Most people are blind to their chemical dependency. It seems like everyone can see it but them.
Many of us have friends or family members struggling with chemical dependency. It’s natural to want to get them help, but first they need to realize there’s a problem. How do you open your loved one’s eyes? A well-planned and delivered conversation is crucial.
Take time to do it right. Otherwise, you may completely lose your loved one’s trust.
1. Educate Yourself
Take stock of the signs, symptoms, and behaviors you’ve observed that make you believe a loved one has a chemical dependency. Dependency isn’t just linked to illegal drugs; people can become dependent on any of a wide range of products, from caffeine to pain killers to alcohol. Do some research to know what you’re dealing with.
2. Expect Denial
People with chemical dependency may tell themselves or others they can quit the habit any time, but their bodies say otherwise. Those who’ve begun the descent into drug use find it increasingly harder to dig their way out. They need to use more frequently and in higher quantities to achieve the same high. Marijuana users will often transition to stronger opiates like OxyContin or heroin. Denial is part of the cycle of addiction.
3. Have A Plan
Practice or write out what you’re going to say. Anticipate a few scenarios based on your loved one’s potential reactions. Some people might admit they’re using drugs but don’t think they have a problem. Others may deny using at all. If things get too tense, stay calm and change the subject. Don’t bail! Leave on a positive note, letting your loved one know you’re always available.
4. Don’t Go On the Attack
It’s tempting to stage an intervention or use “tough love” to try to convince users that they have a problem. But accusing or attacking someone struggling with chemical dependency builds a wall between the two of you. This doesn’t mean you won’t have to be assertive at some point, but going on a rant about why you think your loved one is using isn’t the answer. You may be upset, but it’s important to keep your emotions in check. Talk to a close friend to stay clear headed and calm. Never threaten, punish, or bribe anyone into admitting the problem. Making them feel guilty or bad about themselves only increases their likelihood of detaching themselves further from friends and family.
5. Ask Questions
Your loved one may have suffered a major loss, like a divorce or the death of a family member, that spurred this dependency. People cope with loss in many different ways. We all experience different emotions, so assuming how your loved one is feeling can actually hurt your relationship. Maybe everything on the outside appears to be going great, but you’ll never know what your loved one is going through if you don’t ask. Start with general topics like work, school, or friends. Avoid “you” statements—they make confrontational situations worse. Replace, “You never show up when we make plans,” with, “I’ve noticed that we haven’t talked in a while. I miss seeing you.”
6. Keep It Honest
It won’t be easy, but you’ll have to explain why you suspect your loved one of suffering with chemical dependency. You may notice every time you hang out that your loved one is popping pain pills at an unhealthy rate. Maybe the trashcan is loaded with liquor bottles. Or you’ve noticed physical symptoms like sudden weight loss. Whether your loved one admits there’s a problem or denies even the most obvious evidence, it’s okay to explain that you’re concerned.
7. Offer Help
Your loved one won’t likely want to sign up for rehab after one talk. It often takes multiple conversations over time before some people are ready to seek professional help. Pay attention to reactions during these conversations, so you recognize when to end them or change the subject. Always assure your loved one that you’re only a text, email, or phone call away. Schedule time together doing things you both enjoy. If you don’t get a response, always follow up. When the time seems right, offer a pamphlet or two that explain symptoms and what to do next. It’s important for others to offer help in a way that works for those who are struggling. When they are ready, you can join them during rehab visits or meet them after an appointment. Remember, be sincere (not pushy) when you ask, “How can I help you?”. Your loved one will need you during treatment and beyond.
Helping people realize they are suffering with chemical dependency is never easy. Acknowledging the problem is the first step they can take towards receiving the treatment they need to live longer, healthier lives in recovery. Giving your loved one careful guidance and support along the way can make a huge difference, and even help strengthen your relationship with them.
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