Use of alcohol and drugs can threaten a person’s health, finances, relationships and career, in addition to their life. About 23 million Americans are struggling with drug or alcohol abuse right now, and nearly every one of those individuals has people who love and care about them. If someone you love is addicted to drugs or alcohol, 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 while providing the love and support they need.
Loving a person with an addiction is difficult and can sometimes be heartbreaking, but by learning how to do so safely, you can lend addiction support while maintaining your mental health.
7 Ways to Help Someone With Addiction Who Refuses Treatment
It is, unfortunately, common for addicted people to refuse to accept or seek treatment. If your loved one is among this group, the best thing you can do is to implement these seven tips for supporting them without enabling.
1. Admit It to Yourself
Many relationship dynamics affect how you acknowledge your loved one’s addiction. Maybe you have strong suspicions a good friend is an alcoholic, or perhaps you are a spouse who has confronted your partner about problematic drug use. No matter how close or distanced from the situation you are, it’s crucial to have a long, hard conversation with yourself about the substance abuse and how it is affecting both your lives. It’s challenging to accept a loved one’s addiction and call it what it is, but doing so is a necessary step that will help in setting boundaries and avoiding enablement.
2. Educate Yourself on Addiction
To be an effective supporter, you need to know what you’re up against. Addiction is a chronic disease of the brain. It comes with many complexities that vary significantly, depending on the substance or combination of substances abused. For instance, the behavior of someone who drinks alcohol and smokes marijuana is likely to be very distinct compared to the patterns of someone who only drinks.
Loving an alcoholic or someone with drug addiction involves constant education. Learning how addiction develops and how various substances affect the human body can help you understand some of the more confusing behaviors your loved one displays, allowing you to respond more appropriately.
3. Evaluate the Situation
Addiction progresses differently in everyone. If you don’t live with your loved one, it may be more challenging to assess how bad their problem is. Many types of addiction are easy to hide, and the condition causes people to try and hide their escalating usage. For example, a good number of alcoholics start high-functioning, and those close to them don’t realize the extent of their drinking problem until it begins affecting work and relationships.
If you can have a conversation with your loved one and find out more about their substance abuse habits, you can better understand the kind of support you need to provide.
4. Approach From a Medical Perspective
One indirect approach involves suggesting that your loved one make an appointment for a routine check-up. People struggling with addiction tend to avoid the doctor for two reasons: wanting to keep their substance abuse secret, and being unwilling to learn about the physical effects of their addiction. For instance, routine bloodwork for someone with alcoholism may reveal liver damage from excessive drinking.
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 it. However, it’s a helpful step in getting the individual to realize the severity of their addiction on their own.
5. Stop Funding
One of the hardest things to do is refuse requests made by the person you care about, but it is essential to cut off any funding to a person with an addiction. Providing financial support is the most common mistake people make when it comes to enabling addiction, as no matter how you structure the payments and give the money, the person living with the addiction will end up funneling it back into substance abuse.
For instance, you may feel tempted to try and help by covering an electric or utility bill here and there. It’s easy to rationalize because you are not giving money to the person directly, but you have to realize the money they aren’t spending on the bills is likely going to pay for drugs or alcohol somewhere down the line. Saying “no” when someone is asking for help is difficult, to say the least, but thinking about the bigger picture can help you stand firm and avoid this form of enablement.
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 may have displayed, this can be a challenging step. If, for example, you’ve made a habit out of covering for them or making excuses when they bail on family events, it will be a tense conversation when you inform them you can’t do that anymore. 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 strongly affirm the types of support you will provide. Maybe you are willing and able to offer rides to and from treatment, or you volunteer a listening ear when the person needs to talk. Overall, you should let your loved one know that you are here for them and will do what you can to promote healthy behavior. And, of course, make sure they know you will strongly support any decision to seek addiction treatment.
7. Evaluate Your Position
Among all this, you have to keep an eye on how much energy you are expending in your support and how much it seems to be helping. Everyone responds to support differently, and some people seem indifferent to even the most extensive actions. If you feel your efforts are going unappreciated, there are two things you need to do. First, remember addiction tends to cause people to be less communicative.
It’s entirely possible your loved one does appreciate your support, but doesn’t know how to say it. Second, 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.
How to Avoid Pressuring a Loved One Into Treatment
The ultimate goal of loving and supporting people with addiction is for them to seek and complete an addiction 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 someone into treatment. When someone decides to enter treatment based on pressure rather than internal motivation, they may be 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.
It’s critical to help someone with an addiction see the impact their actions are causing, 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
The traditional method of intervention that you may have seen or read about is as confrontational as it gets, and is not the right solution when you want someone to seek treatment on their initiative. If you and other people in the individual’s life recognize the need for an intervention, it’s essential to approach it from a sympathetic point of view. Rather than having each participant rattle off a laundry list of things the individual has done to hurt people, participants should vocalize their worries for the individual and their health. This approach is sometimes called the “Love First” method.
Often, the most challenging aspect of an intervention is keeping your emotions in check. When multiple people affected by a person’s addiction gather, tensions can run high and people may have trouble keeping anger to themselves. However, if all parties can remain relatively neutral and remember the intervention is supposed to have a basis in love and compassion, an intervention can be an effective way to make your loved one understand the true impact of their addiction. When a person knows they will continue to receive support during and after treatment, they may be more likely to enter a program with an internally motivated desire to change.
Acting Quickly When the Moment Is Right
As you continue to provide your support to someone with an addiction, you will begin to recognize moments where they are more receptive to talking about their addiction and 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 you don’t have trust with the person in question. As a friend or loved one, you have probably had the person’s trust at one point, even if you currently have a strained relationship. Building up trust by being consistent in your support is essential in avoiding an angry reaction when you introduce the topic of addiction.
2. Have Resources Available
If you have ever succeeded in getting someone to open up about addiction, you know how vital it is to have somewhere for the momentum to take you. Discussing treatment is progress to be proud of in any situation, but the motivation to enroll in an addiction treatment program or alcohol support group can wane quickly when there are no options for specific programs to consider.
Investigate treatment options near you, and have the information available in case your loved one displays a sudden 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 in follow-through.
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 addiction support groups or a therapist. It’s not easy to hand off these sensitive conversations to someone else, but in some cases, that may be the best option.
Remember to Care for Yourself
Alcohol and drug addiction has an immense ripple effect on everyone who knows the affected individual. As a close friend or loved one, you have likely spent more than one sleepless night worrying about the person you know and wondering what will become of them. 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 help an addicted friend or loved one.
- Self-care: It isn’t selfish to care for yourself. It’s necessary to sustain a 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 the addiction is necessary, as well.
- Acceptance: Accepting that you don’t control your loved one’s actions or addiction is hard, especially when you are actively trying to help, but it’s necessary to remain realistic throughout your relationship.
- 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 are available to talk can help you avoid tense situations later on.
- The Three Cs: 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 an addict can be emotionally draining, especially when you are with them for the long haul. However, it’s a must 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 in diet and exercise can help you go the distance with your loved one.
Learn More From Beacon House
If a loved one is struggling with addiction, Beacon House can help. Our California substance abuse 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.
As someone committed to loving an addict, you need all the information you can get on addiction and recovery. Contact Beacon House today at 831.372.4366 to learn more about the road to recovery.