It is tough to try to convince a loved one that they need help controlling their use of alcohol or drugs. The best approach is to remain open, be understanding, the question instead of accuse, and recruit help.
Consider Your Approach
There are some typical approaches to try and convince a loved one to get help. You may recognize some of these phrases:
- You have to stop using drugs (drinking so much alcohol).
- If you don’t stop using, you are going to die.
- Your drinking is tearing apart the family.
- When are you going to straighten up your act?
You most likely have said one or more of these things to your loved one. While people who have a loved one with a substance use disorder view these types of pleas or statements as jolts to motivate the person to realize they have a problem, they have minimal effect on the person with that problem.
People with addictions are trapped in a cycle of substance abuse and cannot see outside their situation. They often think that everyone else is the person with the problem and are convinced that their substance use is somehow functional for them.
Arguing, accusing, and pleading with them is not the approach to use if you want to convince someone to go to rehab.
If your loved one feels they are being forced into going to rehab, you may find getting them there is a very tedious and almost impossible process. The goal is to convince the person that they need help and then to convince them to get help. This requires empathy.
Psychologists define empathy as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. You must see things from their point of view.
Empathy is a very powerful communication tool.
- Instead of making statements, ask open-ended questions. How does drinking work for you? What are some of the downsides of your cocaine use? What happens after a binge?
- Do not accuse. Keep the conversation open.
- Demonstrate concern. Avoid criticism.
- If things get heated, be willing to walk away and try again later.
The point is to get the person to see the effects of their substance use, not to justify your feelings. The conversation isn’t about you.
Explain How Their Substance Use Affects You
As part of the expression of empathy and concern for the individual, you can explain how the person’s behavior affects you and them. But remember, the conversation is about their behavior.
Do not accuse. Instead, use statements that focus on the word “I.” This type of approach avoids blaming the person.
People want to make their own decisions, and they want to be responsible for their behavior. People with addictions usually have significant difficulty accepting responsibility for their issues.
Don’t excuse the person’s behavior, but at the same time, do not downplay the consequences of their behavior.
Do not enable addiction. If your loved one has a hangover and does not want to go to work, don’t call in or make excuses for them. Make them responsible.
If they get into financial or legal trouble as a result of their substance abuse, make them responsible for their obligations. Provide support, but do not cover or lie for them.
Along with encouraging responsibility, establish clear boundaries between you and your loved one. Personal boundaries are limits or rules that you set to identify safe and reasonable ways for you to behave toward them and how you expect them to behave toward you.
“Do not get caught up in the game of co-dependency or enabling their substance abuse. Set limits about what you will tolerate and what you will not accept. Then, stick to these boundaries.”
Make these limits known to your loved one. Maintaining boundaries is imperative for both of you.
Understand That You May Not Be Able to Do It Alone
You are not responsible for getting your loved one into rehab, although you may feel like you are. One of the best ways to convince someone that they need help is to enlist help yourself.
- Reach out to local peer support groups, such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, and other groups that are designed to support loved ones of individuals with substance abuse issues. These groups provide support and advice to help you get your loved one into rehab.
- Talk to a counselor or therapist who specializes in the treatment of addictive behaviors.
- Talk to a friend or family member who is in recovery. Most people have friends or family members who have gone through treatment successfully. Use them.
- Consider performing an intervention with the help of a professional interventionist. The interventionist will help you plan the entire event. They can lead the discussion and then escort your loved one to treatment if they agree that they need help.
Never Wait for Rock Bottom
It is a myth that individuals must hit “rock bottom” before they are ready to address their abuse of alcohol or drugs.
Most people need some sort of motivation to get help. Often, this motivation requires some pain and discomfort, but no one’s life needs to be destroyed before they see the need to get help.
What Not To Do
There are some approaches you should avoid.
- Do not ignore the situation. Addictions don’t generally get better on their own.
- Do not excuse your loved one’s use of alcohol or drugs or label it as being “normal” for them. If their substance use is causing issues, there is most likely a problem.
- Avoid expressing anger, even though you may be very frustrated. Instead, try to replace anger and frustration with empathy and concern.
- Do not guilt or shame your loved one.
- Avoid arguing with the person at all costs.
Again, one of the most fruitful approaches to convincing a loved one to get into rehab is to enlist help, particularly from professionals, such as an interventionist, a therapist or counselor specializing in addictive behaviors, or an addiction medicine physician.