The tragic reality of drug and alcohol addiction is that it alters brain chemistry and often renders individuals incapable of sound and lucid decision-making. Prolonged and untreated drug and alcohol abuse create serious and sometimes permanent changes to the central nervous system that make it nearly impossible for sufferers to think of anything beyond use. When dealing with a friend or loved one battling substance use disorder (SUD) and encountering difficulty while endeavoring to get them treatment, it can be easy to ascribe their behavior to willful obstinance and an intentional resistance to give up the addictive behavior; in reality, a complex series of neurophysiological changes dictate this response. It’s as though the lucid, loving, and vibrant person we once knew has been fundamentally transformed for the worse by this disease.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), along with multiple organizations, offers a variety of resources for families in crisis dealing with an addicted loved one; however, there may be ways in which you can guide your friend or family member into treatment sooner rather than later.
There are multiple complex emotions at play when faced with talking to a loved one about their drug or alcohol addiction. It’s natural to feel a sense of guilt about your suspicions; however, if you’re at the point where you feel the need to intervene, you must trust yourself that the suspicion is well-founded. A frank and honest yet tactful conversation can at least give a better idea of what your loved one is up against, and the scope of their substance abuse issues. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) offers valuable insight on how to talk one-on-one with an addicted friend or family member. While you must be prepared for confrontation, this approach will let your loved one know you care.
You can let a loved one know how much you care about them and try to get them to see how much their substance use is impacting their life, and you can even offer assistance with the logistics of treatment; however, you cannot make them want to get better. This is a decision at which every person should arrive on their own. If they seek treatment to appease someone else, their chances of long-term success are significantly diminished.
Other things to remember when trying to convince someone to go rehab include:
One of the most common methods of talking to an addicted loved one is through a process called intervention. An intervention is usually characterized by a gathering of concerned loved ones for the purposes of illustrating the collective and individual impact of that person’s prolonged and untreated substance abuse. The event is organized without the knowledge of the person suffering from addiction and is usually moderated by a professional interventionist or a trusted yet emotionally uninvolved family associate, such as a priest or distant relative.
The type of group gathered for each intervention will differ according to the type of relationship the organizer has with the addicted person.
A person can organize intervention for a variety of connections in their lives, including their:
The intervention process should be guided by an experienced and certified interventionist. These professionals will keep the meeting on track, prevent the dialogue from getting overly emotional, and can even arrange the logistics of treatment, should the person accept help. While there is admittedly little concrete data regarding the efficacy of the intervention process, one international study indicates improved outcomes for alcohol dependency for those who receive family-member intervention.
During an addiction intervention, the assembled party will usually read prepared essays aloud, citing specific personal examples of how the loved one’s substance abuse has impacted their relationships. Once the group has had a chance to say their peace, an offer of treatment is extended for the loved one to either accept or reject. The group approach to intervention often means developing terms and consequences based on that person’s decision. Many families will cease contact if the loved one ignores the offer of help. Some of the common types of damage discussed during intervention include the impact on finances, family, marriage, children, careers, and more.
The element of surprise involved in organizing an intervention may cause the confronted loved one to feel blindsided and deceived. This is another reason why the process should be organized and guided by an experienced professional. An interventionist will know what to say if that person walks out of the intervention or is reluctant to take part in the first place. The intervention often represents a pivotal moment in the individual’s relationship with the group, so it’s important that everyone is on the same page regarding the objectives, terms, and potential outcomes of the meeting.
As the people who are closest to loved ones and the ones who interact with them on a daily basis, you are more empowered than most to assess their risk of substance use and addiction. You are also most empowered to intervene if you identify that such issues exist. You don’t have to sit on the sidelines and wait for drugs or alcohol to ruin the lives of someone you care about. By trying to convince your addicted loved one to get treatment, you’re letting them know that they have a committed and supportive ally, and that all hope is not lost.
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