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How to Encourage a Loved One to Get Help for Substance Use Disorder

Published by Daniel Brooks Moore on

Talking to a loved one with substance use disorder can be challenging but there are steps you can take to make it easier.

When someone you care about is struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol (or both), you have more power than you may think to help them. As a loving friend or family member, what you say — and how you say it — can help set them on the path to getting the support they need, according to the experts at Caron Treatment Centers.

Keep in mind, though, the path to recovery isn’t necessarily a straight road: You may have had this conversation or one like it before. Your loved one may have attempted to get sober and relapsed. Wherever you both are in this journey, Caron Treatment Centers — a leader in addiction treatment for the past 70 years — can give you the tools and the confidence you need to help your loved one make a change.

Recognizing Substance Use Disorder and Knowing When to Speak Up

If you’re struggling to know whether your friend or family member truly has a substance use disorder (the formal diagnosis of an addiction to drugs or alcohol), you may want to talk to a professional, like an expert at Caron Treatment Centers, about your concerns. While you might be worried about acting on a hunch or misinterpreting their behavior, acting early — before so-called “rock bottom” — will help your loved one in the long run.

What’s more, the first signs of substance use disorder often are not drug or alcohol abuse itself. In fact, many people are able to hide drug or alcohol use and even its effects quite well. That’s why, according to Caron clinicians, you may recognize other changes in their behavior instead: Your friend or family member might seem depressed, act overly anxious, or retreat from regular life, such as falling behind at work or with other responsibilities, withdrawing from relationships, and losing interest in pastimes.

To help you identify whether your loved one needs professional help, here are common addiction indicators from Caron clinicians.

Ready to Say Something? Here’s Where to Start

Even after you’ve determined your loved one needs help, speaking up may still feel daunting. These tips will help you set the framework for an effective conversation and beyond — well before your first words.

Recognize your hesitations. Is anything stopping you from speaking to your loved one about addiction? For instance, you may be nervous about what to say or worried about how they will react. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), people may get angry, deny a problem exists, or feel hurt. Being prepared for how you approach the conversation, though, can help to mitigate this.

Other feelings may get in the way as well. Many people feel resigned to the fact that nothing they do will stop this person from using alcohol or drugs.

Whatever your reasons are for putting off a conversation, your feelings are valid. But avoidance only delays helping your friend or family member. Try talking about your concerns and hesitations with someone else, such as a trusted confidant, someone who has been through a similar experience, or a Caron admissions specialist.

Take a breath and make a plan. Once you decide to talk to your loved one, you may want to “get it over with” so you don’t chicken out. Take a breath: Rushing headlong into this important conversation is likely to backfire.

Instead, Caron clinicians advise taking a step-by-step approach in which you think about when and where to have the talk, as well as what you’ll say and the tone you’ll use. Having such a plan will help you feel more comfortable and may encourage them to be receptive to seeking the help they need for addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Choose your location. Simplify your first steps by starting with the logistics — where will you have this conversation?

Pick a location where you know they’ll feel safe and comfortable. You’ll also want to be someplace you aren’t likely to be interrupted or overheard. Consider your friend or family member’s home if the two of you can have privacy there. If not, try finding a quiet, secluded section of a public park.

Have treatment resources at the ready. Your loved one might ask for guidance on how to seek help. Before the conversation, research drug and alcohol programs and treatment facilities, like Caron Treatment Centers, and write down the relevant information so you can offer your loved one actionable advice on the spot.

If you’re unsure where to start, the team at Caron can connect you with a professional to help guide you through this process.

Broach the topic gently. To initiate a conversation, you might start out with a statement that underscores your concern, such as “Hey, I’ve been worried about you. I just wanted to check in and make sure you’re okay. Do you have time to talk?”

Be prepared to back off if your loved one isn’t receptive. Forcing the issue may cause them to pull away from you and isolate themselves, according to NIDA. Instead, make it clear you’re available for them at any time. You might respond by saying, “Let me know when you’re ready to talk, okay? I’m always here.”

Keep reaching out. If your loved one repeatedly refuses to talk, a text message or letter would be better than saying nothing. Ultimately, if you feel your friend or loved one needs help from a therapist, doctor, or other source, use whatever mode of communication it takes to let them know that.

8 Tips to Help You Navigate the Conversation

Your loved one has agreed to talk to you. Now it’s time to put your careful planning to use. Follow these tips from Caron clinicians to start the conversation and keep it going in a productive way.

Acknowledge your own emotions up front. If you’re nervous, say so. If you’re worried you might push your loved one away, let them know that isn’t your intent. Your honesty about your own feelings will signal you’re sincere and truly want to help.

Your tone matters. Often with addiction comes a great deal of stigma and embarrassment, according to NIDA. It’s important to keep this in mind when planning how you speak to your loved one. Be encouraging and nonconfrontational.

Validate the person’s feelings. Let them know you understand that in addition to struggling with a substance use disorder they may also be dealing with guilt and shame — emotions that can throw a wrench in their desire to seek treatment.

Be tactful. If you bluntly say, “You’re drinking too much,” your friend or family member will likely feel more ashamed than enlightened, NIDA says. Again, such direct criticism can put someone on the defensive and even cause them to become noncommunicative and resistant to treatment.

Make it about you and how concerned you are. Caron clinicians suggest framing your points around how you’re feeling using “I” statements. For example: “I was scared when you didn’t remember what we talked about over the weekend.”

Avoid underscoring ways the behavior affects you negatively. Don’t make statements like “Your drug use means you’re never there when I need you,” or “When you’re high in public it’s so embarrassing” — as these can cause things to turn confrontational.

When explaining why you’re concerned, be specific. These details can help someone with a substance use disorder start to recognize the behaviors that others are aware of and worried about so they can begin to do targeted work once they’re in treatment. To that end, you might say, “I was worried when you ordered twice as many cocktails as the rest of us the other night,” or “I’m concerned about you because you’ve canceled our plans three times in a row without telling me why.”

Steer clear of platitudes. Refrain from saying things like “Just be positive!” The same goes for unhelpful advice: “Maybe you just need an antidepressant.” Instead, show empathy by using statements like “That must be really difficult. How can I help?”

How to Set Boundaries in Addiction Recovery

After you’ve had a conversation about their substance use disorder, back up what you’ve said with what you do. Establish clear boundaries to promote accountability and help you avoid enabling behaviors. For example, let them know that you’d love to meet up and hang out, but only if there is no drinking or substance use involved. This creates a healthier environment for both you and your friend or family member struggling with addiction. It’s a way to protect your own well being while still supporting their efforts to get sober or clean.

The exact boundaries you set will depend on your relationship to the person and other situational factors, such as if you live together, if they are financially dependent on you, and whether children are involved. For example, people with children may set boundaries around visitation or when it’s okay to call.

Setting boundaries, even if it means your friend or family member cuts ties with you temporarily, demonstrates that you’re more concerned about the effects of addiction on their life or health than on your own needs.

If, however, despite careful planning, your first attempts didn’t get through to them as much as you had hoped, keep the course. Your continued invitations to talk may spur them to get the treatment they need.

For more information about the resources available to help your loved one, reach out to Caron Treatment Centers and speak with an expert. Remember, you’re not in this alone. The team at Caron will be by your side and guide you throughout this process.

(Source: Everyday Health)


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