treatment. Safe detox from drugs is one of the things that an addiction treatment program can offer. Withdrawal can be uncomfortable, but treatment professionals can help minimize that temporary discomfort and help your loved one make it through withdrawal and start working on real recovery.
By Not Speaking Up, You Might Be Enabling an Addiction
What is enabling? Here’s a simple definition: doing things that make it easier for your loved one to keep using. It means letting your loved one off the hook for the consequences of their drug use. Failing to bring up your loved one’s drug use might seem like a grey area compared to some forms of enabling. But what appears to be light enabling can easily, almost imperceptibly transform into more destructive forms of enabling.
Here’s an example. You might avoid talking about drug use with an addicted loved because you think you should mind your own business. But what if you observe or suspect they’re driving a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol? Or, say your loved one seems to be increasingly in need of financial help—wouldn’t continuing to lend money provide for the continuation of their addiction? The point is that when someone has an addiction that isn’t addressed, negative consequences tend to pile up and reach all aspects of a person’s life. If your only enabling behavior is staying mum on the subject of addiction, you’re still likely to be drawn into other enabling behaviors that increase in seriousness. It’s better to address the issue with understanding and a firm desire to help.
It’s understandable that you wouldn’t want to create tension in your relationship with an addicted loved one. But tension is going to be there for as long as an addiction goes ignored. As we’ve seen, there are good reasons why talking to your loved one about addiction can actually help reduce the strain in a relationship caused by a substance use disorder. Remember that this conversation can be an opportunity to make your loved one feel less alone, more comfortable with treatment, and supported in their desire to change their behavior and find recovery from their medical condition.