Finding out that your friend or family member is struggling with addiction can leave you in complete disbelief. Maybe you’ve suspected there was something wrong for a while, but only recently received the confirmation that you’ve been dreading for so long.
Now that you know, you may feel obligated to step in and get your loved one the help they need. It’s normal to feel that way, but convincing your friend or relative to seek treatment isn’t always an easy task.
First and foremost, your loved one must want to be helped. While there are more extreme circumstances that may justify court-ordered rehabilitation or other forcible treatment solutions, these should always be last resort options. Confronting an addict with threats and demands will likely push your loved one farther away and put a strain on your relationship with them. The most successful recovery efforts occur when an addict owns and accepts their problem, and willingly agrees to get help.
So, how do you help your loved one realize that they need help, without overstepping your boundaries and jeopardizing your relationship?
Before even attempting an in-depth discussion and suggesting clinical treatment, you need to break the ice about the issue. Get it all out in the open and speak to your loved one with empathy and concern. This should be done in a neutral, non-intimidating environment, such as a coffee shop or while on a relaxing walk. Don’t point fingers or get confrontational. Focus on asking questions and learn more about what your loved one has been struggling with. Ask if they have considered getting treatment and why they have been hesitant to do so.
Sometimes, this conversation may be enough for them to realize that it’s time to get help. Understand that it’s rare to get to this point with only one conversation, but if your loved one agrees to get help, take them to a treatment facility immediately- don’t wait! You don’t want to allow any extra time for them to change their mind or turn back to substance abuse. It may be helpful to do a bit of research beforehand to familiarize yourself with the local recovery centers so you’re prepared to go right away.
If you’re unsuccessful in getting through to your loved one with the first conversation, or if you experience substantial resistance, don’t be discouraged. More often than not, it takes several attempts to make any progress.
If you’ve already had many conversations with your loved one and it just doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere, it may be time to organize an intervention and take your efforts to the next level. But a successful intervention will take some thought and careful planning in advance, and throwing together a spontaneous, on-the-fly gathering of friends and family will likely fail. There’s no official guide or guaranteed method for flawlessly executing an intervention and getting the results you’re hoping for, but there are a few things to consider that may increase your chances of being successful.
Choosing a location: You’ll want to host your intervention in a neutral, non-threatening environment. Don’t show up at your loved one’s house and invade their personal space. Try to remove them from their typical environment and meet somewhere they won’t feel intimidated or trapped.
Deciding who will participate: The key here is quality, not quantity. While it’s important to include others in your efforts, having too many people may embarrass your loved one or make them feel threatened. Choose close friends and family members whose lives have been impacted most by your loved ones’ addiction. You may also want to consider hiring a professional interventionist to bring along.
Doing your research: Many times, fear of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms can deter addicts from getting help. You’ll need to be ready to address any concerns your loved one may have to alleviate their fears and hesitations about the treatment process. Come ready to assure your loved one that there are several treatment options available and there are ways to manage their comfort throughout recovery.
Planning for resistance: You’re going to hear every excuse in the book from your loved one. “It’s too expensive,” “It will be too hard,” “I can’t take time off from work.” Anticipate their excuses and prepare a logical rebuttal for each one of them. There is no valid point to justify their refusal to get help.
Sharing your feelings: Planning in advance is important, but how you handle yourself during the intervention is equally critical in the outcome of your efforts. Your approach should be a delicate combination of love and honesty. It’s okay to get emotional, you need your loved one to see the consequences of their actions. But the ways in which you verbalize those feelings are just as important as the feeling themselves.
Using “I” statements: As friends and family members share how they’ve been affected, take caution not to point fingers and come off as accusatory. You want your loved one to understand how they’ve impacted the lives of others, but not necessarily feel guilty or defensive.
Taking time to listen: You want to make sure your loved one feels heard. Ask open-ended questions that allow them the opportunity to share their fears and emotions. Remember that getting help needs to be their decision.
Practicing tough love: Up until now, you may have been enabling your loved one by helping them with their bills or allowing their behavior to continue. Make them aware that, if they don’t get help, you can no longer support them or include them in family matters. If necessary, arrange to have communication and contact with family members cut off until they’re ready to change. Most importantly, follow through. This may sound extreme, but continued support from loved ones is enabling their behavior to continue.
Remember, seeking treatment for addiction is a big decision and, while you may be ready for your loved one to recover, they may not be. Keep in mind that it may take several attempts to persuade your loved one to acknowledge their illness and agree to get help. As you make efforts to guide them down the right path, be loving, be compassionate, and be patient. Don’t give up, because your persistence may be their only chance at recovery.