How to Listen to Your Loved Ones When They Approach You about their Addiction
If a family member or close friend has recently confided that she (or he) has a problem with alcohol or drugs, you may not know how to respond to her, or you may feel at a loss for what to say. Often, the addict will not voluntarily seek help until their substance abuse has caused them serious problems, such as incarceration, a job loss, homelessness, or broken relationships. Here is some advice for you if your loved one seeks guidance from you regarding their addiction.
Listen for the Subtext
Listen to what may be behind her words. Is she willing to admit her life is out of control and that she needs help? This can be an indication that she is ready to start making the changes necessary for recovery. However, if she only complains that someone else is pressuring her to stop drinking and insists on blaming others, she may be still in denial and not yet ready for change.
Don't Criticize, Judge or Deny
Don't criticize or judge the addict's behavior. She is probably experiencing shame because she is beginning to understand that she doesn't have control over her substance use. The addict also likely feels guilty for letting others down, or is embarrassed for others to know her shortcomings. Remember: Judgment or belittlement will only prevent her from opening up to you and force her to continue her addiction in secret to justify her bad choices.
Don't deny the problem in order to keep the peace. Sometimes, family members of the addict get caught up in enabling the addiction rather than dealing with the emotional discomfort of confrontation that recovery from addiction requires. If your loved one admits they have a problem with drugs or alcohol, this is a huge and important step because she recognizes substance abuse is causing a problem in her life and she is unable to make the changes necessary to quit.
Remember: You Can't Fix the Addict's Problems!
Don't try to fix the problem or remove the consequences of your loved one's addiction. You cannot take responsibility for hiding the booze, or throwing away drug paraphernalia - that's called codependency. Instead, require the addict to take responsibility for her own addiction with action steps for recovery. She may not know where to call for rehab help, or may be too overwhelmed to know where to start, so you can support and guide her once she makes the decision to take the first step to reach out for help and admit she powerless over her addiction.
It's critical that you not allow yourself to fall prey to the addict's manipulation or promises to get help later, or let her minimize the seriousness of her problem. Drug addicts and alcoholics can be master manipulators in order to support and conceal their habit. Don't enable her to continue their destructive patterns of behavior by lending her money, bailing her out of jail, calling a boss to say she is too sick to come into work, or pay her bills. She needs to realize she needs to get help for her addiction now.
How You Can Help
Offer to take your loved one to a recovery meeting like Alcohol Anonymous. 12-Step programs can be very effective recovery methods and are a warm and welcoming place. If you accompany her to an AA open meeting, it can be the start of recovery and help the healing process for both of you. You might also consider attending Al-Anon, the support group for the loved ones of addicts.
Make a plan to get the addict professional help. If you loved one is ready to make the changes necessary to recover from her addiction, contact the professional drug rehab center, or an alcohol recovery center. Take the addict to visit his doctor for a full physical exam and blood-work if you are unsure where to start, or the situation doesn't appear to be at a crisis level yet. Find out if she is taking psychiatric or other prescription medications and if so, if she has been taking her meds regularly. However, if she appears suicidal or homicidal, call 911 immediately to get them admitted to a hospital emergency center for urgent help.