How to help an alcoholic or drug addict get help

To help and alcoholic or drug addict get help, prepare yourself first and then confront the addict. 1. Be sure addiction is present. 2. Educate yourself about addiction. 3. Build a network of support. 4. Avoid codependency.

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How to help an addict get help

When somebody close to you succumbs to addiction, both that person’s life and your own may be impacted severely until the addict journeys through to recovery. The journey must begin with a first step, however, and you may be an addict’s or alcoholic’s best option for helping take that first step.  This article will help guide you through steps you can take to confront an addict (no matter what the substance) and get him or her the help needed to defeat drug or alcohol addiction.

Prepare Yourself First

Chances are you may encounter anger, denial, and/or resistance from an addict the first time you suggest he or she needs help for an addiction. You need to prepare mentally and emotionally for such a confrontation. The way you approach your first discussion will establish a precedent for future discussions, so your approach must be tactical and come from a solid foundation of knowledge and compassion.

Here are some ways you can prepare yourself before engaging an addict:

1. Be certain addiction is present. As we discussed in our last article, you can watch for specific signs that likely indicate a person you know has an addiction, including how to identify drug addiction and addictive behavior. A loved one will likely forgive you if you falsely accuse him or her of being an addict, but it would be better to avoid making an incorrect judgment that the person is an addict in the first place.

2. Educate yourself about the addiction. If you know specifically what your loved one is addicted to, conduct thorough research on the substance. You can find helpful resources on the Internet, in addiction treatment centers, and at the library. Gain as much understanding as you can about the drug’s effects on a person’s mind and body so you can anticipate changes in the addict’s behavior and physical appearance, and have a better sense for what he or she is experiencing.  Also, look into dual diagnosis meaning and evaluate whether or not your loved one may also experience underlying mental health disorders.

3. Build a network of support. A battle against addiction is not one you should fight alone, and you will need to be realistic about your own mental and emotional limitations. Contact a select group of individuals you can count on for advice, encouragement, and support, and who are willing to stay committed to seeing the addict’s recovery through to its final stages. This might include family members, close friends, addiction counselors, or other recovering addicts.

4. Avoid codependency. Maintain your normal lifestyle. You may risk entangling yourself in a web of stress, worry, and fear until the addict recovers, but you need to avoid that trap. The person with the addiction may have changed, but you shouldn’t alter your routines or neglect your own wellness. An addict needs to see you as a functional person and a symbol of strength, someone capable of advocating for his or her recovery. Go to the gym, rent movies, wash your car – do the things you normally do.

Once armed with ample information and support, you will be in a favorable position from the start to clearly express your concerns and stand your ground with an addict.

Confront the Addict

Now that you’re ready, or at least as prepared as one can be for this undertaking, it’s time to come face to face with the person in your life who is living with an addiction. This initial confrontation is crucial and can play out a number of ways. Ideally, you want to be heard, well received, and successful at getting the addict help, but don’t expect an ideal response. Be prepared for anything, especially an adverse reaction.  And understand that your loved one is probably angry, fearful and coping with anxiety; self-help may seem worlds away.

Here are some tips for how to approach an addict for the first time, and how to minimize an explosive confrontation:

1. Establish a safe place. Invite your loved one to sit down with you. Meet in a private, neutral setting where he or she won’t feel trapped or pressured into reacting according to your desires. Face the person while speaking and try to maintain eye contact. Use your tone and body language to let the person know you care and are fully present. Keep your energy positive and genuine and, most importantly, withhold all judgments about the addict.

2. Articulate your concerns. You should already know exactly what you want to say and perhaps have even rehearsed it. Be specific and clear. Focus the conversation on behavior you have observed from the other person and the concerns you have for his or her wellness. Don’t beat around the bush or drag out the conversation. Give the addict chances to respond so he or she can also feel heard and respected, but do your best to stay on track with what you need to say.

3. Maintain your composure. When you remain calm and rational, the addict’s unrestrained behavior will stand out and appear out of control. In other words, if you lose your cool, it essentially gives the addict permission to do the same. If the discussion takes on that tone, the addict will assume that a fight will break out every time you bring up his or her addiction. You may feel like returning angry sentiments and engaging the addict in a yelling match, but know ahead of time that a combative strategy is counterproductive.

4. Offer your help. The goal of your discussion is to establish an open line of communication between yourself and the addict, directed toward a positive outcome. Make it clear that you are helping, not condemning. You are doing this out of love for the person, not out of an inconvenience the addict’s behavior is to you. Even if a loved one refuses your help or claims it is unnecessary, express that your help is always available any time it’s needed.

The outcome of your discussion is not entirely within your control, but your readiness at the start will certainly help guide the interaction in the right direction. If the confrontation ends without resolution, ready yourself for another attempt at the next opportune time.

Don’t Give Up

The addict is likely to resist your help, but you must persevere. The journey toward recovery can be long and arduous. An addict may even attempt to get help multiple times, only to fall back into destructive habits. Remain positive, encouraging, and optimistic through every high and low point. During the worst moments, remember that the battle is against a substance addiction – not the addict.

About the author
Clearview Treatment Programs provides highly individualized treatment programs for people with psychiatric disorders, alcohol and drug addictions, and dual diagnosis. Clearview operates the Clearview Women’s Center, which is specifically designed to address the symptoms of psychiatric disorders, including Borderline Personality Disorder and other disorders related to emotional regulation.
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