What is the key to getting someone into rehab?
Furthermore, what is the key to getting someone to actually take action and change their life? How can you motivate someone else to seek changes?
You may have heard people tell you that you cannot control another person, and that you simply can’t change anyone.
This is true for the most part. But that does not mean that there is nothing at all that can be done.
You can take action if you are the loved one of a struggling alcoholic or drug addict. There are things that you can do, and perhaps even more importantly, there are things that you should not do as well. We will take a look at both of these concepts below.
Depending on where you live (which country or state) you may be able to force someone into rehab. That is, you can actually get a court order and have them committed to treatment. The question is: Is this a good idea?
While it may sound like a great theory, most people would argue that is less than idea. Instead of forcing someone into taking the positive action that they need in order to heal, you are more likely to get a big heaping helping of resentment directed at you. No one likes to be manipulated.
Why forcing someone into treatment rarely works
Let’s divide everyone who goes into treatment into two theoretical groups:
People who really want to get clean and sober.
People who are not truly desperate to get clean and sober.
You may wonder what the second group of people is doing in treatment to begin with, if they do not genuinely want to get clean and sober. Well for one thing, there are lots of people who are forced into treatment against their will, or who have been “railroaded” into going to treatment by angry and fed up family members. Or there are people who have crash landed in jail due to their alcohol or drug use and they are basically catching a breather, but they are not necessarily serious about changing their life just yet. Some people may have opted for treatment instead of a jail sentence. Some people may have received an ultimatum from their supervisor at work who is sick of them calling in sick because of their addiction. And so on. There are lots and lots of reasons that people end up in rehab and they are not truly ready to be there, nor are they truly ready to change their life.
Now let’s talk about the other group of people for a moment. These are the people who actually DO want to be in treatment, the people who are desperate for change and who really want to get help. What is significant about this group of people is that many of them do, in fact, relapse.
Think really hard about this for a moment, because it is a very sobering statistic (no pun intended, sorry). Really think about this. You have a certain percentage of people going to treatment and they really want to get help, and yet many of them still fail. They relapse. They don’t make it.
I know this because I worked in a rehab for 5+ years (after living in one for 20 months). So I got the chance to see all sorts of addicts and alcoholics come through rehab. And I got pretty good at sizing people up and seeing what they were all about. Some people had good attitudes. Others had terrible attitudes. And some were just so full of hope that you just knew that they were gonna make it.
And that was the real smack in the face (for me anyway). The people who I just knew were going to make it….nearly all of them relapsed. I know this because they all ended up coming back later to rehab again. They left, relapsed, and returned to get more help.
Now don’t get me wrong, a few of these “hopefuls” that I watched actually did stay sober. But it was crushing how many of them relapsed. And so I came to realize that I could not predict who would make it just by gauging their attitude. I could not predict who would stay sober based on their enthusiasm or positive attitude.
So why do I bring this up at all? Well, it has to do with the conventional wisdom that you hear so often in recovery circles. The conventional wisdom says that “this is not a program for people who need it, it is a program for people who want it.” And the conventional wisdom says that the whole key to sobriety is that you have to really want it. You have to want to change. Deep down.
So I want you to realize the fact that many (if not most) of the people who I met in treatment who had a great attitude and really wanted to change, very few of them actually stayed sober.
Now think about the chances for the other group….the people who don’t even really want to be there at all. What hope do they have? Seriously, think about that. Most people relapse even when they really want to change. But if you don’t have the right attitude going into it, then you are really grasping for straws. Your chances of long term sobriety drop way, way down.
This is why I don’t believe you can force someone into treatment. Sure, there are situations where you can actually force them to attend rehab, but what is the result going to be? Going to treatment cannot change a person’s mind. It cannot force them to want sobriety for themselves. If you try to push someone into anything then they will probably just resent you for it. As well they should. No one likes to be manipulated.
So if you can’t force someone into rehab (or at least if you should not do so) then what can you do?
Indirectly affecting the addict or alcoholic in your life
Being direct is not going to work. Actually putting them in a car and taking them to an AA meeting is not going to help unless they are ready to hear the message. Forcing them into rehab is not likely to make them change their mind.
So the question is, how can you be indirect?
One method that is direct is an intervention. This is where you round up the family and friends of the alcoholic or addict in question, and then you confront the person together and try to convince them to get help. I don’t believe in this method for the same reason that I don’t think you can successfully force people into rehab. It is not because the intervention doesn’t work, because there is a good chance that it actually will get the person to agree to seek treatment. The problem is, that treatment is not going to do them any good because you have ignored a concept that is far more important to their chances of success:
Let me put it to you this way:
If you organize a big intervention and everyone in the family and all the friends come together and they convince someone to go to rehab and it actually works and the person never drinks or does drugs again, do you know what that is?
This a coincidence. A huge coincidence.
What actually happened in that case is that the addict or alcoholic in question was very near the point of surrender anyway. So you could have just drove them down to the local rehab or AA meeting and said “good luck” and you would have got the same outcome. I really believe this to be true.
Now I know that the inexperienced person will object to this. They will say “no, surely the intervention helped the cause, and the addict saw all the people who loved him, and it woke him up to the fact that he really needed to make a change in his life, etc.”
Hogwash. That is not how it works. You don’t surrender until you are darn well good and ready to surrender. If an intervention effort actually works and produces long term sobriety for someone, then it is only because that person was on the brink of change and surrender anyway. The formality of a structured intervention was NOT a determining factor. This is my opinion of course, but I have studied the concept and the ideas here for a long time in a case by case basis (including my own of course).
The important thing to take away from this is not “interventions don’t work, oh no!” That is not my point. They actually do work, but only if the timing is practically perfect. And at that point you don’t really need a big song and dance. You can just offer to take them to rehab.
It’s all about surrender. If they are not at the point of surrender then it doesn’t matter how big or well organized your intervention effort is. You can fly in the president, it ain’t gonna change the person’s level of surrender. They are either ready or they are not.
This is a very important concept to understand. You cannot force surrender on someone. Forcing them into treatment does not create surrender. Organizing the perfect intervention does not create surrender either.
What actually works is limited to an indirect approach that is all about your behavior around the alcoholic in your life. And unfortunately, it doesn’t really work in “your time.” It works (if you will) in “God’s time.” But it’s the best approach we’ve got.
How to behave around a struggling alcoholic in order to move them indirectly towards surrender
If you want to get the crash course on how to behave in order to indirectly encourage someone to get help, then simply go to Al-anon. They have meetings. They are similar to AA and NA meetings but they are for friends and family of addicts and alcoholics (presumably this means YOU).
If you do go to Al-anon they will try to teach you how to do this sort of indirect behavior.
The basis of it is setting boundaries so that you do not enable the alcoholic. You must learn to communicate with them without getting wrapped up in a yelling match and becoming emotional (this is why they teach “detachment”).
Ultimately what you want to do is to let the alcoholic or addict in your life that you will help them, but that you will only help them in one way: By helping them get professional help. Rehab, inpatient treatment, detox, 12 step meetings. You get the picture. If they want help with any of those things, then you agree to help them. If they want anything else (money for gas, money to feed their kids, etc.) then you put your foot down and say “NO.” This is how to set a boundary. At some point you have to also communicate that boundary so that they know where you stand.
If enough people do this in the life of the addict or alcoholic then this will indirectly lead them closer and closer to surrender. They will run out of enablers. They will be forced to look squarely at themselves and at their own life and really own what they see. This forces them to eventually confront their problem and take action.
You cannot force them into it directly. You have to alter your own behavior first so that you are not part of the problem. Obviously you are probably not buying booze or drugs and giving it to the person. But you would be surprised at how much you may enable a person without even realizing it. The people at an Al-anon meeting can help you to learn what these boundaries are.
The second half of this is that you must set the example. Many people who end up going into Al-anon realize eventually that they may have some issues of their own that they need to deal with. This may or may not be the case with you. If it is, then you would do well to clean your side of the street on your journey to try to help this other person in your life. In other words, first become the example for them. Then communicate your boundaries clearly.
Are you enabling someone in your life? How can you stop?
You may have helped someone in the past by bailing them out of trouble. By calling into work sick for them when they were hung over, for example.
If you are enabling someone in this fashion then you are helping to perpetuate their addiction. The alcoholic and addict is living a train wreck of a life, and there are consequences involved with that. If you are helping them to remove those consequences then you need to learn how to stop doing so.
This does not mean that you have to go out of your way to try to trip someone up. They will do that on their own. Just make sure when the fall and skin their knee due to their addiction that you are not there to help minimize the damages. Let them suffer the consequences of their disease.
The alcoholic is living in pain and misery. They are thriving in it. They keep going back to it because they are addicted to it.
Do not deny them their pain.
When do you think an alcoholic or drug addict finally says “I’ve had enough?”
At what point does an alcoholic decide to stop drinking?
I will give you a hint: It doesn’t happen when everything is coming up roses in their life.
It happens when they are so far down in the dumps that they are near suicide. I speak from experience here. I did not really surrender until I was swamped in misery and pain.
Therefore, as someone who is in the life of a struggling alcoholic, you must always remember this:
Do not deny them their pain!
They are creating chaos and pain and misery in their life. I know that you so badly want to reach out and help them in some way. You want to make life easier for them. You want to help them.
But when you deny them of pain or misery or consequences you only give them the fuel that they need to get up tomorrow and start drinking again. Because it wasn’t that bad.
It wasn’t that bad.
It’s not that bad yet. It’s just not that bad. Yeah, I drink more than I should, but it’s not that bad.
So think about it. How can you help someone who is doing this to themselves? If you “help” them and you help them to avoid pain or misery or chaos, then you are only keeping them stuck in their cycle of abuse. Because now you have helped to minimize the damages and they can once again say “see, it’s not that bad…”
Stop enabling. Do not deny them of their pain. Let them experience the consequences that they bring on themselves.
The alcoholic will not stop drinking until they have had enough pain.
The addict will not stop using drugs until they have had enough pain.
When you deny them of their pain, you slow this progression down. Let them fall down and skin their knee. If you keep catching their fall then they will never get their fill of pain.
This works. It works slowly, and indirectly. And quite honestly, sometimes it is not enough. And that sucks.
But, it’s still the best we’ve got.
Offer to help with treatment but nothing else. Refuse to be manipulated
The struggling alcoholic or drug addict tries to manipulate people.
They cannot help it. They just want to get drunk and high. They don’t know how to live any other way. So innocent people (friends, family) get in the way and the alcoholic must try to manipulate them in order to get what they want.
Your job is to put your foot down and not be manipulated. Sometimes this is really hard to do. That is where there are support groups such as Al-anon.
There are all sorts of different boundaries that you might set with a struggling addict or alcoholic, but I think it always boils down to the same message:
“If you want help I will take you to rehab or help you arrange for detox/treatment on the phone. If you want anything else from me then don’t bother, you are on your own.”
This is probably the healthiest and most direct message that you can give to someone who is struggling. Unfortunately many are not willing to hear it, or don’t want to hear it, or don’t even think that they need help at all. This is unfortunate and there is not much that you can do in that case.
The alcoholic’s life is measured in pain and misery. Once they have accumulated enough pain and misery they will become willing to change. But until that point of surrender you cannot convince them to do anything. Given enough pain and consequences, change will come. In the meantime, you should seek help and support for yourself, preferably at an Al-anon meeting.