Having a loved one with substance use disorder can be challenging in many different ways. Fear for the health and safety of a loved one can be an ever-present feeling. How much or how little and what kind of involvement to have in their lives is a struggle to know and practice, and never really being able to predict how things might go can make every interaction difficult. Often those who are struggling with addiction can be defensive and combative when confronted with how their substance use has affected them or others. Many choose to avoid the topic, opting to distance themselves or often set heavy boundaries. While these boundaries are needed by some to maintain emotional health and personal boundaries, it can also be beneficial if there is someone to be willing to speak up and calmly confront the behavior and fallout of a loved one.
When Boundaries Are Not Enough
Boundaries are often a necessity for those who have someone struggling with substance use in their lives. Perhaps the decision was made to stop lending money or that they may not have contact while they are under the influence. In other cases boundaries have had to become more severe, perhaps taking over the care of children of cutting off contact altogether. Before any kind of discussion, consider if these boundaries have been kept or crossed. When there is an emotional attachment to someone who is struggling it’s hard to let go of wanting to find a way to help them or “fix” them. If there has been a boundary regarding contact with them until they take measures to get sober and they have respected that boundary, it can feel hard to deal with the fear that lack of contact brings. The desire to help save the health and life of a loved one is strong and it may create motivations that are not helpful in this type of confrontation. A clear head and direct intentions are vital to such conversations.
In some cases, boundaries haven’t been set at all because the substance use that a loved one exhibits has not even been addressed openly. Those who suffer from substance use can sometimes behave in manipulative or combative ways. This may have been shown while trying to open up the subject, causing those who would otherwise want to intervene to back away. Shame and guilt are often heavy behavioral motivators for the person using substances and being confronted with how they have affected the lives of those around them can bring about negative emotional responses.
Movies and television have dramatized the concept of an intervention, but in reality, no confrontation, no matter how well planned, is going to bring about lasting change in the life of a loved one with a substance use disorder. What can be hoped for, however, is an end to what can often be a continual boundary-crossing and hopefully bring about the idea of change. Even if we can create conditions that bring a loved one to accept treatment, from there it will be up to them to take the actions needed, and the desire for change must come from them. This is important to remember as you consider having an open discussion with the person affected by substance use disorder in your life.
A Failure to Plan is a Plan for Failure
- Get the facts – If you’re planning to confront someone about their substance use, spend time observing their behavior, looking for changes in their emotional responses, personal care and hygiene, and social habits. Look into different types of substance addictions to learn more about symptoms if you feel unsure.
- Understand the illness – If you believe you understand the nature of your loved one’s addiction, invest time to truly understand the nature of substance use disorder. Become well acquainted with terminology so that you can come from a place of support and understanding.
- Plan out your part in the conversation – Have a firm idea of what you wish to communicate. Understand that the person in your life may have a negative response to being confronted about their behavior and consider how much back and forth discussion you are willing to have. If needed plan your part of the script and adhere to is as much as possible.
- Research treatment possibilities – If you wish to confront a person in your life with hardline boundaries about getting well, research what kinds of treatment options are available to them. Look into what kinds of issues might impede their going to treatment and plan how those can be helped. Be prepared to offer what you can to assist them in getting help.
- Come from a place of love and understanding – Always remember your primary purpose in having the discussion, which is to help someone you care for. Often the individual may have caused harm, but a conversation lead by hurt and anger is less likely to be a success.
Having the courage to confront someone with the reality of their illness can be considered an ultimate act of love. It’s possible that the person has no one else in their lives willing to approach the subject. While the expectations must be kept realistic, there is always the hopeful possibility that the conversation will be able to help bring about change and recovery.
Ashley Addiction Treatment is an innovative treatment program located on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Ashley provides support for professionals seeking help with addiction. We are able to help people with co-occurring disorders and offer confidential treatment programs to meet your needs. Please reach out to us today at (800) 799-4673.