What to do if your loved one is unwilling to seek addiction help
The last thing you want is someone that you love and care about to develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, this is a reality that many of us deal with. In an ideal world, our struggling loved ones would respond positively to our concern.
Unfortunately this isn’t always the case. It’s not uncommon for our loved ones to perceive our concern as criticism, our loving words as threats. Or, in other cases, they may acknowledge that you are well-meaning but refuse to acknowledge the scope of their addiction.
In either case, you are being put into a challenging situation. You are concerned about the health and well-being of someone that you love and care deeply about, but they are unwilling to seek help and improve themselves. What, then, are you supposed to do?
How to treat someone struggling with addiction
The first thing that you want to make sure of is that you’re treating your loved one with the proper respect that they deserve. Even if they are struggling with an addiction, they are still worthy of love, compassion, and the same respect that you would give to any other human being.
Unfortunately, the stigma of drug and alcohol addiction has seeped into all of our minds to different degrees. In many cases, even the most loving and compassionate individuals can allow this stigma to overflow in their words and actions. This can lead to you behaving unintentionally disrespectful, demeaning, or confrontational to the very people that you are hoping to help.
Before deciding that your loved one has simply decided not to seek treatment, it’s worthwhile to take the time to consider whether or not you were treating them properly. If you are coming off as confrontational or accusatory, then your loved ones are most likely not to heed your advice. In fact, a confrontational approach can even make them more resistant to seeking treatment than they would have been otherwise.
Here are some examples of things that you can do to make sure that your concern will be met as positively as possible.
When communicating, use “I”-statements.
Whether they are a family member, a personal partner, or a friend, it becomes difficult to cope with a loved one who is struggling with addiction. You are already emotionally involved with this individual, and as such, it can be a challenge to express yourself and your difficulties without coming across as confrontational.
Even in the throes of addiction, your loved ones don’t want to hear that their behavior is hurting you. Even less if you frame things in a way that puts them at fault. If you don’t know how to express yourself properly, then your loved one might perceive your expressions as a guilt trip or an accusation.
One of the best ways to do this is to use I statements. When you speak in the first person, you are less likely to come off as confrontational or aggressive. Instead, you can easily express the way that you feel without shifting the blame on to your loved one.
For example, instead of saying something like “you’re stressing me out,” tell your loved one that “I feel worried when I’m not sure that you’re safe.” Instead of saying “your addiction is ruining our family,” say that “we’re all concerned about your health and well-being.”
If you don’t know anything about addiction, then it is sort of unfair to approach them as if you know what’s best for them. Prior to communicating with them you should put some time into learning about addiction.
If you’re trying to communicate with someone in an active addiction, it’s all-too-easy to step over the line from “concerned and helpful” to seemingly being a “condescending know-it-all.” If you don’t know anything about what they’re going through, then you aren’t really in a position to speak about it at all.
You can certainly voice your feelings and concerns in a non-confrontational manner, but to speak on the addiction itself isn’t really something you can do until you understand it a bit. And remember, no matter how much research you do, you will never completely understand addiction. So don’t act like you do, or you’re likely to garner disrespect and make your loved one defensive.
It’s also important to learn as much as you can about mental illnesses. While it’s true that not every drug user has a co-occurring mental health disorder, many of them do. In fact, many people first start using drugs because of a mental health condition that they may or may not be aware of. Issues like depression, anxiety, PTSD and high stress can all lead to drug use if they are unaddressed.
This is why it’s important to learn about mental health before trying to work with someone struggling with an addiction. You may be able to recognize symptoms of an underlying mental health disorder. By helping guide them through these other challenges, you may find that you are able to encourage them to rely less on drugs.
What to do if they won’t seek help
If you’ve already confided in your loved one and they’re determined not to seek help, then you must focus on yourself. You must develop the necessary coping skills and techniques to help ensure that you can take care of your own mental health.
If you continue to focus solely on the health of your loved one, you will enter into a codependent relationship. By honing all your energy and concern on them instead of yourself, you will begin to neglect your own physical and mental health which can worsen the situation.
Consider helping them with their mental health first
We mentioned earlier the importance of educating yourself about mental health prior to helping your loved one with addiction. If you do this, you may be able to help them with their addiction either directly or indirectly.
For example, if your loved one acknowledges the fact that they struggle with a mental health problem, then they may already be willing to work on this issue. If, for example, they are ready to work on their depression but refusing to acknowledge their addiction, you’re still taking a step in the right direction.
However, if you suspect that they have a mental health problem that they are unwilling to admit, things can be tricky. You should not simply accuse someone of having a problem like depression or anxiety. They may be reluctant to admit the issue or you may simply be misconstruing their behavior. In either of these cases your best bet is to try and help them indirectly.
How you go about doing this would depend on the mental health condition that they might have.
- Depression. If you believe that your loved one is depressed, there are a number of things that you can do. Encourage them to partake in their favorite activities, and join them in these activities if it makes it easier for them. Learn about the triggers that make them upset or unhappy and make sure to minimize their exposure to these challenges. Take steps to improve their self-image and self-esteem by becoming encouraging and supportive of their endeavors.
- Anxiety. Helping someone with anxiety can be as simple as understanding what makes them anxious and providing supportive alternatives. However, this can be tricky in certain situations. For example, say that your loved one drinks alcohol to help them ease their social anxiety. If they are a young teenager then you won’t simply be able to join them at their social gatherings. It’s important to try to understand their anxiety and provide encouragement so that they can acknowledge and understand the problem and work through it themselves.
Get support for you and your family
When we think of people struggling with addiction, often the focus rests upon the individual themselves rather than those affected by their problem. However, it’s just as important for you to take care of yourself and anyone else who has been hurt or affected by your loved one’s addiction.
One of the best ways to do this is to ensure that you have a strong support network. Much like someone in recovery will require a strong support network, those who are supporting people in active addiction will also need some extra support. You can connect with friends and family – especially those who have helped others with addictions – so that you don’t feel like you’re tackling the problem alone.
You may also want to go as far as seeking help from an addiction counselor. Not only are these professionals helpful for encouraging users to get sober, they can be an immense support for the loved ones of these individuals. They can help you develop a greater understanding of addiction and teach you skills to cope with the related emotions.
There are also a number of group support networks for the families and friends of addicted loved ones. Groups like Al-Anon and Al-Ateen are powerful supports for people who live with or care for addicted individuals. These groups will connect you with others who have survived similar situations so that you can share experiences and advice.
Take care of yourself and your emotions
If you want to be any help at all to your loved one, then you need to take care of yourself. If you allow yourself to become an emotional wreck because of their behavior, then you’re not in much of a position to assist them. Instead, make sure that you take the time to yourself. Develop healthy coping mechanisms, remain grounded, and find support. Only by doing these things will you be capable of providing support.
- Make sure that you develop a number of healthy coping mechanisms to manage stress. If you don’t have any healthy coping mechanisms then it’s worth your time to seek out a therapist who can assist you to develop some. Once you learn these mechanisms, take time to use them. If you don’t take time to manage your stress then it will affect your ability to communicate with your loved one.
- Don’t focus all your social time and energy on your struggling loved one. This is a quick way to become codependent. It’s important that you take time to hang out with other friends and family members.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Addiction is a very difficult beast to conquer, not only for the addicted individual but for those who are caring for them. Reaching out for support can make the battle easier on both of you.
- Make sure you know your boundaries and limits. Setting clear boundaries allows you to offer support without being taken advantage of. While it may be uncomfortable at times, upholding your boundaries will ensure that you can build a healthy and productive relationship with your loved one.
Offer your support to others affected
Other people who care for the addicted individual will also be adversely affected. You can help to improve the situation at large by offering them your support – when you can afford it.
Remember, one of the most important things in this whole process is not to allow yourself to forego your own needs. As mentioned above, the first thing you need to do is take care of yourself. Only then will you be able to support and care for others, whether they are addicted to drugs or simply suffering through someone else’s addiction.
If there are children affected by the individual’s behavior, they may struggle to understand the situation. If possible, try to help them understand the situation without making them upset.
You can only help someone that wants to help themselves
Remember, you can’t help anyone unless they want to help themselves. If your loved one is unwilling to take responsibility for their addictive behavior, then it’s unlikely that you can say or do much to change their minds.
Unfortunately, many drug users find that the only way to take responsibility is for them to hit rock bottom. Rock bottom is different for different people. For some, it may mean simply losing the support of their loved ones. Others won’t acknowledge their addictions until they’ve lost their friends, their partners, their homes, and their jobs.
In either case, sometimes the best thing that you can do to encourage a drug user to get sober is to pull away. Once their life begins to suffer and they have nobody to blame but themselves, they are much more likely to seek help.
If you are still unsure about how to proceed, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a local rehab center. Here you’ll be able to connect with addiction counselors and therapists who can help you get a stronger grasp of the situation.