How to Talk to a Loved One About Addiction
If your loved one is concerning you with their drug abuse, know that you are not alone. It is estimated that over 26.8 million children have a parent who is an alcoholic, for example. Millions of people also struggle with spouses, extended family and friends who have problems with addiction, and the stress can be high and prolonged. Broaching the topic of solutions with a loved one can also be difficult — drug abuse tends to not form overnight, and is not easily solved overnight.
Some signs that a loved one may be struggling with substance abuse can include:
- Legal trouble related to substance abuse
- Higher tolerance to substances / using substances earlier in the day or at work
- Anger when confronted about substance use
- Secretive behavior, new friends
- Staying out later or going out more often
- Financial issues, borrowing or stealing money
- Doctor-shopping to get more of the substance
- Repeated visits to ER in hopes of getting a prescription
- Poor hygiene, weight changes, lack of appetite
- Sleep problems, restlessness followed by long periods of sleep
- Depression, suicidal thoughts
Knowing You’re Not Alone
In fact, you may have made efforts in the past to come to a solution with the afflicted person — efforts that may have seemed not to work. Denial is, after all, a major component of the mindset of a person in the throes of addiction. No matter what you say, it seems nothing gets through to them.
One of the first things to understand is that you cannot “fix” someone who is addicted to drugs. It’s true that they need to want to change. Without this want, the addict may promise to give up drugs for a time, but may go right back to them. It’s important to recognize that you should not feel guilty when someone with addiction does not change. While you may feel guilt related to an inability to change the course of an addict’s life for the better, if they choose not to change, the truth is that it is simply not within our power to make them.
What You Can Do
Perhaps the best solution is to take the loved one aside and tell them how you feel. Express your best interests to them and why you are moved to speak about the problems. Let them know the genuine place these words come from. While your first impulse may be to use guilt or the threat of leaving, attempts such as these usually do not work, as the addict feels attacked.
If the addict does want to change, however, consider speaking with them about some of the solutions that may be at hand if they choose to pursue them. Programs such as inpatient treatment facilities can offer close patient care and monitoring to make sure that when dealing with addiction-related health issues are minimized and psychologically patients are in their best possible environment.
Taking Care of Yourself
Secondly, understand how the addiction of a loved one has affected you, and how the importance of taking care of your own needs may have fallen by the wayside during your time coping with that addiction. One of the most difficult problems facing people close to someone dealing with substance abuse is that they slowly accustom themselves to a constant state of vigilance to help prevent the addicted person from dealing with the severe consequences of their abuse, while consistently minimizing their own needs.
What such a relationship evolves into, in other words, is one in which the balance between the needs of two persons is shifted almost entirely in one direction. And when that balance begins to affect different parts of our lives, we are now dealing with a losing battle in many of our personal issues: Having almost forgotten that we have needs, we are suddenly faced with burnout, job dissatisfaction and a general ability to even see what our needs are.
How Someone Else’s Substance Abuse May Affect You
It’s important to realize the paradigm change that addiction has brought with it, not just for the person addicted to substances, but to the family and friends around them. This is not a time for guilt, but a time to simply say: This is how things are, and they can’t continue. It may be difficult, and even feel presumptuous for us to demand that our voice be heard and our needs be met, but in the long-term it is essential to both our mental and physical health that that requirement be made.
Thankfully, what experience will show is is that the number of people who go through this process is quite high. Like you, they will have once felt that theirs was a private battle. But it isn’t. There are many trained professionals whose specialty is treating addiction. They’ve seen it all and treated it all — and they know the impact on both the addict and on loved ones. By seeking their advice and help, we can often be like a person who has had blurry vision their entire life and suddenly receives a new pair of glasses: The world can at once seem bright and crisp, with many details that may strike us anew, as though they were never there before.
But taking those first few steps toward independence from drug addiction can be difficult. The rewards are there, however, and understanding the role of positive thinking and positive reinforcement is crucial to our further development as people who are free of the role that substances have played, directly or indirectly, in our lives.