How do I Tell my Son or Daughter that He or She Needs Rehab?
How can you tell your child that they need to go to rehab to get help for alcoholism or drug addiction?
The point is not that it is difficult to tell them or to actually say the words out loud–that is really no problem. You can simply tell them that they are a drunk or a drug addict and that they obviously need professional help.
No, the issue is not in telling them. The issue is in getting them to take action, to respond, to do something about their problem.
Unfortunately, it is not always possible to control another person, or to get them to do what you want. In fact, it can be downright impossible in some circumstances, even if you think that “your way” is clearly better.
Of course in most situations like this, you will probably go through many fights and yelling matches with the alcoholic or drug addict in your life, especially if they are close to you (such as with your child, in this case). The closer they are the harder it can be for everyone involved.
Essentially what it comes down to is how you go about trying to convince them to go to rehab.
You can communicate on many different levels. For example, the first level might just be a casual suggestion made as lightly as possible. As in “Don’t you think it is time that you got some help for your drinking?” If you can deliver that without it erupting into a yelling match, then that would be “level one” of trying to influence someone.
The other end of the spectrum might be a full scale intervention. This might be where you contact an addiction treatment center in advance, arrange for treatment, possibly hire an interventionist to come help you, call up friends and family and loved ones in order to get them all involved to try to convince the alcoholic to change their life. This would be the most aggressive option you could take in terms of trying to get them into treatment (short of having them committed, which varies by state law). Of course, even if you can force someone into rehab through committing them, this does not insure recovery by any stretch of the imagination. It may just create more resentment in the end.
So in between these two extremes (casual suggestion to get help VS. a full scale intervention that is carefully organized) there are a whole bunch of other options. What you want to do is to try to figure out the best way to urge your loved one to get treatment without making things worse, for you or for them. This can be somewhat tricky.
Why a full scale intervention may be a mistake
You may be asking yourself: “If a full scale intervention is the most aggressive approach in getting someone to attend rehab, why not just go right to that option? What do I have to lose? They are already out of control and ruining their own life. We may as well cut right to the chase and bring out the big guns and do an intervention, right?”
I agree that this reaction makes a lot of sense. But the truth is that interventions are not nearly as successful as we would hope for them to be. If they work out then it is more likely an issue of fortunate timing rather than the fact that the intervention changed anyone’s mind about something. In other words, if the person is close to surrender anyway, then you probably don’t need to go to all the trouble of doing a full scale intervention. This is my opinion, and it is very difficult to support these sort of opinions with hard data of any sort.
But keep this in mind: If you talk with an addiction treatment center and ask them what their intervention “success rate” is, they will likely tell you that it is rather high, based on the fact that they convince many people to actually attend treatment. But if you ask them what the long term sobriety rate is among these interventions, they are going to shrug their shoulders or give you numbers that are far less impressive. In other words, just because an intervention might convince someone to go to rehab does not mean that the rehab experience will convince them to stay sober forever.
This is an important point so I want to make sure that everyone out there understands it very well:
Rehab cannot convince someone to WANT to stay sober. Think very carefully about this for a moment, because it is a very common delusion among the public.
We have a false belief that if we can get a struggling alcoholic to go to rehab and to just give sobriety a chance and they can soak up some of the positive vibes in treatment while they are sober for 28 days that it can magically transform their level of surrender. In other words, we are secretly hoping that if we stick an alcoholic in detox for long enough that it will cause them to surrender to their disease. This is NOT how it works.
If you take an alcoholic who has not yet surrendered and put them in rehab for 28 days, guess what? They will stay sober for 28 days. Period. After that, they will be exactly where they were at when you convinced them to walk into treatment. They will have learned nothing, or more accurately, they will be learning but they will not be applying anything in their life. They are not going to suddenly get excited about recovery just because you convinced them to hang out in rehab for 28 days. If they have not hit bottom and surrendered yet then this is exactly what will happen. Being sober in rehab for 28 days is not going to “rub off” on the person and convince them to want to be sober. They are not going to suddenly become happy during that 28 days in rehab and decide that they would really like to live sober for a while and see if they remain happy or not. This will NOT happen. It doesn’t work that way.
The only way it works is for surrender to come FIRST. The alcoholic must hit bottom first. If they are in rehab and they seem like they are in good spirits but they have not truly hit bottom yet, then guess what? They are going to drink or use drugs again in the future. It is almost certain. The only way to sober up for good is to reach that point where the alcoholic truly surrenders and becomes willing to learn a new way of life.
And going to rehab does not teach this to someone. It can’t. Going to rehab has nothing to do with surrender, with hitting bottom. You have to do that first. You have to go through the pain and the chaos of addiction before you reach that bottom. You can’t just shortcut the process somehow by going to rehab and learning about the disease, or listening to stories, or talking with other alcoholics. Doing those things might be helpful in recovery but if you have not yet hit bottom and surrendered yet then they are not going to change anything for you. You have more drinking to do, more pain to endure, before you are ready to get sober for good. Sounds a bit harsh but it is completely true. You cannot shortcut the surrender process.
Unfortunately the path to surrender is paved with pain, misery, and chaos. If you doubt this truth then I would challenge you to go to Al-anon and learn more about it. This is true whether you are an alcoholic or the friend or family of an alcoholic (believe it or not, recovering alcoholics and addicts can benefit a great deal from Al-anon as well).
Alcoholics don’t surrender until they are miserable. Alcoholics don’t change their life until they are motivated to do so by pain and suffering. A harsh truth, but it is an important one to remember if you are secretly hoping that someone in your life would sober up. How much pain have they endured in their addiction? If the answer is “not much yet” then they are probably not very close to surrender. On the other hand, we all have a different threshold for pain in our lives which is why you can never accurately predict when a person will be ready to surrender.
You might make a habit of using good timing when offering to take someone to rehab.
Timing is everything in terms of actually getting someone to take action and change their life
There is some truth to the idea of good timing.
For example, if someone gets drunk one night and they get pulled over while driving and end up in jail, you now have yourself an opportunity.
When you talk to them, you might offer to help them get professional help. Suggest rehab. Suggest treatment. They are either open to the idea or they are not. But the chances are greater that they will be open to it if they have just suffered a major consequence due to their addiction.
You see, the surrender process is all about denial. When we are still drinking we are in denial. Plain and simple. You cannot keep drinking an alcoholic and NOT be in denial, by definition.
What you are in denial of is not that you are drinking like a madman (duh, this is obvious even to the drunk at some point!) but that you are actually miserable due to your drinking.
The alcoholic will try to cling to the idea that alcohol makes them happy, and that they would be even more miserable without it. They “need” alcohol in order to function, in order to live, in order to be happy. This is what denial is all about. Because everyone else can tell that the person is miserable, and that they would be so much happier if they sobered up and got rid of the booze altogether. This is obvious to everyone except for the drunk. This is what denial is about.
When the alcoholic finds themselves in jail, or if their spouse just left them for good, or if some other consequence smacks them in the face, then it becomes more difficult to maintain their denial. They will still try to do so, don’t get me wrong. But it becomes harder for them. And in that moment it becomes just a tiny bit easier for the alcoholic to see that, maybe, in fact, their life is a big mess right now because of their drinking. Normally they will not admit this, and they will blame everyone else, and everything else, and maintain that anyone with their set of problems would continue to drink every day too. But ultimately they will need to make this mental leap in their mind and realize that alcohol itself is the problem. Their denial tries to tell them that the alcohol is no big deal, that it is all of the idiots in their life and their bad luck and the system that has beaten them down and so on. They blame everything except for the alcohol.
When they finally surrender and break through denial, they are realizing the truth: that alcohol is the problem. No one is to blame except for themselves and their drinking.
Therefore, use timing to your advantage. You could suggest rehab every single day of their lives, but this is not likely to be effective. Instead, wait until they are in a real mess. Wait until the crap has hit the fan. Wait until the chips are down for them, and they are sitting in jail, or the hospital, or a courthouse. Wait until they are in trouble, or facing real consequences. That is the time when you offer to take them to rehab. Because they are dealing with heavy consequences, it is much more difficult for them to stay stuck in denial (though they will try!).
Forcing the issue is legal in some states, but may not be very helpful due to lack of surrender
Depending on where you live, you might be able to force someone into rehab.
Not a great idea, in my opinion, even if the option is available. I know it is tempting. Very tempting. Especially if the alcoholic in your life is out of control, and especially if they are a danger to others. For example, they have a family, they have children, they have a baby. And they drink or use drugs and they are out of control and reckless. It is very tempting to blow the whistle on them and force them to get help.
I won’t stop you from doing that if someone’s life is in danger, or if they are a threat to their children. But I would caution you against the idea if there are no immediate ramifications like that, because they will likely just end up resenting you even more. If you force someone into rehab then it would be very lucky for them to suddenly get sober and stay that way forever. See what I wrote above about how surrender is really the critical factor. Going to rehab has nothing to do with surrender (treatment doesn’t bring you any closer to surrender).
I am not saying that you should never commit someone. I am just cautioning you that being in rehab does not actually bring someone any closer to the point of surrender. Just being in rehab does not get you any closer to “real long term sobriety.”
Learning to set healthy limits and boundaries with the addict or alcoholic in your life
If there is one piece of advice that you should take from this article, it is this:
Go to Al-anon. It is critical that you get help and support for yourself, first and foremost.
Most people don’t do this. They get it all wrong. They focus entirely on the alcoholic in their life, and what that alcoholic is not doing.
Instead, shift the equation around. Go to Al-anon yourself, get some support, learn some new things, and in doing so you will be able to better indirectly move the alcoholic in your life closer to surrender.
Remember when I said that alcoholics and drug addicts are motivated to change through pain and suffering?
Much of what we do (without realizing it) is enabling behavior. So when we try to help the alcoholic in our lives, we are sometimes actually hurting them, even though that is not our intention.
For example, if the alcoholic is severely hung over and cannot make it to work that day, and you call in sick for them. If you did not do this then they would have lost the job probably, and then this would have had even more consequences in their life. So in doing so you believed that you actually helped them.
If you go to Al-anon you might learn differently though. You might realize that by calling in sick to work for the person, you helped them avoid what would have been a natural consequence of their drinking. So every time you help them to avoid a natural consequence of their drinking, you are actually encouraging them to continue their behavior. You are encouraging them to drink! Because your actions helped them to avoid the consequences of their bad decisions. So why would an alcoholic change if they can avoid the pain of changing? It is really painful and uncomfortable to get sober. The alcoholic wishes to avoid this pain at all costs. So the only way that they are going to face that discomfort and pain is if the alternative is even MORE painful.
And what is the alternative to getting sober? Staying drunk. So they make a choice either way. They either continue drinking, or they face the discomfort of early sobriety. Which is more painful?
When the alcoholic finally hits bottom and surrenders, they have come to a new realization. They are sick of living in pain, and the pain of their alcoholism has become so great now that it is actually worse than the FEAR of getting sober. At that moment–and not a second before–they will choose to get help and recover.
To repeat: When the pain addiction becomes greater than the fear of change, the alcoholic or addict will finally sober up.
Therefore, when you go to Al-anon, you will learn what you must never do.
You must never deny the alcoholic of their pain.
Because it is an accumulation of pain, chaos, and misery that will eventually set them free.
They cannot say “yes” to recovery until they have said “no more” to the mountain of pain and chaos in their life.
Are you enabling the person by trying to help them limit the pain, misery, and chaos in their life?
Probably! I don’t blame you for that. It is very hard not to do so.
This is why you need Al-anon. So that you can learn how to stop enabling. So that you can learn how you can stop denying them of their pain. So that they may one day heal on their own.
Getting help and support for yourself may be the most important (although indirect) step you can take
Before you try to convince your son or daughter any further of their need for rehab, I want you to do this first:
Go get help yourself.
More help. You deserve to get more help and support. No one should have to deal with addiction, even indirectly, and you need more help and support than what you are probably getting.
The best place to get that help is an Al-anon meetings. Go find one. If you can’t find one, then get on the phone and call up local rehabs and keep asking them if they know of any. If that fails, start hitting the AA meetings and ask everyone until you find an Al-anon meeting through those people. If you do both of those things then I can assure you that you will find an Al-anon meeting somewhere to go to.
Go to that meeting and share your story with them. Be completely honest. Ask them to give you help and advice. Ask them if someone will talk more with you and give you guidance and direction. In doing so you can learn how to set healthy limits and boundaries, so that you are no longer enabling the alcoholic or addict in your life.
It may be indirect, but this is the quickest and best way to move someone closer to surrender. Your behavior does make a difference, if only indirectly.