8 Tips for When a Family Member Tells You They Have an Addiction
Only about half of drug or alcohol-addicted family members will seek treatment—but of those who do seek treatment, a “vast majority” will go on to recover, according to a 2006 Gallup poll.
Why is that some people get treatment and others do not? Here’s one plausible explanation: those who pursue treatment had family members who encouraged them to do so.
The same Gallup poll found, for instance, that there’s a strong correlation between the admission of substance abuse to a family member and getting treatment. 65 percent of respondents who said their family member admitted their addiction to them said their family member ended up seeking treatment. And research cited by the University of Washington has found that the involvement of just one family member can be enough to motivate change in someone with an addiction, helping them stay fully engaged in their recovery process.
On that note, here are eight tips for when a family member tells you they have an addiction, to maximize their prospects of choosing treatment and recovery:
- Listen well. This may seem counter-intuitive, but where possible, seek to listen attentively to your loved one. It takes enormous courage and vulnerability to admit a drug or alcohol problem. Your loved one needs to know they are not alone. Your listening will be more likely (than your talking) to give them this reassurance.
- Don’t judge. There’s a very good chance your loved one is already struggling with plenty of shame and self-judgment. Any more judgment from you will only amplify their shame, which is an obstacle to getting help for their problem.
- Don’t try to help on your own. Remember that professional treatment is the best prospect of recovery for your loved one and that while you can support them, their recovery will require more than what you are able to give on your own.
- Don’t encourage “do-it-yourself” detox. Your loved one is more likely to safely and successfully come through withdrawal when they are under the medical supervision of addiction professionals, and effective detox is a critical first step in achieving a positive treatment outcome.
- Take a solution-focused approach, emphasizing the positive incentives for recovery. Invite your loved one to consider whether drugs and alcohol are really working for them as a long-term solution—and what freedom might mean in the way of benefits to their health, relationships and overall life purpose and satisfaction. Try to engage your loved one from the standpoint of what most would motivate them to pursue recovery, based on what you know about their values.
- Educate yourself on treatment options. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) free, 24/7 National Helpline is a good place to start, providing treatment information and referrals.
- Arrange for a free treatment consultation for your family member. Some treatment centers provide free phone consultations. Offer to make the call for your loved one and be on hand as they make the call. Or, even better—try to arrange an in-person consultation and drive your loved one to the appointment.
- Don’t enable by giving money or trying to fix their situation for them. Sometimes there can be a fine line between helping and hurting … if your loved one makes a request that causes you to feel uncomfortable, listen to your gut.