What to do when someone you love needs treatment: motivation for change.

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When someone you care about is struggling with alcohol addiction, drug addiction, or both you are placed in one of the most difficult positions you can imagine. It feels like you are watching a video of that person speeding down the freeway carelessly, not wearing their seatbelt, and heading towards disaster. You know what they are doing is destructive; you know they probably want much more for their life than a fiery crash, and you are left to watch; unable to take control of the car. Are you left to just watch or is there some way you can influence the situation? This is the dilemma that many families and loved ones of the alcoholic and/or addict face. The most troubling part of the whole scenario is the fact that these individuals are not inherently bad people, in fact the majority of those struggling with alcohol and/or drug addiction are extremely “good” people, just like you or I, with a serious problem that they can’t seem to break free of on their own. This makes watching that much more difficult. What do you do?

The family or loved one of the person struggling is likely the closest to that person and inevitably has the most credibility in the eyes of the struggling addict/alcoholic. If this person has the ability to openly discuss the individual’s problem and offer support for seeking addiction treatment it should be done. This is the most desired scenario where the individual admits that such support is needed and actively pursues help even with the assistance of others. In this scenario there is likely to be a high level of motivation to change on the part of the individual and this motivation translates into greater outcomes for substance abuse treatment. This is obviously the best case scenario and many find themselves less fortunate than to merely have everything fall in place. In fact, many families identify the individual’s problem far before that person deals with acceptance. So what would you do in this scenario?

The facts are this; we are dealing with free will. It is highly unlikely that an individual can be forced into treatment unless they are a threat to themselves or others and require a psychiatric hold at a local hospital or psychiatric facility. So you are left with the individual in denial who is not willing to change at the moment. This is where interventions come into use. Interventions for alcohol and drug addiction have a high success rate for facilitating an individual’s entrance into an alcohol or drug rehab but this does not always translate into treatment outcome. The intervention is a way to openly share an individual’s impact on others and challenge their thinking in the hope that they might come to realize what is going on in their life.

The most beneficial track that the family can make is one that is constantly supportive without enabling continued negative behavior of the individual. Remind the individual that you are there to support their recovery when they are ready but that you will not support behavior that will ruin their life.