Addiction is something roughly 21 million Americans struggle with. It is a disease that changes the way people think and feel, making it difficult to recovery alone. Addiction treatment is centered on bringing people away from drugs and drug use, and into an environment conducive towards physical and mental healing.
However, despite the sheer size of addiction in America, only a fraction get the professional help they need. There are many reasons why, including a lack of resources and healthcare, a fear of being stigmatized for their condition, or a lack of knowledge on how recovery works and how it can truly help.
Yet aside from the millions of adult Americans who struggle with substance abuse, there are countless more fighting to keep their families together and find a way to bring their loved ones the help they need. In fact, nearly half of the US adult population has a close friend or family member who is or was struggling with drugs and addiction. Over the course of just about sixteen years, drug overdose deaths have more than tripled, and addiction continues to be a dangerous issue for American society.
If you are worried that your friend or loved one is an addict, then approaching them about their condition is important, but it is no easy task. Here’s what you need to do.
Find the Right Time
The first step to approaching someone about their addiction is to find the right time to do so. Make sure you’re both in a comfortable place, preferably alone or outside of earshot, and best of all, at a time when nothing else is providing any distractions. If you can’t find a good time as is, try and arrange one by going out on a lunch date or going shopping and grabbing something to eat along the way.
Aside from finding a time and place, it’s important to find the right state of mind. Sobriety is important here, as you want as little irrational thinking as possible.
Calm and Compassionate
How you approach is just as important as when and where. You know best what words to use with your friend or loved one, but the tone is where it really counts. Be calm, receptive, and compassionate. Coming from an angle of judgment or anger, or timid fear, will immediately set the situation up for failure.
Coming across as a concern troll – someone who fakes concern to apparently invite an open discussion, only to devolve into shaming – will also make your words fall on flat ears. Be honest and open, but do not load your message with unnecessary aggression. Discuss the specific behavior that you’ve noticed as problematic and give them time to explain how they feel and why they’re struggling.
Suggest Getting Help
Be sure to do your research beforehand to know what’s available in your area and suggest going to a clinic or a professional for a diagnosis and some treatment.
If your friend or loved one is not receptive to the idea even after discussing and acknowledging the addiction, then it may be time to tackle the issue with more than just a single conversation.
Consider Planning an Intervention
An intervention can help you launch a person’s recovery – but if done badly, an intervention could also permanently ruin your relationship to them, or even push them away from the family.
Don’t ambush or attack your loved one. A good intervention is a structured and adult conversation, rather than a bombardment of criticisms and complaints. Explain, rather than accuse. Team up with other friends and family and bring examples to the table to help convince the addict that they have a problem that cannot be ignored. Pose treatment not as a forced exile, but as a solution you can all work on together for a better life. Propose solutions like family therapy and group treatment and be involved in the recovery rather than simply pushing them off into a clinic while turning your back on the problem.
Do Your Homework
The better you understand what addiction is, the better you can help in combatting it. Many make the mistake of trying to help without first understanding how to help – and in turn, they end up doing more damage than good. For one, misunderstanding what addiction as a disease may mean could lead to making false judgments about both the condition and your friend or family member.
Furthermore, while certain aggressive forms of encouragement – such as criticism – might work on occasion applied personally or in certain situations, it is not a valid form of support when tackling addiction. There are some things an addict needs to hear to get better but hammering them with criticisms and judgment is more likely to lead to increased self-loathing and a stronger withdrawal-relapse cycle, rather than any sort of life-changing revelation.
By understanding what addiction is and what it is not, you can better understand why applying optimism, compassion, and a warm-hearted approach works wonders in comparison to tough love and constant criticism. In most cases, addicts already know that their behavior is bad and harmful, and their conscience needs no help reminding them of this as often as possible. By pointing out the positive aspects of their recovery, and the small victories they are making along the way, you can encourage them to think about their progress as something positive, rather than too little too late.
Helping your loved one conquer an addiction is not only noble, it’s incredibly difficult. However, many take their loved one’s troubles onto themselves, often forgetting to take care of their own needs in the process. While it’s understandable that you want to help your friend, partner or child through this time in their life, you need to understand that an important part of recovery is learning to master sobriety on your own two feet.
You will not help your loved one through this chapter of their life by hounding them, or by making their recovery your challenge. You can help them, support them, and guide them onto the first step of their journey. But at a certain point you have to take a step back and let them take care of the rest.
Do not let the stress of your loved one’s recovery overwhelm you as well. Take measures to ensure that while they’re fighting for their sobriety, you’re working on maintaining your sanity. Stress management is not just something to consider while combatting an addiction – everyone needs a regular respite from stress.
The road to getting better is a long one, but it does not have a predetermined length. It may take weeks or years for your loved one to overcome their addiction. All you can do is make sure they have someone to fall back on when things become overwhelming.