When you have a loved one you suspect is struggling with an addiction, it can be difficult to know when and how to voice your concerns. Most people struggling with addiction do their best to conceal it, so it is not always easy to know the full extent of their problem.
Some subtle signs there may be an issue include missing school or work, a suddenly more distant demeanor, or having difficulties with interpersonal relationships. Furthermore, if you notice your loved one is keeping odd hours or exhibiting abnormal mood swings, these are still more indicators they may be headed toward, or even fully immersed, in an addiction. You may have even noticed concerning paraphernalia, such as empty bottles, glass pipes, or needles lingering in your loved one’s home space, or they may have gotten into legal trouble. This of course, is a much clearer indication help is in need.
Though it may seem daunting, it is important to always voice your concerns when you notice any signs your loved one is struggling. According to the National Institute of Health, over 22 million people in this country are in need of drug and alcohol addiction treatment, and sadly, less than 10 percent of those folks are getting the help they need. I know it can be scary subject to tackle—we are often fearful our loved ones will push us even further away—but there are some very real tactics that can assist you in guiding the conversation to a positive place.
The first step is to schedule a low distraction time and place to meet with your loved one. Next, consider these tips to ensure your conversation goes more smoothly:
- Set a Goal. When planning how to approach your loved one about their addiction, a smart first step is to check in with yourself and set a firm goal for the chat. Your primary aim should be to encourage them to get help. To that end, it’s important to avoid too much finger-pointing and rehashing of the past; you don’t want your message to get lost. You may even write down your goal to help you stay focused on the priority at hand. After all, it is easy to get wrapped up in the emotional details of the past.
- Skip the Blame and Set Your Boundaries. Your loved one will not be able to hear your concern if you bring up all of the things they are doing wrong; they will only become defensive. It is fine to point out concrete reasons for your concerns, but be careful not to center the conversation on how hurt or angry you Instead, plainly state you are concerned for their health and well-being, and tell them that you want to talk to them about getting some help. It is important to set boundaries and be firm with how much you will tolerate. Without blaming their character, you can tell your loved one that you can’t continue to support them in their habit by providing financial help or keeping secrets for them.
Don’t come to your love one with, “I just can’t take this anymore! You’re ruining everyone’s lives with your alcohol/ drug use. The whole family is depressed. I can’t sleep! Why are you doing this to us? What is wrong with you?”
Instead, the conversation should look more like: “I can see that you’re struggling. It is hard for me to watch you self-destruct. I’m worried about you, and I want to support you in getting help. Until you agree to get help, I can’t keep financially supporting you. I love you, but I can’t let myself be held hostage by your addiction.”
- Focus on the Solution and Don’t Become Sidetracked. Remember, your goal in the conversation is to help your loved one become well again. If they begin to make excuses or they begin to blame you or other people for why they have a problem, don’t get dragged into an argument. Continue to acknowledge that you see they are struggling, and reinforce the fact that you want to help them find the right kind of support, so that they don’t have to keep struggling. Make sure they know you are on their side!
If your loved one tries to distract or make excuses, you can say, “I hear that you have a lot of reasons why you’re struggling, but I don’t think it is helpful to justify or deny your drug or alcohol use. I really feel that you need help, and I want you to know I’m here to help you get the support you need.”
- Know Your Resources. It may take a little time before your loved one is ready to accept help, but when they are, you’ll want to be ready with the necessary information and resources available to them. Try to find a treatment solution that will serve their unique personality. For instance, if your loved one is between the ages of 18 and 25, you may consider a facility like Sober College, which will not only assist them in addiction recovery, but also provide them with a pathway to college education and other artistic and vocational careers, and/or hobbies in the process. Providing them with a solution to their addiction while also opening new doors of opportunity, may help them feel more hopeful and optimistic about this journey, and thus, more inclined to receive help.
While you may feel hesitant to broach the topic of addiction, it is important to not let fear guide your choices. Instead, let love guide the conversation. Showing compassion and understanding for their struggle will help to dismantle much of the guilt and defensiveness your loved one is likely feeling, thus making them much more likely to accept the support you are offering.