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Today, an estimated 46.3 million Americans struggle with drugs and alcohol. If your loved one is having a hard time with substance abuse, they’re not alone. Unfortunately, getting through to them is difficult. People react to discussions about substance abuse with anger, denial, and lying. That’s normal, because part of a substance use disorder is the way it impacts that person’s behavior, their sense of self, and how they perceive the world. Your loved one may honestly believe they don’t have a problem, because part of what allows them to keep using is the self-delusion that they can quit whenever they want. And, drug and alcohol abuse make people more prone to mood swings, irritability, and periods of feeling down. That can all make getting through to your loved one incredibly difficult.
There’s also no guarantee that you’ll be able to reach your loved one. It’s important to accept that you may not be able to help. In addition, you cannot make your loved one make the right decisions for their health and mental health. However, you can take steps to offer encouragement, support, and motivation that may get through to them.
Learning about addiction is one of the first steps to being able to offer support and motivation to your loved one. That may mean attending groups like Al-Anon. It also starts with reading articles like this one, but you shouldn’t stop there. Most addiction treatment centers have resources to help with addiction and learning about it. For example, you can stop and pick up pamphlets and books to learn the basics of how addiction works and what it does. You can also look into books, videos, and podcasts that will help you to better understand what your loved one is going through.
Understanding what is going on can help you to react with compassion, to react in a way that pushes your loved one towards rehab, and in a way that is most likely to help. It may also be helpful for your loved one to see that you’re putting in effort – although depending on where they are in the stages of addiction, they may also see it as an attack. It’s also important to keep in mind that everyone experiences substance use disorder in their own way. It doesn’t matter what you learn or read, you should never tell your loved one how they feel or what they are experiencing.
Most of us are accustomed to shame and stigma around addiction. For example, if you think of an addict, you might think of someone who is homeless or completely out of control of their situation. Often, people with substance use disorders are somewhere in between the stereotype of rock bottom and being functional. People are also accustomed to having addiction and substance abuse treated as a personal choice, as something someone brought on themselves. But, that’s never the case. No one chooses to be an addict. Instead, addiction builds up through exposure to drugs and alcohol and a range of vulnerability factors.
Treating your loved one like a person with a mental health disorder that they can recover from is important. It’s important to face any stigma or bias you might have upfront before talking. Here, it’s also important to note that your loved one may actually make you uncomfortable. They might behave in ways that are unpleasant, they might steal money, they might not be doing their fair share of responsibilities. They might be lying to you. All of that can be intensely difficult to deal with.
Practicing non-judgement means not blaming your loved one. It also means not acting like addiction is shameful or something you have to hide. It means not being worried that others will find out. And it means talking openly about addiction much like you would a broken bone or other health problem.
Being there for someone with a substance use disorder can be intensely difficult. However, it can help you to reach them. Here, being there for someone might be a simple matter of talking to that person. On the other hand, it may involve a significant amount of denying money and help that might enable them to use or drink more. You can be there for an addict by listening, by offering to pick them up, by getting them food, by ensuring they have Naloxone, by helping them move into rehab, by picking up the phone at 4 AM, etc.
However, it can be extremely difficult to be there for someone who doesn’t want that. If your loved one isn’t interested in emotional support but instead gets angry at you for not helping them use or drink more, maintaining that can be impossible. Here, your best option is to offer to be there whenever they are ready to talk and then to leave them alone.
The more loved ones are involved in trying to reach your loved one, the easier it will be. You shouldn’t stage an intervention, not unless you’ve tried everything else. However, you should get friends and family involved. You should try to get everyone on the same page. And, you should all take the time to learn about drug abuse and addiction, what rehab options you have open to you, and what steps you can take to get your loved one there.
Here, the best people to involve are parents, siblings, partners, and friends. However, if someone is using, it’s possible that their friends are as well. You’ll want to look at who is actually capable of helping and who isn’t.
Getting through to someone means building trust, showing that person that you care about them not their substance use disorder, and being persistent. You might be able to talk to them about going to rehab but you need to make it about their health and their wellbeing. And, if you’ve tried other approaches in the past, like making rehab about keeping a job or about reputation, you’ll have to build trust for a long time before someone will believe that you care about them as part of recovery.
Working towards connecting with an addicted loved one can be difficult. Getting them to a point of acknowledging substance use disorders and moving into treatment can be even more difficult. For most people, the best approach is to offer love and support, to motivate them into getting help, and to be there for them in every way you can.
If you or a loved one is seeking help for alcohol or other substance abuse, contact us at Stairway Resource Center today. At Stairway Resource Center we provide a 60 to 90-day outpatient program that takes place in an engaging and supportive community setting. We offer dual diagnosis treatment and daily group and individual therapy for our clients, in addition to fun community-based events and activities.
Michael D. Stone, MD has been in practice for over 30 years. He graduated from Medical School in 1986 and attended LA County/USC Medical Center Residency in the field of Emergency Medicine. He is a practicing E.R. doctor at 2 hospitals in the Southern California area. Dr. Stone also has a Specialty in Chemical Dependency and Addiction Medicine for 22 years. He is the Medical Director of numerous Residential and Outpatient Facilities in the Los Angeles area. Dr. Stone’s interests outside of medicine include a commercial pilot, all outdoor activities including skiing, fishing and boating.