How Bad is Your Loved One’s Drinking Problem or Drug Abuse?

How Bad is Your Loved One’s Drinking Problem or Drug Abuse?


It can be awfully tough to sit by and watch helplessly as the addict in your life is slowly self destructing due to their addiction.

But before you can take the appropriate actions in attempting to help them, you might want to determine exactly how bad their problem is to begin with.

Over and under reacting can both create problems of their own. So it is important to assess where the addict is really at in the addiction process before you take action or attempt to confront them.

Abuse versus addiction: what is the difference?

In the short run, drug abuse and drug addiction can look quite similar. Someone who is abusing drugs or alcohol may act and behave in almost exactly the same way as someone who is genuinely addicted.

Part of the problem is that “kids will be kids,” and they are going to experiment. Further, they are going to “party” at times and probably will go overboard. This is not said to condone binge drinking or teen drug abuse, it is just the reality of the situation. Most people will, at some point in their lives, experiment with using drugs or alcohol. Even if someone never tries any other drugs, they are likely to at least get inebriated on alcohol. This is just how most cultures work–at some point, you eventually get drunk, or high, or possibly both.

So even though you may express concern over one incident, that is not really a fair judgement that someone has a lifelong addiction. The fact is that if you are trying to assess if someone has a lifelong addiction, then you need to take a step back and look at a significant portion of their life. You need to assess the greater pattern that is in play.

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Part of the problem is two-fold:

1) Addiction is cyclical, so that after the addict “crashes and burns,” they generally have a period that is more under control and reserved, where they pull back a bit on their drug use, and
2) We are always holding out hope that the addict has finally “seen the light” and that they are really going to change this time.

So when we combine these two things we can get sort of a perpetual disaster. The addict will go through a rough spot, go off the deep end completely, use way too many drugs, drink too much, overdoes, completely lose control, make a complete fool of themselves, get into legal trouble, or whatever the case may be.

Following this episode that ends up with some real consequences, the addict will naturally “lay off the sauce” for a bit and try to regain control of their life. They know that they crashed and burned, they know that they lost control, so they pull back and attempt to regain a bit of sanity. They continue to use their drug of choice, only in smaller amounts for a while. Or, if they are a binge user, they simply go cold turkey and completely avoid their drug of choice.

The problem is that they have not addressed the underlying issue, which is their addiction. They thought the problem was that they used too many drugs and lost control. That, in fact, is merely a symptom of a much greater problem.

Their primary problem is their addiction, and things will not change for the better over the long run until they address this problem.

There may even be problems in their life underneath the addiction, but keep in mind that addiction is the primary problem. Fixing other issues in their life will NOT help with their addiction problem. They still have to address that directly if they want to get help and change their life for the better.

So you can see that the difference between addiction and abuse has to do with a pattern and a history. Sustained drug abuse eventually becomes addiction. This happens when the addict loses the power of choice. When they use drugs automatically, even if they may want to stop using, then they are truly addicted. People who abuse drugs can still walk away from them. The addicted have lost the ability to choose and they HAVE to seek out their drug of choice.

If someone is merely abusing drugs and is not yet addicted, the problem is not as severe, not as immediate. Drug abuse can certainly have consequences, no doubt about it, but the challenge for the drug abuser is not nearly as complicated as it is for the drug addict. The drug abuser simply stops using drugs. The drug addict must find a new way to live, a new way to function without self medicating. They are two entirely different challenges and therefore they require an entirely unique approach.

The solution for the drug abuser is moderation or abstinence. The solution for the drug addict is to seek treatment and learn a new way to live without self medicating.

So you may be asking yourself: “How bad does it have to be in order for the addict to seek help?”

And this question contains a much more important question, which is:

“Is the addict willing to seek help?”

There are plenty of drug addicts in the world who NEED help. But how many of them are willing to seek help? How many are actually willing? That is the question that you need to focus on, because that is what will determine if the addict takes action and actually changes their life or not.

Assessing their state of surrender: what is their level of willingness?

You need to consider the addict’s state of surrender. How close are they to hitting bottom? Have they hit it already? Are they nowhere near hitting bottom yet?

The closer they are to this absolute level of surrender, the more likely it is that you can convince them to seek help and go to treatment.

Think back to your assessment of how bad their problem really is. If you are not even confident if they are an addict or if they are just abusing drugs, then it is not very likely that they are near a state of total surrender.

Surrender happens as a result of misery. The addict surrenders to their disease after they have been thoroughly beaten by it. This typically happens after much misery and chaos has been endured. Most people are not willing to make the radical, life changing leaps of faith that are required of addiction recovery unless they are actually a desperate drug addict or alcoholic.

Going to inpatient rehab for 28 days or more and learning a new way to live your life is not something that people take lightly. The level of surrender and the damage to the ego is too great for people to make this leap casually. It is a hard core effort that is necessary to transform your life in recovery. In order to make such an effort, the person must be willing.

Early recovery requires willingness. Without this willingness, you are not going to learn this new way to live and you probably will not maintain abstinence for very long either.

So you have to ask yourself regarding the addict or alcoholic in your life: “How willing are they to embrace recovery?”

Now understand that no addict or alcoholic in early recovery is jumping for joy at the idea of getting clean and sober. It is not a joyous occasion (even though perhaps it should be!). Instead, the addict or alcoholic enters recovery “with their tail between their legs.” They have their head down, they are defeated, they have been beaten thoroughly, and their ego must cope with the fact that their best ideas about how to live their life make them absolutely miserable. So we are not going to be witnessing a huge amount of positive enthusiasm necessarily.

So what do you look for? How do you know when the addict is willing to change?

The addict is willing to change when they stop fighting, when they stop manipulating, when they stop trying to control everything. Many addicts have agreed to go to rehab simply because they were out of decent options in their life, and someone was throwing them a life preserver. Such people may have no intention of stopping the drugs, and you can usually tell. They are still trying to control things, they are still trying to manipulate the situation. Such people are not likely to stay clean and sober in recovery.

The addict who has truly surrendered is no longer trying to control the situation. They have thrown up their hands and said “show me how to live.” They are in a true state of surrender and they are willing to do whatever others tell them to do in order to get the help that they need.

They have become willing. They have let go of all their reservations about getting help, going to treatment, and so on. They have brushed everything else aside and they are now willing to get help. They are in a state of surrender, a state of willingness. It is a desperate state, not a happy or enthusiastic one.

This is how you identify an addict who is ready to change their life. They are defeated, miserable, and desperate. If they are not yet in this state then chances are good that they are not ready to make huge life changes.

The reason for this is because making huge life changes is so darn difficult. Most people will not be willing to do it unless they are really desperate for change.

Risking resentment to get them to take action

When you push the addict or alcoholic in your life to get treatment, you are basically risking resentment. The worst that can happen is that they will get angry with you for pushing them to change, and then they will stay angry at you. The worst case scenario is that this fuels a resentment within them, and they simply stay angry at you for trying to get them the help that they need.

From your perspective, this resentment or anger is not really a problem or an issue. It does not harm you at all if the person is upset with you. However, there is a balance that you want to strike here and there is a very good reason for that balance.

If you try to convince someone to go get help, and they refuse, then the reason that they refused is because they are not at the point of surrender. For whatever reason, they have simply not had “enough” yet of their addiction. They need more misery, more chaos, more pain in their life before they become willing to change. Every addict has a slightly different point of surrender and every addict must make their own journey through the chaos in order to find that point of surrender. That point where they become so miserable, and so sick and tired of being sick and tired that they say “that’s it, there has to be a better way, I give up….show me how to live.”

So if you attempt to get them into rehab and they refuse, then they are simply not at this point of surrender yet. They have not yet become willing.

The only reason that you want to avoid a massive resentment here is due to future opportunities to help them. If you leave the door open, then at some point they will become willing to change, and you will be in their circle and able to help them. How do you do that? Get them to inpatient rehab. There is not much more to it than that. Get them to a safe facility where they can detox and start learning a new way to live in recovery.

So one thing that you have to assess is how much of a risk you are taking when you push the person to get help. On the one hand, you do want to push them at times, you want to encourage treatment, you want to offer them help and direction if they are willing to change. On the other hand, you do not want to push them so hard (when they are clearly not ready) that they resent you for it and cut you off completely from their life.

One tactic for walking this fine line is to wait for them to come to you. They may do this, in time, as their addiction continues to beat them up. If they are quickly self destructing due to their addiction then you may not have the luxury of waiting for them to come to you.

Another tactic you might try is to approach them with the idea of rehab when they are at “bottoming out” points. Have they hit bottom? If the answer is “maybe now they have” then that is a good time to approach them. For example, if they are in jail or in a hospital due to their addiction, you might make a stronger push at that time to get them to seek help. It is much harder for them to deny the consequences of their addiction when they are in such obvious situations. Even then, however, they may still be blaming others, in full fledged denial of their addiction.

Finally there is the idea of a full scale intervention, one that is organized and involves all the family and friends. Depending on the addict and their personality you may be risking resentment at this point too, but if they are spinning out of control then it may be a risk worth taking. The closer the addict is to serious consequences, the more aggressive you can/should be in your approach to them.

Make sure you are not enabling them

One thing that you want to be sure of is that you are not enabling the addict in your life at this point. If you are confident that they are actually addicted and that they need professional help, then you should take a stand and let them know that you will only help them if they are willing to attend inpatient treatment for their problem.

Anything else that they might need help with you will politely decline. A ride to work, some money for food, whatever it may be–you will not help them with anything other than professional treatment.

If you make this stand and communicate the boundary clearly to them, it can have a positive effect in the long run on moving them closer to treatment. It may not cause them to seek help directly, but it can be one of the forces that edges them closer to recovery over the long run.

If you communicate this boundary clearly, the addict will know exactly where they stand with you. They will know when they finally surrender that they can come to you and that you will help them find an inpatient rehab. Make this clear to them, that you are willing to do whatever you can to help them to get professional help with their addiction. Also make it clear to them that you will not assist them in any way, with anything else, until they make that change.

If they refuse inpatient, encourage counseling or meetings

There are a whole range of treatment options available, ranging from 12 step meetings to counseling to rehab to long term treatment.

The goal should always be to get the struggling addict to attend inpatient treatment. This is because inpatient rehab is generally the most comprehensive solution for almost all situations.

If the addict refuses to attend inpatient rehab, encourage them to seek lessor forms of treatment as well. AA and NA meetings, counseling, therapy, outpatient treatment–any of these are better than nothing.

Sometimes the addict will agree to one of these less intensive therapies just to “get you off their back.” In doing so, they are not likely to change miraculously overnight, but they still might go to a 12 step meeting or see a counselor and “have a seed planted.” This can be part of a long term process in which they stumble around for months or even years, in and out of treatments, in and out of therapy, and then one day the light bulb finally goes off and they “get it.” But in doing so, realize that they are drawing on all of these past “seeds” that were planted throughout their past. Each exposure to treatment, therapy, 12 step programs–all of it may tie in some day and become useful.

In effect, even “failed” treatments are not necessarily a failure, as they were part of the process, they were one of the stepping stones to a person’s ultimate recovery.

For example, I went to counseling, therapy, and even some inpatient rehab centers in which I “failed” to find meaningful sobriety. Was all of it wasted and for nothing? Not at all….all of those “failures” were teaching me something–they were teaching me exactly how hard I was going to have to try in order to stay clean and sober. They were teaching me how much commitment was really needed in order to achieve meaningful recovery. So when the time came and I was truly at a point of a real surrender, I knew how much help I was going to need, and I knew how much of a real commitment this was, and I knew how hard I was going to have to work for it.

If the struggling addict or alcoholic in your life keeps getting worse and worse, then your best bet is to encourage inpatient treatment. This opens up the doorway to nearly all forms of treatment, including counseling and long term rehabs if those become necessary.

You may also consider what will happen if the addict in your life continues to use drugs without seeking help.


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