Loving Someone with an Alcohol or Drug Problem: How to Help Them and Yourself

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Use of alcohol and drugs can threaten an individual’s health, finances, relationships, and career – and also, their life. About 23 million Americans struggle with alcohol or substance use disorder (AUD/SUD) right now, and nearly every one of those individuals has people who love and care about them. If someone you love has AUD or SUD, you’ve likely spent hours, days, or even weeks wondering what you can do to make a positive impact in their lives and encourage them to get help – all while providing the love and support they need.

Loving a person with an alcohol or substance use disorder is difficult and can be heartbreaking. By learning how to do so safely – meaning you take care of yourself while taking care of your loved one – you can lend support while maintaining your mental health.

7 Ways to Help Someone Who Refuses Treatment

It’s common people with alcohol or drug problems to refuse to accept or seek treatment. If your loved one refuses treatment, the best thing you can do is to implement these seven tips for supporting them without enabling their alcohol or drug use.

1. Admit It to Yourself

Many relationship dynamics affect how you acknowledge your loved one’s AUD or SUD. Maybe you have strong suspicions a good friend needs help, or perhaps you’re a spouse who’s confronted your partner about problem behavior. No matter how close or distanced from the situation you are, it’s crucial to have a long, hard conversation with yourself about the alcohol or substance use and how it affects both your lives. It may be challenging to accept it and call it what it is, but it’s an essential step that will help in setting boundaries and avoiding enablement.

2. Educate Yourself on AUD and SUD

To support your loved one effectively, you need real knowledge about AUD and SUD. First, understand they’re both chronic diseases of the brain. They come with many complexities that vary significantly, depending on the substance or combination of substances misused. For instance, the behavior of someone who drinks alcohol and smokes marijuana is likely to be different than someone who only drinks.

Loving someone with AUD or SUD involves constant education. Learning how the disordered use develops and how various substances affect the human body can help you understand some of the more confusing behaviors your loved one displays. This knowledge will allow you to respond more appropriately – and give them the help they need to move forward.

3. Evaluate the Situation

AUD and SUD progress differently in everyone. If you don’t live with your loved one, it may be more challenging to assess how bad their problem is. Alcohol and substance misuse are often easy to hide, and the conditions themselves cause people to try and hide escalating use. For example, a good number of people with AUD may function well at work and at home for years, and those close to them don’t realize the extent of their drinking problem until it begins affecting work and relationships.

evaluate the situation

If you can have a conversation with your loved one and find out more about their patterns of alcohol or drug use, you can better understand the kind of support you need to provide.

4. Enlist the Support of a Physician

One indirect approach involves suggesting that your loved one make an appointment for a routine check-up. People struggling with alcohol and drug use tend to avoid the doctor for two reasons:

  1. They want to keep their alcohol or drug use secret.
  2. They don’t want to know about the damage they may be causing themselves.

A physician can help, for instance, by ordering routine bloodwork for that may reveal physiological problems caused by excess alcohol or drug use.

The rules of doctor-patient confidentiality still bind physicians, so you won’t hear about the results of the appointment unless your loved one wants to talk about them. However, it’s a helpful step in getting the individual to realize the severity of their situation on their own – and from a source they trust.

5. Stop Funding Their Drinking or Drug Use

Saying no is one of the hardest things you can do, but if you want to help your loved one, you need to learn how to do it.  Providing financial support enables people with  AUD or SUD to maintain their patterns of behavior. No matter how you structure the payments and give the money, once you give them the money, you’ve lost control of it – and you’ve given your loved one a chance to keep drinking or doing drugs.

For instance, you may feel tempted to help by covering an electric or utility bill here and there. It’s easy to rationalize because you’re not giving money to the person directly, but you have to realize the money they aren’t spending on the bills may be going to pay for drugs or alcohol. Saying no”when someone asks for help is difficult, to say the least, but thinking about the bigger picture can help you stand firm and avoid indirectly enabling their AUD or SUD.

6. Offer Clear Guidelines for Support

It’s critical to let your loved one know where you stand, as well as what you will and won’t do for them. Depending on what types of enabling behaviors you display, this can be a challenging step. If, for example, you make a habit out of covering for them or making excuses when they fail to fulfill family responsibilities, the conversation where you inform them you can’t do that anymore may become tense. Some people might react in anger, while others may understand where you’re coming from and accept the new boundary.

It’s equally essential to affirm the types of support you will provide. Maybe you’re willing and able to offer rides to and from treatment, or you’d love to offer a listening ear when they need to talk. Overall, you should let them know you’re there for them and will do what you can to promote healthy behavior. And, of course, make sure they know you strongly support any decision to seek treatment.

7. Evaluate Your Position

Within all this, you have to keep an eye on how much energy you expend on your support and how much you’re actually helping. Everyone responds to support differently, and some people seem indifferent to any level of support. If you feel your efforts are unappreciated, there are two things you need to do:

  1. Remember that someone with AUD or SUD tends to withdraw from family and friends, especially around topics that relate, even peripherally, to their alcohol or substance use. It’s entirely possible your loved one does appreciate your support, but doesn’t know how to say it.
  2. Be prepared to re-evaluate and scale back your involvement to preserve your mental health. If you see no progress, it may be time to take a step back.

That second point doesn’t mean you give up – it just means you give yourself a break. You need to make sure you don’t put your own mental health at risk while attempting to protect theirs.

How to Avoid Pressuring a Loved One Into Treatment

The ultimate goal of loving and supporting people with AUD or SUD is for them to seek and complete a treatment program. While you can help lay the groundwork with the person by having discussions and offering information when it’s appropriate, it’s essential not to strong-arm them into treatment. When someone decides to enter treatment based on external, rather than internal motivation, they’re less likely to truly engage and benefit from it. In the worst cases, someone may enter treatment to appease you and other loved ones, with no intention of remaining sober once treatment is over.

how to avoid pressuring a loved one into rehabIt’s critical to help them see the impact their actions cause, rather than to accuse or berate them. One of the best ways to do this is to carefully plan and execute an intervention – but only if you take care not to apply excess pressure.

Avoiding Confrontational Interventions

Intervention does not mean confrontation – although that’s what most people think about when they hear the word. Conflict is not the right solution when you want someone to seek treatment on their own initiative. If you and others recognize the need for an intervention, approach it from a sympathetic point of view. Rather than having each participant rattle off a laundry list of negative or hurtful things the person has done, participants should lead with concern, vocalize concern for their health and overall wellbeing.

Think of this as the “Love First” method.

Often, the most challenging aspect of an intervention is keeping your emotions in check. Tensions can run high and people may have trouble keeping their anger to themselves. However, if all parties remain as neutral as possible and remember the intervention has the greatest chance of success if it comes from a place of love and compassion, an intervention can be effective. When a person knows they’ll continue to receive support during and after treatment, they may be more likely to enter a program of their own accord. If they discover an internal drive to change, then change becomes more likely.

Acting Quickly When the Moment Is Right

As you continue to provide support to someone with AUD or SUD, you’ll learn to identify momnets when they’re receptive to talking about treatment. These three tips can help you better identify these moments, and make the most of them when they occur.

1. Establish Trust and Rapport

Moments of receptivity won’t do you much good if there’s no trust there to begin with. As a friend or loved one, you’ve probably had their trust at some point, even if your relationship has become strained. Building up trust by being consistent in your support is essential. If your loved one trusts you, they’re less likely to react in anger if you do bring up the possibility of treatment.

2. Have Resources Available

If you’ve ever succeeded in getting someone to open up about their alcohol or drug problems, you know how vital it is to take advantage of that momentum. Discussing treatment is progress to be proud of in any situation, but the motivation to enroll in a treatment program or attend a support group can wane quickly when there are no immediate options to consider. Investigate treatment near you, and have the information available in case your loved one displays a willingness to consider a program. Whether you bookmark websites on your phone or have physical brochures, having resources available at the right moment can make an immense difference.

3. Find Someone Who Can Talk to Your Loved One for You

Sometimes, you may not be the best person to act when the moment is right. If your relationship has seen many ups and downs and your conversations often become tense or angry, you may want to have someone else talk to your loved one instead. It could be another friend or family member, people from local support groups, or a therapist. It’s not easy to hand off these sensitive conversations to others, but in some cases, that may be the best option.

Remember to Take Care of Yourself

Alcohol and substance use disorders have a profound ripple effect on everyone who knows and loves the person with the disorder. As a close friend or loved one, you’ve probably spent more than one sleepless night worrying yourself sick over what might happen. This level of involvement can cause severe issues in your life if you don’t know how to protect yourself. These tips can help you maintain your mental health as you support a friend or loved one with AUD or SUD.

  • Self-care: It isn’t selfish to care for yourself. It’s necessary – especially if you have a close relationship with someone struggling with addiction.
  • Forgiveness: Your loved one may have hurt you multiple times, but holding on to anger will only deepen your pain. Forgiving yourself for your role in or reaction to their behavior is necessary, as well.
  • Acceptance: Accepting that you don’t control your loved one’s actions is hard, especially when you’re actively trying to help, but it’s necessary to remain realistic.
  • Boundaries: Discussing boundaries is challenging, but it can save your mental health. Things like discussing what hours you can accept phone calls or what days you’re available to talk can help you avoid tense situations later on.
  • The Three Cs: Cause, control, cure. To remain grounded, it’s critical to remember that you didn’t cause the person’s addiction, you can’t control it and you can’t cure them.

Loving someone with AUD or SUD can be emotionally draining, especially when you’re with them for the long haul. However, it’s possible to remain optimistic. Anyone can choose to seek treatment and begin recovery at any time, and with your support, your loved one can turn their life around. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so taking care of yourself by seeing a therapist and practicing healthy habits like eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise can help you stay the course over the long haul.

Learn More From Beacon House

If a loved one is struggles with addiction, Beacon House can help. Our alcohol and substance use disorder treatment programs are backed by more than 60 years of experience delivering care that changes lives. We understand the value of post-treatment support in relapse prevention, and we stay in touch with our alumni as part of our mission to support a lifetime of recovery.

Contact Beacon House today at 1 (831) 372-4366 to learn more about the road to recovery.