If you’re loved one is struggling with a substance use problem, you’re not alone. The most recent data from SAHMSA shows that over 22 million people suffer from substance use disorder, meaning that 1 in 5 Americans have a friend or close loved one struggling with a substance. That’s important, considering that stigma and misunderstanding often prevent us from discussing these problems, learning from them, and moving forward.
Your loved one is struggling with a disorder, and you logically want to help. Knowing what to do, how to do it, and when can be difficult, and will largely depend on your loved one, your relationship with them, and their willingness to get help. While there is no one best way to approach your loved one about addiction treatment, the following steps will help most in making the right decisions and getting a loved one help.
The Right Frame of Mind
Your loved one is sick. They are suffering from a disorder stemming from a complex array of factors that could relate to mental health, genetics, peer pressure, poor choices, environment and stress, and a range of other factors, but most likely, a combination of many. It’s important to approach your loved one with the right mindset about what they are struggling with and that often means learning about addiction and how it works. There are many resources you can use to do so, including groups like AlAnon and ALATEEN, where you can meet others whose loved ones are also addicted.
Understanding Addiction – People with substance use disorders are often isolated, socially stigmatized, and made to feel shame and guilt regarding their problems. Many people are led to believe that “tough love” approaches like throwing loved ones out of their homes help them recover. Others are led to believe that substance use dehumanizes their loved ones. And, many of us are disappointed, treated badly, and even abused by addicted loved ones. Reacting with any kind of grace and support is difficult on every level. However, taking that step and doing so will help you to get your loved one the treatment they need. No one chooses addiction, people with addiction often struggle with understanding their own reactions, and experience psychological and mood disorders with symptoms similar to anxiety, depression, and PTSD, as well as overlaps with those disorders. In short, your loved one is sick and it’s important to treat them as such.
Being Nonjudgmental – It’s difficult to approach addiction in a non-judgmental way. But, it’s important. Showing judgment of your loved one’s choices to drink, use, or continue to suffer from their mental disorder will result in them showing hurt and anger, rather than building trust. You need to build trust in order to get your loved one help. What are some ways you can be nonjudgmental? Don’t treat substance use like an inherent character flaw, don’t act as though your loved one using is them letting you down, and don’t set expectations that they wouldn’t be able to meet until recovered. Instead, it’s a good idea to be supportive, take steps to ensure their safety, and approach substance abuse from the angle of “stay safe”. This also integrates into listening and sharing nonjudgmentally, allowing your loved one to talk about substances without judging them for it, and simply offering a shoulder or an ear when needed.
Focusing on the Individual – It’s easy to approach substance abuse from the angle of how it makes you feel. This is especially true if their substance use harms your family, your career, their career, or your ability to keep a home. But, it’s important to reassure your loved one that you care about them first and foremost. Approach discussions about ending substance abuse from the angle of “I want you to stay safe”, “this is hurting you”, and “you’re losing yourself”. It should never be about providing, about your home, or about what others will think.
Offer Love with Boundaries
Offering love is important to creating an environment in which your loved one wants help. But, it’s also important to set boundaries and to protect yourself. Here, it’s important to create a relationship where you can be there for them without harming your own mental health, overextending yourself, or supporting their substance abuse. For example, codependency and enabling behaviors are both extremely common in relationships involving substance use.
Setting boundaries means deciding how and where you are able to help (this should never be with money), deciding what you are able and not able to do, and how much effort you will put in. This should include planned time for yourself. Finally, it should include adjusted expectations for your loved one, with their substance use disorder taken into account.
Some examples of this might include:
- “I will talk to you about getting help but I won’t give you money.”
- “If you sleep in the house I will ensure you have access to Naloxone but you can’t use in the house.”
- “If you can’t stop using you’ll have to find somewhere else to live or enter a rehab program.”
The idea is to create an environment where you can offer help without damaging yourself.
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Keep Help on the Table
Sitting down to plan helping your loved one is important. You should make it clear to your loved one that you eventually intend to get them into therapy, and that the option is there and available whenever they are ready.
Here, it’s crucial to ensure that you have planned:
- A rehabilitation facility. Talk to multiple options, compare options, and research therapies before making a decision. Make sure you have backup options in place. Make sure you contact your loved one’s insurance to ensure they will cover costs.
- You have transportation to bring your loved one to rehab. Most people prefer out of state rehab, but it’s crucial to ensure you can take time off or have another means of transport to quickly move your loved one to rehab when they decide they are ready.
- An intervention for drug and alcohol addiction. Here you hire a professional to organize an intervention for you loved one, which can be highly effective in getting their attention and helping them to make the choice to enter rehab.
Once you have rehabilitation facilities picked out, you can more easily discuss it with your loved one. Some ideas include, “I found this great place”, “I’d like you to get treatment”, “I want you to recover and this…”.
Talking to your loved one about their options, about why you want them to get help, and about how that treatment will progress can be helpful. While it’s a good idea to make this about them and their health, you also want to talk about how you feel seeing them hurting themselves. In some cases, it might be a good idea to consider an intervention or more aggressive program to get your loved one into treatment. These don’t always work, so they are recommended as final option efforts. Give your loved one some time, talk to them, and make sure you keep options on the table.
Watching a loved one struggle with a substance use disorder can be extremely difficult. It’s even more so to attempt to get them help and to fail. Unfortunately, your loved one has to want to get help before treatment will be effective. Approaching them from the position of nonjudgmental love and support, offering options, and continuing to support them even when they don’t immediately seek out help are important for long-term success. Good luck getting your loved one into care.
If you or your loved-one is seeking help for substance addiction, call us at (714) 443-8218 and look into our recovery programs. Our Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center in Huntington Beach helps clients by providing them with addiction intervention services, detox, and residential addiction treatment.
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