If you’re worried about a loved one’s drug or alcohol use, it’s important to voice your concerns. Even if you feel as though it’s not your place to say anything, remaining silent only allows the addiction to progress. These tips will help you start a meaningful dialogue that encourages your loved one to seek treatment.
1. Choose the Right Time and Place
Do not attempt to talk to a loved one who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol about their behavior. Substance abuse impairs judgement, problem solving, and critical thinking. It’s best to wait until they are sober to broach the topic. For most people, the early morning hours are the best time to have this conversation.
Substance abuse is a sensitive subject, so you should choose a place to talk that is private and free of distractions. This is not a conversation you want to have in a crowded restaurant or when your children are rushing around getting ready for school.
2. Stay Calm
It’s understandable to be angry and frustrated if you’ve been hurt by a loved one who is abusing drugs or alcohol. However, you need to keep your emotions under control in order to have a conversation that will encourage them to seek treatment.
Writing about how you’re feeling beforehand or practicing a script of what to say with a close friend can help you gain a more objective perspective. Support groups for the friends or family of people with substance use disorders, such as Al-Anon, may also be beneficial.
3. Think About Potential Triggers for the Behavior
If you’ve only recently noticed signs of substance abuse, something may have happened to trigger the behavior. Turning to drugs or alcohol is unfortunately a common response to distressing emotions or traumatic situations.
The following are all examples of situations that might potentially be triggers for substance abuse:
- Job loss
- Bankruptcy or other financial problems
- Death of a loved one
- Health crisis
- Chronic pain
- Estrangement from friends or family
- Social isolation
- Being the victim of a crime, natural disaster, or other traumatic event
Substance abuse can affect anyone, but people with a past history of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues are thought to be more vulnerable to environmental triggers.
Understanding what issues your loved one may be struggling with will help you decide how to best address the situation.
4. Speak from a Place of Love
Contrary to popular belief, people who are struggling with drug or alcohol addiction know that their behavior is causing problems. They simply feel powerless to stop.
Judgmental statements that imply substance abuse is a lack of willpower will only put your loved one on the defensive. Avoid any of the following:
- “We didn’t raise you this way.”
- “You’d stop if you loved me.”
- “I can’t believe you’d do this.”
- “I’m embarrassed by your behavior.”
- “You know better.”
It’s better to say:
- “You seem to be having a hard time and I want to help.”
- “I am worried about your behavior when you are under the influence.”
- “I am worried about how your substance use is affecting your health.”
- “I know this is hard to talk about, but let’s work together to get you the treatment you need.”
- “We can get through this together.”
- “I love you and I’m here for you.”
5. Be Prepared for Resistance
No matter how calm and reasonable you are, it’s likely that your loved one is going to try to make excuses to justify his or her behavior. Some excuses your loved one might give include:
- “I’m under a lot of stress.”
- “It helps me relax.”
- “You don’t understand.”
- “You’re exaggerating.”
- “I could stop if I wanted to.”
- “Everyone does it.”
- “It’s not that big of a deal.”
When you’re faced with excuses, you may start to doubt yourself. Do not let your loved one convince you that you’re being unreasonable or overreacting. Stress your concern and repeat your desire for them to seek help.
6. Offer an Immediate Course of Action
At the end of your conversation, you want to offer immediate steps for your loved one to take to address the issue. This might be going to a healthcare provider for a comprehensive substance abuse evaluation, returning to 12-Step meetings, or entering residential treatment. If you don’t provide concrete steps for getting help, your loved one is likely to dismiss your concerns and continue with the substance abuse.
7. Don’t Give Up
In a perfect world, one conversation would be enough to convince your loved one to get help. Unfortunately, the grip of addiction is very powerful. Despite your best efforts, your loved one may not be receptive to your message. If this happens, don’t give up. A formal intervention may be an alternative to consider.