Knowing that someone you care about needs help trying to kick an addiction to drugs or alcohol can be a wrenching experience. On the one hand, you likely want to give them as much encouragement as possible to get treatment. On the other hand, it can be challenging to convince someone they have a problem bad enough that they need to go to rehab. Let’s take a look at the things you should and shouldn’t consider doing as you try to get a loved one into a rehab program.
Understand What They’re Up Against
Depending upon a person’s attitude and their lifestyle, figuring out exactly what substances they might be using can be a tricky proposition. Some individuals will come out and tell you what they’re using. It’s not uncommon, for example, for someone to express regrets about addiction patterns, crack jokes about their usage or even encourage other people they know to use. Conversely, some high-functioning addicted individuals can be downright skillful in hiding their problems.
When you do discuss drug-related concerns, it’s important to listen for clues and not come off as too judgmental. There can be a huge difference in the treatment choices that might be suitable for:
- College students who use Adderall to get through test weeks
- Medical professionals who have access to drugs through work
- Long-term social drinkers who see alcohol as a gateway to friendship
- Socially isolated drug users who are highly selective in whom they interact with
- Those who have become addicted due to prescription painkiller misuse
If possible, you should try to obtain any products you might need to cope with an overdose. This is especially a good idea for family members, romantic partners, and roommates who are worried that that may be present for an overdose. For example, if the person you care about is a user of opiates, it’s a good idea to have a supply of Narcan on hand just in case.
Identifying the Signs of Trouble
Due to unfortunate stereotypes from TV and films, we tend to think that drug users stick out like sore thumbs. However, they often don’t. Seemingly small indications of problems can frequently be the only clues you’ll notice. For example, someone might:
- Appear to be sleeping less
- Wear the same clothes for several days in a row
- Stopping hanging out with the same friends they once did
- Slip up in maintaining a commitment
- Begin losing weight
- Forget an important date
- Spend too much time in the bathroom
Anyone of these issues can be fairly deniable in isolation. Losing weight, for example, is seen by some people as a good thing. It may be helpful to communicate your concerns to other people who know the person you’re worried about. You may learn, for example, that they’ve been taking an excessive number of work days off for no clear reason. Often, a parent might have one piece of the puzzle while a partner has another one. Comparing notes is a good way to verify that your concerns are legitimate before you start a potentially emotional discussion.
Drugs, Alcohol, and the Brain
You should also be realistic about the impact that drugs and alcohol can have on the human brain, especially when used over long periods of time. Years of chronic alcohol use, for example, can lead to a disorder known as Korsakoff’s psychosis. A person in such a condition can end up developing retrograde amnesia, meaning they might literally forget a conversation you previously had. Similarly, a study of folks who were IV heroin and methadone users found that many had symptoms that were consistent with the onset of Alzheimer’s syndrome in the brain.
This matters for more reasons than just the simple worries you might have about a loved one’s health. You need to understand that you may simply not be talking to the same person you once knew.
Even if someone is relatively healthy following a bout of drug misuse, they can still end up in a challenging position. Drugs often rewire the reward centers of the brain. Dopamine is a receptor that plays a key role in reward-driven decision-making, and brains scans of those who have engaged in alcohol abuse have found that they respond very differently to offers of rewards than other people might. On the bright side, there’s also evidence that a speedy reversal of some physical side effects may occur once they’ve gotten help and stopped drinking.
You should be aware that you’ll be having a conversation with a person who craves a fix. This can lead to profound changes in how they justify behaviors, what they feel and even their willingness to engage in a discussion of the topic.
Be Prepared to Hear Explanations
It can be beneficial to think about the potential arguments and explanations a person might make when you tell them that you feel they should consider rehab. Some people will flatly state that they don’t need help because there isn’t any problem. Others, though, may present arguments like:
- “I only drink to let off steam after a super busy week at work.”
- “My job could be at stake if anyone hears about this.”
- “I could go to jail!”
- “When the holidays are over, I’ll go into rehab.”
- “I’ll do the treatment once the semester has ended.”
- “What will happen to my grades if I go into rehab?”
Bear in mind that society and the criminal justice system have become significantly more receptive to getting people helped. For example, many court systems now have diversion programs set up to assist nonviolent drug offenders in keeping their criminal records clean if they go into treatment programs. Medical facilities are also aware of the challenges that their own workers face, and some now have programs in place for getting them help. Universities and high schools also offer opportunities for students to essentially put their academic records on hold while they enter into treatment. Simply put, society today is much better prepared than it was even 10 years ago to see that people can voluntarily get the treatment they require with as few repercussions as possible.
Learn About Available Treatment Programs
Before you get too far into having a conversation about rehab, it’s a good idea to know what the available options are in your area. Especially in underserved communities in rural and inner-city regions, the availability of different types of help may be sparse. You want to know the following things about a rehab center:
- Do they offer inpatient or outpatient options?
- Will they have access to crash carts for extreme cases?
- Do they provide mixed-use treatments?
- How do they approach people with other concerns, such as mental illness or physical disabilities?
- Do they have established relationships with counselors near you?
While you don’t want to railroad someone toward treatment, you also don’t want to be sitting there utterly unprepared if they prove to be receptive. Before you take on the task of talking about treatment choices, you should make an effort to line up key support. This means that someone should be prepared to provide a ride if the person wants to check in immediately. You should also know the names of staff members at a preferred facility in order to get things rolling. Even if they don’t jump at the chance to get help, learning about the available resources will allow you to gather information and prepare.
Be a Steadying Force
One thing that can be tough for people to accept is that the need to get help isn’t always as obvious to someone who needs it as it may be to those who love them. More than anything else, make a point to be clear that regardless of their answer right now, you intend to continue to be supportive and loving. When they’re ready, they need to know that you’ll be there to assist them.
With that said, you should also try to avoid:
- Directly handing them money that could be used to buy drugs or alcohol
- Facilitating their efforts, such as providing rides to places where they can acquire drugs
- Enabling resistance to getting treatment
- Helping them dodge responsibilities, such as responding to police or court inquiries
Your goal is to be there to help. In many cases, the most helpful thing you can do is to not be a facilitator of bad habits. If someone needs a place to stay, that’s fine. If they somehow need help paying rent every month, you need to be serious about where that money might actually be going.
How to Have a Conversation
The key to having a reasonable conversation with someone about their need to get treatment for a drug or an alcohol misuse disorder is to be steady while also being non-confrontational. As you encourage someone to get help, you want to:
- Not bring anger into the discussion
- Offer real support, including assistance getting into a program
- Not be judgmental
- Avoid buying into emotional escalating tactics, blame games, and recriminations
- Provide assurances the police will not be called
- Avoid using guilt
- Not make it about you
- Explain medical concerns without being a doomsayer
- Stay focused on the single subject of getting help
A person with addiction problems can often become emotional at even the slightest hint that others are worried about them. This is why, more than anything, being a steady force for them is important.
At a key moment in their lives, they need someone who is more like a supportive older sibling than an angry parent, even if you are their parent and you do feel angry. People often allow these conversations to go off the rails because they’re upset, for example, about unpaid debts from the person they’re worried about. No matter how furious you might be, you need to understand that getting that person help at that moment is the most important thing. Other issues need to go to the back burner until they’re well enough to understand what else is wrong and to address it. Better yet, be prepared to forgive and forget.
It’s also a good idea to rehearse the conversation beforehand. If you intend to have someone else involved in encouraging someone to go to rehab, be sure that person will be a productive ally. Don’t recruit others to assist you just because you want to outnumber the addicted individual or you’re afraid to have a talk. Whoever will be a part of the effort needs to be able to provide steadiness and support.
Regardless of whether someone leaps at the chance to get help or struggles to get there, follow through on everything. If you promise them a ride to a rehab center, make sure you can do that on relatively short notice. Once they enter treatment, make sure someone who cares will be able to check up on them. If they go to an inpatient facility, see that someone will be there to pick them up when they’ve completed the initial program. Be prepared to continue to provide help as they go to counseling sessions, support group meetings, court dates or other functions.
Recovery is a process, and it can take years or even a lifetime. Be steady, understanding and supportive. There may even be backsliding. The important thing is to always care and be there when someone you love needs to get help.