How to Help an Addict or Alcoholic You Love
Attempting to help a loved one who has become addicted to drugs or alcohol is never easy, especially in today’s permissive society where liquor stores, pharmacies and now – marijuana dispensaries – are as common as dandelions in Spring. Add an unwillingness on the part of the addict to accept help and it’s easy to sink into a, “why try?” frame of mind or, “He has to hit bottom first,” which is practically the same thing. Most parents and grandparents however, get caught up in a continuous cycle of bailing their loved one out of crises, usually financially, in response to their own fear of doing otherwise, combined with promises on the part of their loved one that, “things will be different this time.”
Before I became a professional interventionist, I was an addict for over two decades. Ironically, those years struggling with alcohol, addiction and the depression that accompanied it, gave me a unique insight into the workings of the mind of an addict and an ability to help, even when his own family cannot.
So, what’s my secret? What’s the secret? It may be more obvious than you think.
First, you need to determine what your goal is. This article is geared toward those whose goal it is to free a person from the shackles of addiction or alcoholism and back to being his true self, no longer a victim but an ethical, responsible person.
Second, you will need to determine if there is a program that fits the bill, a place and process where your loved one can regain the things he’s lost. I am living proof that such places exist. There are people who can help you find the right kind of program; I work with all sorts of different programs since there is no, “one size fits all.” You will need to do your homework, and – a word to the wise – in doing so, never ever involve the addict or alcoholic in the decision-making. If you look at that person’s history, the reasons should be obvious.
Third, if you think your goal should include getting your loved one to admit he has a problem to you or other family members, I can pretty much guarantee that won’t go well. Families are often told – typically by a therapist, someone at an Alanon meeting or a well-intended family member – that you must get your loved one to admit he has a problem, and if you don’t, treatment won’t work. This is categorically false. Grouping people together whom an addict is already dishonest with and then pushing him to do something he doesn’t want to do in the first place will not result in that person suddenly being honest with that group. That entire concept is inane, the scenario, a pipe dream. The good news is it doesn’t matter what the addict does or does not admit to you.
As a side note, “denial” is not what many believe; it is not a house of psychological mirrors out of which the addict cannot see. Addicts and alcoholics are acutely aware of their dilemma. Why do you think they self-medicate? No – denial is lying, plain and simple. It’s part of the condition of addiction and a part you will not penetrate or change through conversation, no matter how profound. I get people into treatment all the time who are in complete denial of their problem and they do just as well as those who go in with bells on, perhaps even better.
Fourth, determine if you can get your loved one into a program on your own or if you need a professional. If you are up against someone “in denial,” or who promises to get help but never does, hire someone. Don’t experiment on your loved one and thereby create an even bigger mess than the one you already face. Let an interventionist help you.
Fifth, plan your intervention meticulously. For example, families often ask me, “What if he says ‘No.’” My answer is simple: I plan for the person to say no. I certainly don’t hope for him to say yes and then sit there like a deer in the headlights simply because he gave me a “No!” I already knew was coming. To me, objections are like lights on a runway; if you don’t know what a person’s objections are, you don’t know what you need to overcome to get him to “yes.”
Sixth, only get advice on how to do an intervention from someone whose done many of them successfully, not from a person who has failed or succeeded at just one. Interventions are an art, so do yourself and your loved one a favor and go find yourself an artist.
Lastly, the hardest part is getting going. It’s difficult to start but not as difficult as burying your loved one or remaining shackled to his addiction.
“The world is full of suffering. It’s also full of overcoming it.” ~ Helen Keller
By Steve Bruno
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