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Effective Ways to Help a Loved One with an Addiction Problem

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It’s painful to watch someone you love struggle with drug or alcohol abuse. You know he or she can benefit from professional help, but how do you breach the topic and how do you convince someone who is reluctant to seek treatment to go to rehab? Substance abuse is often accompanied by feelings of shame and guilt. The stigma associated with substance abuse can be a major deterrent for those who want to avoid being judged or labeled.

Talking to a reluctant loved one about drug treatment is no easy task. If you push too hard, you will further alienate your loved one. If you say little or nothing, the drug use will continue—and things can get out of hand in a hurry. Finding a way to get the message across effectively in a non-judgmental, and non-threating manner can be the first step in helping a loved one get back on track. The following are some tips to help you get through to a loved one reluctant to enter substance abuse treatment.

Get Educated on Substance Abuse

To better talk to a loved one about his or her addiction problem, you must first understand addiction itself. There are many resources available to educate yourself on substance abuse. There are several excellent websites you can visit to gain knowledge. Examples of these websites include the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM).

In addition to these websites, you can contact addiction professionals in your community. Contact your family doctor, hospital or local recovery advocacy center. These invaluable local resources can refer you to addiction and treatment professionals in your area who can provide education and support to help you better understand the complexities of drug and alcohol addiction.

Additionally, you can turn to family-centered sober support groups. Groups such as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are geared towards family and friends of addicts. These groups are open to the public, and you can listen to how other families and friends of addicts learn and cope with the disease of addiction. These people can also be a great source of support for you, your family and your loved ones.

Find a Family Member or Friend in Recovery to Help You

A big reason why people are reluctant to seek treatment is they feel no one understands how they feel. Those who abuse drugs and alcohol often do so to cover up the pain of past trauma. There are many instances where addicted loved ones know they are in trouble, and deep inside they genuinely want help. However, they feel alone and don’t think they will ever get well. In these cases, finding someone, whom they know personally, that has been through the recovery process can help tremendously.

Having a family member or friend your loved one knows and respects that is in recovery can be of great help. These people are relatable, “normal” and can speak to your loved one at his or her level. Their stories of struggle, hard work and success can provide the motivation your loved one needs to overcome reluctance to drug treatment.

Use Non-Stigmatizing Language

Another reason why people are reluctant to seek help for substance abuse is the perceived stigma surrounding addiction. While significant research has provided a greater understanding of the factors related to addiction, there still are prevailing societal attitudes that addicts are broken people who in some ways are morally defunct. The stigma associated with substance abuse can deter many addicts from seeking treatment due to the fear of being judged or looked down upon.

When you speak to a loved one who is reluctant to seek treatment, it’s important to approach him or her with non-judgment and compassion and understand that substance abuse is as much a product of circumstance as it is anyone’s fault.

Let them know that addiction does not define a person in totality, but is rather a challenge that is  faced in life. Your loved one must understand that substance abuse can be out of one’s control and can require professional help to overcome. It is also important for addicted loved ones to realize that what they are dealing with is not abnormal or a problem unique to themselves. Many people from many walks of life fall into the trap of substance abuse—and many of those people find recovery with drug treatment.

The language and tone that you use in addressing the situation are as important as the message and intent. Using language that stigmatizes, shames, or points the finger of blame, typically creates resistance and weakens motivation to change. While their situation may be frustrating and seemingly hopeless, remind them they have the power to change.

It’s important to understand that people in the same situation have turned their lives around and that drug treatment can provide them the tools they need to overcome their addiction and help them lead healthy, happy, and productive lives.

Affirm the Positive

As already stated in this article, substance abuse creates intense feelings of shame, guilt, and negativity. For many addicts, they know deep down that they need to seek treatment yet remain reluctant do so. The perceived stigma and adverse reactions they expect to face are enough of a deterrent to keep the majority of addicts from ever seeking treatment.

To counter the negative emotions associated with substance abuse treatment, it’s important to focus on the positive aspects of getting clean. Highlight what will be gained, such as a life of happiness, being able to restore relationships, and move forward with your life. Those entering treatment need to realize that they are not being blamed for their situation. It’s not a flaw in their character, nor does it define who they are as a person. Substance abuse treatment is simply a fork in the road, and a step in the right direction. Those who have been successful in their recovery can attest to the strength they have gained through the process.

When loved ones struggle with addiction it’s important to remind them what you love about them. Bring up their strength, kindness, love, and resiliency. Above all else, let them know that you support them in their recovery and that you’ll be with them in their fight to conquer their struggle with addiction.

Be Sensitive to Time and Place

When you talk to a loved one, who is reluctant to enter treatment, avoid having that conversation in group situations or other settings where it may cause discomfort. If possible, have your conversation one-on-one and in an informal setting such as morning coffee or lunch. You want to try and have this conversation when your loved one is not tired or overburdened with other stresses. Large intervention style gatherings can be overwhelming and humiliating, and often meet with resistance, resulting in more harm than good. It’s essential to avoid the instinct to shame someone in recovery; it will only make a bad situation worse and can often send someone into a deeper spiral of abuse. Try and approach your loved one in a calm and peaceful environment and approach the situation with a tone of compassion and understanding, to avoid resistance.

Handle Resistance

No matter how you approach your conversation, you will undoubtedly run into some form of resistance. It’s tough for people to swallow their pride and admit they are struggling with something that is out of control. Nobody wants to be labeled or identified as an addict, and understandably, these types of labels will typically be met with resistance, especially when it conflicts with someone’s self-image. It is important to understand this is normal and to be expected.

Let your loved one know that he or she is not being judged or blamed and that there are millions of people facing the same problem. When resistance occurs, highlight the importance of your relationship and what it means to you. Avoid giving ultimatums, as there will be ups and downs in recovery. Point out specific instances and areas of problematic behavior. Above all, try and keep your calm and engage in active listening. Do your best to remain composed and avoid massive blow-ups despite the strong emotions that accompany these types of situations.

Offer Help Without Enabling

To empower a loved one reluctant to seek treatment, you need to offer meaningful help and support. Offer your loved one support in finding a program that is best suited for him or her. If needed, go to meetings or sign up for group or family therapy. You want to avoid engaging in enabling behaviors. Offering resources and support to addicted loved ones through the recovery process is much different from giving them the means to support their addiction.

Remember; it’s on your loved one to do the work, and not merely go through the motions to make you happy. Your role is to guide your loved one towards help and resources and empower him or her to do the heavy lifting.

Realize You Are Not Alone

Substance abuse is an issue that affects tens of millions of people in the US, and the vast majority of those individuals never seek treatment.

Talking to a family member or friend reluctant to seek treatment can be a difficult and draining process but can make the difference in saving someone’s life. It’s important to understand that you and your loved one are not in this alone. There’s an abundance of resources available to help you and your loved one through this process. The first step is to ask for help.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About the Author: Robert Tropp is a functional nutrition practitioner whose primary focus is substance abuse and mental health disorders. Robert uses a functional medicine approach to help clients regain mental and physical well-being.  Robert is an advocate for the importance of nutrition in addiction recovery and works as the health and wellness director at Nuview Treatment Center in Marina Del Rey, CA.

The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.

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