By Mike Rizzo, Cinical Program Director, CAST Centers
I often field calls from individuals who are seeking advice on how to help a friend or a family member who is suffering from substance abuse issues. The caller frequently asks questions like; “How can I help them?” or “How can I get my son into treatment?” This is a complicated question to answer and I wish I knew the formula or the right words to say that would prompt a person to enter treatment for substance abuse.
There are so many factors that come into play on helping someone who may need the help. The individual may not be ready to do anything about their drug use, they may not think they have a problem or if they do, they may be in denial on the severity of the issue. When looking at a person’s substance use there are 5 conditions that you can look at:
1) Tolerance: does it take more and more of the substance to produce the same effect?
2) Withdrawal: once the person stops is there a period of time when they need to recover and feel “normal” again?
3) Loss of control: once they ingest the substance do they lose control over how much they use, how long they are high and what they do when under the influence? Or they simply can’t say no when the drug is offered to them?
4) Lifestyle: have they developed a lifestyle around the drug meaning that all their friends, the places they go are all influenced by the drug?
5) In spite of compelling reasons not to, they continue to use. Even though they are experiencing negative consequences, as a result of their drug use, they minimize the impact and justify their continued use.
A person does not need to meet all 5 conditions to have a problem, a majority of the conditions will fulfill the criteria.
If your loved one does have a problem, it is important to look at any enabling factors that you may be participating in. Are you paying the rent or car payments, sending money for yet another emergency or not addressing the problem in an honest and direct way? By definition enabling is preventing the substance using individual from experiencing all of the negative consequences of their using/behavior. Generally, an individual will stop abusing substances when the pain of using surpasses the pain they are trying to avoid. Don’t get me wrong, it’s ok to offer help, but you get to decide what that help looks like. I often explain to mothers that it’s appropriate to offer to pay for treatment, or help pay for a sober living as long as they are in treatment. Sending cash or keeping the cable on won’t move them towards the help they need. The question becomes; Do you love the person enough for them to be mad at you?
When addressing the individual about their substance use here are some do’s and don’ts to consider.
1) Do seek professional help. You may want to consult an interventionist who can structure and facilitate a conversation that will encourage the individual to enter treatment.
2) Do take care of yourself. It is important for you to practice self-care.
3) Do seek out an Al-anon Meeting. Al-anon is a fellowship that offers a program of recovery for the families and friends of alcoholics.
4) Do seek support for yourself. Having a strong support system to lean on would be important during stressful situations. Find a therapist, CAST Centers offers Life Coaching which can also be helpful.
5) Do encourage sober activities such as 12 step, Smart Recovery or Refuge Recovery.
6) Do learn as much as you can about the disease of addiction. Understanding that addiction is a disease and not a moral issue will help you understand the behavior of your loved one better.
7) Don’t get angry. Addressing the addict with anger is the most unproductive thing you can do. It increases resistant and often creates barriers to being heard. Approach with love and concern.
8) Don’t set boundaries you are not able or willing to keep. It’s important to stay true to limits. Often the individual will push back and resist the structure presented, but just know that they actually feel safer with in that structure.
It’s important to note that our loved one carries a very strong relationship and attachment to their drug of choice and will go to great lengths to protect that relationship. Don’t take it personally – it’s not about you. The drug has become a major coping skill for dealing with the stressors in their life. Stay true to yourself and to your commitment in helping them break that attachment.
CAST Centers can be a great resource in helping you achieve that goal. We offer Intensive outpatient treatment for your loved one and life coaching for you. Please reach out if you need help.