Before you lose all hope, consider the following suggestions from Rodney Robertson, D.Min., MA, M.Div., family therapist at The Ranch drug rehabilitation center in Tennessee:
#1 Listen more than you talk.
When someone needs help, it’s natural to do a lot of talking — educating, offering guidance and problem-solving. What comes less naturally to most of us is listening.
With someone struggling with addiction and its defense mechanisms like denial, it can be more effective to “listen to what they have to say with empathy so that you understand where they’re coming from,” says Robertson. This way, when you do start talking, there’s a better chance your loved one will feel heard and understood enough to listen.
When it’s time to talk, “be clear and direct, not critical, condemning or judgmental,” says Robertson. The message should be “Im concerned and I want to know if youre concerned too. Can we talk about what it would look like to get help?” You’re not trying to make the decision for them but you want them to realize they can’t do this alone.
#2 Get others involved.
If your loved one wont listen to you, they may be open to hearing the same message from someone else. “This person needs to be someone they trust, not someone you trust,” Robertson warns.
Particularly if the family relationship has been compromised or trust has been eroded, other influences may be able to work with the addicted person to recognize the seriousness of the problem and map out where to go for substance abuse treatment. “As a close relative, you may not be in the best position to help,” says Robertson. “The relationship may be too close and too involved, where its easy to overstep boundaries.”
The best support a loved one can offer, Robertson says, is realizing they can’t heal an addiction. What they can do is help the person struggling with addiction to reach out to others who can treat the illness, such as a support group or therapist.
#3 Step back and allow natural consequences to do their work.
You can’t control another person, and a person struggling with addiction has to take responsibility for their own recovery. Trying to manipulate, bribe or make decisions for someone is a sign of codependency, a condition in which someone is excessively emotionally or psychologically reliant on a loved one struggling with addiction.
“In some cases, loved ones put so much effort into reaching out, convincing and offering help that it can actually prolong the process of going to treatment,” says Robertson. As a result, the addict never feels the full financial, legal and personal consequences of their actions and continues to blame others for their problems.
Stepping back can be the hardest thing to do when someone you love is suffering. It feels neglectful and risky. But the good news is that “when a family member finally lets go and steps back, it doesn’t take long for the addicted person to realize they need help,” says Robertson. “Often, it’s when you back off and the addict is left without support that they come to terms really quickly.” Other influences such as the legal system may be the ones they’ll finally listen to, but for the message to get through, you have to take a step back.
#4 Build your own support network.
Sometimes your concern for your addicted loved one overrides your concern for yourself. Although understandable, this approach depletes you and focuses your attention on things that are beyond your control. “Take heart that you’re doing what you can and then take care of yourself and your needs,” says Robertson. Turn to people who love and support you, including friends, family, a therapist, a support group like Al-Anon and other parents in similar situations.
Sometimes the most powerful steps you can take are the ones that, to an outside observer, may look like giving up. But what you’re really doing is giving your addicted loved one a chance to see what their life has become and discover their motivation for getting better. Addiction took them away, but they aren’t gone forever — treatment can help bring them back.
By Meghan Vivo