Are we completely powerless to stop a family member self-destruct due to addiction? No, but getting it right, i.e. helping without enabling is a fine balance.
“My Son/Daughter using drugs, I don’t know how to get them into Rehab?”
“My Husband/Wife/Dad is drinking too much, what do I do?”
These are the messages or calls we often get, so you are not alone. Watching your loved one struggle with an addiction problem is a horrible situation to be in. You can end up feeling so powerless and overwhelmed by it all. You have probably already tried using reasoning, threats, pleading, and coaxing, yet this person continues on a downward spiral. It can seem like such a hopeless situation. Hope’s team are here to help and advice you.
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The sad reality is you can’t force a family member to end an addiction problem because this person needs to be willing to change. Does this mean your only option then is to stop trying to help and just let this person get on with it? Well, maybe not. It is true you can’t directly force your family member to quit, but you may be able to get them enter an environment where the willingness to change is far more likely to arise. This is what a family intervention is all about.
The reason it is so hard for those of us engaging in substance abuse to appreciate the concerns of family members is that we are caught up in denial. This cognitive defence mechanism is part of the addiction process, and it prevents us from hearing the truth. It means that instead of accepting alcohol or drugs is a problem, we believe the concerns of family members are due to them being ‘killjoys’, jealous, or ‘moaners’.
It can be easy to brush off the concerns of one person, but it is much harder to do this when we are confronted by a group of people. This is what makes an intervention so powerful. It can involve a group made up of not only family members, but also friends and work colleagues. The coming together of this group of concerned individual can make the situation appear serious enough to break through the wall of denial.
Sit down with those who are going to be involved beforehand and decide on how you are going to proceed.
Choose a time when this person doesn’t have an excuse to escape the confrontation (e.g. don’t stage an intervention right before a business meeting).
Calmly tell your loved one about your concerns sticking to the facts (e.g. you were supposed to collect the kids from school, but you drank so much you forgot).
Try not to be overly judgmental – this person is sick, not bad.
Be prepared for unpredictable behaviour as best you can and have a plan for dealing with it – e.g. some people can react angrily or break down in tears when confronted by reality.
Keep things cool – if the invention feels like an attack, your loved one will just go on the defensive.
Try to only involve people your loved one respects in the intervention rather than individuals he/she finds it difficult to get along with.
It can be a good idea to give an ultimatum but only if you are going to follow through on it – you can lose all credibility if you give an ultimatum and then change your mind.
Stick to the facts – substance abuse makes us suspicious and cynical, and if this family member thinks you are exaggerating, it can then be used as an excuse to dismiss everything you are saying.
It is important to have a solution to offer right away if your loved one agrees to get help – e.g. you can investigate rehab options beforehand.
A good strategy for intervention might be to lay out your case (evidence this person needs to change), given an ultimatum, and then provide a solution.