When They Don't Want Your Help with Their Addiction
Today, an estimated 18.5 million Americans are addicted to drugs and alcohol. That same study, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, shows that less than 30% of people with a substance use disorder get help in any given year. While reasons can include financial (insurance doesn’t cover enough/I don’t have insurance) and responsibilities (I have to take care of family/children) getting treatment is more often about being ready to do so. Individuals with a substance use disorder are battling their own minds. That means they face problems related to self-esteem, to social stigma, and to being able to admit they have a problem in the first place.
Whatever your loved one’s reasons, they might not be ready to seek out treatment. That can be painful. But it’s not the end. You can still take steps to be there for them, to offer support, and to provide the love they need to eventually change their mind and go to treatment.
Set Boundaries for Yourself
You want to help your loved one. That’s good. But it’s also important to keep distance and to make space for yourself. Living with or caring for someone with a substance use disorder can be hugely demanding. it’s important to set boundaries, make time for yourself, and make most of your life about yourself. Otherwise, you’ll quickly become stressed and will likely damage your own mental health.
- Set boundaries around what you are comfortable with. E.g., no drugs or alcohol in the house. I won’t stay up waiting for you. I will not live with you unless you always have Naloxone on you, etc.
- Say no. A lot. Many requests will be reasonable. But many others won’t be. You shouldn’t have to lie for your loved one. You shouldn’t have to hide their substance abuse. You also shouldn’t have to spend a considerable amount of time covering for their chores, tasks, or responsibilities. If your current setup means that you are taking on everything they are responsible for, step back, evaluate how to resolve the issue (even if it means moving out) and take steps to do so. Your mental health is also important.
- Don’t Engage in Enabling Behavior. That can mean avoiding giving them money. It can mean not picking them up from a party late at night unless it’s an emergency. It can also mean refusing to pay rent, cover groceries, or otherwise provide care that is allowing them to continue their current lifestyle. Of course, sometimes enabling behavior can be necessary to the person. But, stepping back and making the hard choices can force your loved one into care sooner. At the same time, tough love rarely works. “I won’t give you money for rent” is avoidance of enabling behavior. But you still might want to let them sleep on your couch or help them get their stuff into storage if they lose their apartment as a result.
In any case where you’re stressed and constantly spending time worrying or caring for someone else, you’re engaging in unhealthy behavior. Codependency takes this to an extreme, where you become as reliant on caring for them as they are on care from you. If you think this might be the case, you’ll likely need treatment as badly as they do. Why? Wrapping your mental health up in taking care of another person is damaging to your self-esteem, to your mental health, and your ability to live a happy life.
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Remember You’re Not to Blame
Family members often feel intense shame and guilt when a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder. A lot of that revolves around culture and how we’re taught that addiction is a personal failing. While that isn’t true, addiction is a combination of poor choices and vulnerabilities mixing into a disorder, that doesn’t change how we can feel. The result is often that we invest too much into taking care of our loved ones when they get sick. We blame ourselves. If only I’d been there. If only I’d noticed sooner. The thing is, you are not responsible for your loved one. They and they alone are responsible for their choices. Not to blame, but responsible. You attempting to take that on robs of them of the ability to take responsibility and therefore of the ability to get better.
Taking Steps to Be There for Your Loved One
You can’t force anyone into rehab or treatment. That can be intensely difficult. But, you can take steps to be there for them no matter what.
Detach with Love – Detaching with love is the concept of stepping back and investing less in your loved one without cutting them out of your life. This can be an important step if you need space or if they are demanding, manipulative, or resistant. You still get space without having to give up your relationship.
Offer to Be There – Let your loved one know what you will be there if they need you. They can always talk to you and you will listen. You won’t give them money. But, you can sit and talk, discuss their problems, let them vent, and be as understanding as possible. Here, it’s important to be nonjudgmental. It doesn’t matter how you personally feel about substance abuse. A substance use disorder is a mental health disorder and no one chooses it for themselves. Your loved one is a victim. Reacting to them and treating them accordingly is important. And, long-term, having someone to rely on can help many of us to make the decisions that lead to getting treatment and recovery.
Take Steps to Learn – Learning about your loved one’s substance use disorder can help you to react better, to offer better help, and to make more space for yourself. You can try reading. You can also try attending organizations like Al-Anon. This allows you to get help and support from groups of your peers – whether or not your loved one recognizes they have a problem. Most Al-Anon groups also offer a wealth of literature, you can use to learn, to offer help, or which you can bring to your loved one. Most importantly, these groups focus on your mental health as well – you get a place to vent and to share, so you have an outlet.
Not being able to help someone you care about can be one of the most difficult things in the world. Hopefully your loved one decides to get help and makes a full recovery. Good luck as you navigate the journey to that point in time.
If you or a loved-one struggles with substance abuse please contact us today and speak with one of our experienced and professional intake advisors. We’re here to help you recover.