If you’re feeling the need to say something to your loved one about their substance use, chances are it’s a good idea to take steps toward that conversation.
There’s an age-old adage that someone needs to hit “rock bottom” before they will finally want to deal with a drug or alcohol dependence. In reality, that’s not the case — and in fact, the sooner a problem is addressed, the easier it is to help your loved one get the help they need. So if you’re feeling the need to say something to your loved one about their substance use, chances are it’s a good idea to take steps toward that conversation.
How to Help Someone Struggling with Addiction?
Talking about addiction with a loved one is no easy task, nor is it one to be taken lightly. However, if you think a family member has developed a drug or alcohol dependence, it’s important that you take meaningful action to get them the help they need. This will involve at least one serious conversation with your loved one since they must decide to get help for their problem.
Below are some steps to take as you prepare to talk to your loved one about their substance use:
- Know the signs and symptoms of drug and alcohol dependence. Before you talk to your loved one, take some time to observe them, noting any signs or symptoms of drug and alcohol dependence over a period of days or weeks. Signs include the appearance of intoxication, problems at work or home, changes in sleep patterns, lying about alcohol or substance use, becoming angry when asked about their substance use, change in appearance or hygiene and problems with cognition or memory. While this list is not exhaustive, it’s a good one to start with when you’re trying to decipher whether your loved one is dealing with drug or alcohol dependence.
- Gather your thoughts beforehand. Once you’ve observed your loved one for a few days or weeks, use these observations to think about what you’re going to say to them when you talk to them. It’s important to know what you’re going to say before having the conversation – you might even benefit from writing down what you plan to say. It can be helpful to have a goal for your conversation too, and one that isn’t too lofty. If you think getting them to agree to treatment in the first conversation is too much (which often it is), make your goal something more attainable, like expressing all of your concerns to your loved one without judgment.
- Seek support from others. As you think through what to say and how to say it, speak to other family members and friends about your observations. See if they agree with your assessment of the situation and your decision to talk to that person. You might even seek the advice of a professional before having the conversation.
- Choose the time wisely. Find a specific time to sit down and talk to your loved one in a place where you won’t be interrupted or distracted. Make sure your loved one isn’t under the influence of drugs or alcohol when you talk, and make sure you are sober as well.
- Choose your words wisely. This is where knowing what you want to say ahead of time will help. Try your best to stick to the facts and your observation of the situation, and use “I” statements rather than “you” statements. “You” statements can come across as accusatory and cause your loved one to get defensive. Be prepared for your loved one to respond negatively to what you have to say, and have a plan for how to respond if that’s the case.
- Offer love and support. Above all, lead with love and make sure your loved one knows that you are talking to them because you care about them. Avoid putting a label on them, like “addict” or “alcoholic,” and instead focus on their actions when you express concern for them. Remind them that you love who they are as a person, and that you are talking to them because you want what is best for them.
How to Take Care of Yourself as You Seek to Help Your Loved One
Drug and alcohol dependence doesn’t just affect the person struggling with it. Especially as time goes on and the problem gets worse, the people closest to them suffer as well. If that’s you, make sure you are taking the necessary steps to maintain your own mental and emotional health as you seek to help your loved one.
While you want to do everything you can to help your loved one, it’s important to set boundaries for your sake as well as theirs. Make sure you’re not enabling your loved one’s addiction by allowing them to take advantage of you. While it’s helpful to remember that often it’s the drugs or alcohol that are causing your loved one to harm your relationship, it’s not helpful to gloss over your own emotions or let them continue to hurt you just because they have a problem.
It’s also important to remember that ultimately, you are not responsible for your loved one and their actions. You can only do so much to help them, and in the end it’s up to them to get the help they need. This can be extremely difficult to remember, especially if your loved one is harming themselves or others, and you may be tempted to take drastic steps to get them the help they need or to save them from harmful situations. But the result may be the opposite of what you intended. If you find yourself wanting to take drastic steps, consult a professional first.
In the end, all you can do is take care of yourself and do your best to love and support your family member while encouraging them to get help.
While it’s true that someone doesn’t necessarily need to hit rock bottom before getting help for alcohol and drug dependence, they do need to feel the consequences and pain of their actions. If you step in to cushion every fall, they won’t be able to feel the consequences that may eventually drive them to make a change. So as you seek to love and support them, make sure you’re doing it in a way that doesn’t enable their addiction.
It’s also important to care for your own mental health during this difficult time. Groups like Al Anon are great resources for loved ones. At these meetings, you’ll meet and talk with other people in similar situations and find healthy ways to cope with your situation. You don’t want to do something like this alone, and it helps to talk to people who know what you’re going through. If a group setting doesn’t feel comfortable for you, individual counseling is another great option.
In the end, all you can do is take care of yourself and do your best to love and support your family member while encouraging them to get help. As hard as this is to come to terms with, you’ll be much better off if you accept this reality and live in the truth that no matter what decisions your loved one makes, you are doing the best you can to help them, which is ultimately all you can do.
If you have a family member, friend or loved one who is struggling with alcohol or drug abuse, talking to a professional can be a great first step in the process of getting them the help they need. At The Meadows Texas, we have caring, knowledgeable staff members who would be glad to talk to you and answer all your questions.