Watching someone you love struggle with addiction is one of the most helpless feelings in the world. You’ve tried to support them despite their harmful behavior, but you know they need the kind of medical assistance you can’t provide. So how do you go about encouraging your loved one to seek professional treatment?
It’s usually not as easy as sitting them down and having an “honest talk.” In fact, that could easily backfire if you do it in the wrong tone or at the wrong time. We asked Jeremy Pitzer, CEO of The Oaks treatment center in Memphis, how to approach an intervention with a sibling, spouse or adult child. He says it’s important to create a solid plan of action before you talk to your loved one. Here are three steps, and some practical do’s and don’ts for each:
1. Educate Yourself
“Resist the urge to do an improvised intervention while emotions are high,” says Pitzer. “Making a plan for a successful intervention involves a few critical steps. First is to educate yourself. Al-Anon is a highly recommended place to start because, not only does it provide the necessary background information on addiction as a disease, but it can also build skill and resiliency for those who attend.”
- Study reputable research. Know the signs of addiction and its causes by exploring websites like aa.org (Alcoholics Anonymous), samhsa.gov (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), drugabuse.gov (National Institute on Drug Abuse), and niaaa.nih.gov (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism).
- Find an Al-Anon meeting in your area. These groups are specifically designed for family members and friends of addicted individuals. It’s important to find a community to lean on (and learn from) as you move through this difficult process.1
- Think through your discussion. What will you say? What will you not say? Don’t let your loved one walk all over you or dismiss you — be aware of how they might push your buttons. Think of positive ways to deflect and redirect the conversation.2
- Assume you’re an addiction expert. There are so many underlying causes of addiction. You can’t possibly understand them all. And that’s OK. Equip yourself with good, solid information, but don’t try to diagnose your loved one without a medical professional.
- Lecture them with morbid statistics. Be a friend, not a robot spewing information about how they are ruining their life or their health. Be honest, but don’t turn this into a worst-case-scenario scare session.
- Be overly emotional. It’s difficult to keep your emotions in check, especially if you’ve been hurt repeatedly by your sibling, spouse or child. Try to stay calm.3 If you think you may get overly emotional, have a backup person ready to take your place.
2. Ask for Help
“Asking for help is difficult for most people,” Pitzer says. “And we have the tendency to try and manage problems ourselves or within a small family group. The amount of help available is tremendous, so much so that it can be overwhelming. So it’s equally important that you not only ask for help, but that you find help from a reputable and knowledgeable source.”
- Call a few treatment centers. Decide which residential or outpatient programs sound right for your loved one. Ideally, they should be involved in the final decision.4
- Determine how your insurance affects your options. Money is a factor in seeking treatment. Be sure you understand the financial realities of recovery.
- Try to alleviate any uncertainties. Ask a medical professional or administrative specialist to answer any questions you think your loved one might have.
- Trick them into treatment. Don’t put your loved one’s stuff in the trunk and surprise them with a drop-off at the nearest treatment center. Not only will this likely anger your spouse, sibling or child, it could also do serious damage to your relationship.
- Issue threats. When you threaten someone, they’re more likely to get defensive and refuse treatment. If they’re to the point where they are unsafe to be around, ask a friend to be on-call who can remove your loved one if necessary. Or ask a family member if you can stay with them temporarily.4
3. Engage Others in the Process
“Finally, before firming up and implementing a plan, you would want to identify and engage key stakeholders,” says Pitzer. “This generally includes other family members, friends, possibly co-workers or employers and treatment professionals or interventionists.
An exhaustive list might also include a care manager with the patient’s health insurance provider, clergy or prior treatment professionals they have worked with. Working together toward a common plan, the stakeholders will have a higher chance of a successful intervention.”
- Involve people you trust. Gather the people who need to be involved on the day of the intervention. Make sure these are people your loved one feels comfortable around and that you have the intervention in a safe setting.1
- Ask for immediate action. If your loved one agrees to seek treatment, have them go as soon as possible. This helps them get started while they’re motivated, instead of giving them more time to second-guess their decision.3
- Approach an intervention when your loved one is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Just don’t. Also, don’t invite 20 extended family members over for an intervention. If a therapist is present, be sure it’s someone your sibling, spouse or child is comfortable with. And think very carefully about anyone else you bring into the room.4
- Break their confidentiality. During the treatment and recovery process, your loved one may want to share what they’re uncovering — like traumatic experiences from their past. If they confide in you, don’t break their trust. If you need to talk to someone, see your own counselor, but keep quiet until you have permission.
A Final Word
When you’re ready to talk to someone about your loved one’s treatment options, call Skywood at 269-280-4673. Our admissions coordinators are available 24/7 to assist you and your family with any questions. We know this is a hard first step, but any step toward recovery is a step in the right direction.
By Jenni Deming
1 Alexander, Rose. “9 Suggestions for Confronting an Alcoholic.” LifeScript, October 20, 2013.
2 “Intervention: Help a Loved One Overcome Addiction.” Mayo Clinic, July 20, 2017.
3 Benton, Sarah. “Ways to Approach the High Functioning Alcoholic in Your Life.” Psychology Today, June 3, 2009.
4 “Helping an Adult Family Member or Friend With a Drug or Alcohol Addiction.” Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, June 9, 2014.