Talking To A Loved One About Getting Help

Talking to Loved Ones - Freedom From Addiction

Talking to a loved one about their alcohol or substance use and treatment can be uncomfortable, challenging, and scary. Many people fear they will upset their loved one, that it is not their place to say anything, or that they might even make the situation worse than it already is. All of these are realistic possibilities. You cannot control how someone responds to your concern, and they might not be open or ready to hear what you have to say. Denial is not uncommon. However, if you are noticing signs of your loved one abusing drugs or alcohol, it is important to address it as soon as possible. If you care about someone, it could be worth it, as you could be the catalyst for your loved on getting the help that they need.

How Do You Know If Your Loved One Needs Help?

Substance use disorders often impair daily functioning in some way. Diagnosis of a substance use disorder is based on factors such as:

  • Neglecting or failure to meet responsibilities (at work, home, or school)
  • Loss of or impaired control
  • Risky behavior or use
  • Conflict within their relationships
  • Social impairment

Some other factors that might be seen in those with a substance abuse disorder include:

  • Drastic change to hygiene and self-care
  • Mood changes
  • Keeping secrets
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Isolation (or being less social than normal)
  • Symptoms of withdrawal when they try to stop using (i.e. agitation, headaches, sweating, vomiting, or anxiety)
  • Continued use despite negative consequences

How Do I Approach Them?

It is important to schedule a time to talk with your loved one and ask permission to begin a conversation. Designate a good time with limited distractions. Be sure that the person you are addressing is not impaired, hungover, or preoccupied when you are going to begin your talk. Remember this will likely be an ongoing conversation, but starting it as soon as possible is important. Limit distractions by turning off the television and putting away electronics. Use "I statements" in communicating how your loved ones' what you have observed and how their behavior or use has impacted you. Don't be a parent, cop, or teacher, but instead be a friend and listen. Come from a place of caring and concern, rather than preaching. Don't talk at them, but instead, have a two-way conversation. Here are some helpful suggestions:

  • Approach it as a problem of your own by using "I Statements" and feeling words. For example, you can say "I am worried," "I am concerned," "I am afraid."
  • Continue to use "I" statement to show your support, such as "I care about you, I love you, and I am worried about you." Avoid using "you" statements like "you need help"
    or "you have a problem."
  • Anticipate that your loved one may retaliate with hurtful words such as tell you are the one that needs help, put you down, or say other hurtful things. This is a common response because they are on the defense and scared.

Keep in mind that your role is to provide support. You cannot fix your loved one or the situation. Avoid using statements that are judgmental or trying to tell them what to do. The conversation you are having with your loved is critical. Use this opportunity to listen and respond, when appropriate, using encouraging words.

Helping Someone With Addiction

There are several options for helping your loved one to get the help that they need.

  • Find a mental health professional who has experience with substance abuse. The mental health professional can help guide you and support you. Your loved one can get evaluated and be provided with a specific plan for treatment.
  • Find local support through Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Al-Anon groups. These groups provide a community of support, encouragement, and camaraderie for those who are trying to overcome their addictions.
  • Help your loved ones follow through with treatment. The changes your loved one will be making can be challenging, so your support can be incredibly helpful.
  • Find support and treatment near you. Al-Anon Family Groups/ Al-Anon offers support for family and friends of individuals who struggle with alcohol or substance abuse.

Dr. Rachel Needle has specialized training in the area of substance abuse. She is a professional consultant to substance abuse facilities and assists them in expanding and enhancing clinical programming. Dr. Needle also does expert training for staff members at residential and outpatient facilities that specialize in alcohol and substance abuse. 

| Twitter: @DrRachelNeedle

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