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Trying to help someone with an addiction can be a long, challenging, and painful process. Unlike someone with a physical health condition, such as cancer, a person with an addiction might not recognize the true danger of their illness or understand the risks of not treating it.
It’s important to remember that they are ultimately responsible for their own recovery. Typically, they must first recognize that they have an addictive disorder. Then, they must be ready and willing to address their addiction before their recovery can even begin. Setting realistic expectations and boundaries can help you provide support, while protecting your own well-being.
Start by trying to talk to the person about their addiction. Having a one-on-one conversation may be less intimidating than staging an intervention with several people.
Find a time when you can be alone together and free of distractions or interruptions. Tell them that you’re concerned about their behavior and ask if they’re open to hearing your thoughts. Try to use non-blaming language and avoid raising your voice or getting angry. They will likely respond better if you communicate from a place of compassionate concern. It may also help to talk about specific behaviors or incidents related to their addiction that have directly affected you.
If they’re receptive to hearing your thoughts and concerns, ask if they would be willing to seek professional help. They may not be open to discussing this option. They may become defensive. If this happens, let it go for the time being. Don’t threaten or shame them. Instead, start talking with other family members and concerned parties to begin planning an intervention.
If the person is in grave danger or doesn’t respond to your concerns, it may be helpful to stage an intervention. Before organizing an intervention, it may help to talk to a substance abuse counselor, social worker, or other trusted health expert. Their guidance may be very helpful, especially if they’re willing to attend the intervention itself.
Organize a time when friends, family, and other concerned parties can gather together. Allow at least a few hours for the intervention. Everyone present should have enough time to communicate his or her thoughts and feelings.
Host it somewhere quiet where the person with the addiction feels safe, such as their house or that of a family member. Don’t attempt to lock the doors or block their exit if the meeting doesn’t go well. They should be able to leave if they aren’t prepared to participate in the intervention. The intervention will only work if they accept it.
When they arrive, explain that you’ve gathered everyone together because you’re concerned about their behavior. Invite members of the intervention to talk about how the person’s behavior has affected them. Encourage them to express their concern for the person’s welfare. It may also help to discuss the consequences that could ensue if the person’s behavior continues. It’s important to avoid threatening them.
Offer the person information and resources about different programs or treatment centers where they can start their recovery process. If they’re willing, take them to a rehabilitation facility on the spot. If they’re not willing, let them leave the intervention. You can’t force them to listen or to start a recovery program against their will.
If the person enrolls in a recovery program, stay involved with the process. Don’t send them off to a recovery program and assume that all will be well. Ongoing support from loved ones is key.
If they check into a treatment center, visit or send them care packages if possible. Participate in family days or program sessions where you’re welcome. Offer your support and convey your willingness to be a part of their recovery process. For example, it may be helpful to purchase books or other resources that will aid their recovery. The support and involvement of loved ones can help them through the process.
While support is important, too much involvement can be unhealthy for the person with the addiction and you. Whether they’re in recovery or still using the addictive substance, it’s critical for you to strike an appropriate balance.
If they refuse to seek help or they begin using again, let them know what boundaries you will set on your relationship as long as they continue to use. It’s possible they will need to "hit bottom" before they are willing to change or ask for help. You may need to cut off contact in order to maintain your own emotional well-being. Remember, you can’t help your loved one if you’re not well yourself. Similarly, you cannot want the change for the individual; they must want to change.
If they’re in recovery, show your support, but don’t attempt to micromanage their life or recovery process. Part of their recovery process will be learning to be responsible for their actions.
Throughout it all, don’t lose sight of your own needs. Loving someone with an addiction can be a difficult experience. The best thing you can do is let them know you care about them, while still maintaining appropriate boundaries and protecting your well-being.
Written by: Mara Tyler
Medically reviewed on: Dec 02, 2016: Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNP
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