Many people struggle to convince their friends, spouses, family members, or others to make a change in their life and get help for their addiction or alcoholism. What are some things that we can do to help convince others to change? What are some strategies we can employ that will actually make a difference? Keep reading for some answers.
* Supportive and caring approach rather than intimidating and threatening.
* Help them on your terms to avoid manipulation and codependency.
* Problem number one: piercing their denial.
* Problem number two: motivating them beyond depression or other issues.
* Moving them closer to surrender.
* Informal interventions.
* Formal interventions and hiring outside help.
* Putting your foot down: setting limits and boundaries.
* Be ready with a solution for them.
Supportive and caring approach rather than intimidating and threatening
It can be somewhat natural to want to threaten the alcoholic or addict in your life to try and get them to go to rehab. It is perfectly normal for you to feel a lot of anger and resentment toward the person, their behavior, and their addiction. It is not uncommon to want to use force, threats, or any type of manipulation in order to get your loved one the help that they need. The old approach to interventions followed along with this line of thinking. They used our natural emotions to approach the situation in a very confrontational way. The idea was almost to bully the addict into treatment.
Over time, the experts slowly realized that this approach was not working well. So they shifted to a more loving and caring approach that seemed to get better results across the board. So the suggestion here is that if you are trying to convince an addict to go to rehab, you might be better off by being supportive and showing real concern, rather than by trying to force them into treatment with brute anger.
Most addicts and alcoholics, when threatened or faced with confrontation, will simply withdraw themselves further into isolation, become more depressed, use more drugs, or simply medicate the situation away. They do not, as a whole, respond well to someone trying to bully them into treatment. Remember that the thing that prevents the addict from changing is fear.
What to do when this approach fails: People are different. Some addicts and alcoholics do respond well to threats and fear-based arguments. So you might try a more confrontational approach later of if the “caring and loving approach” continuously fails for you. As they say in recovery, do not just keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results.
Help them on your terms to avoid manipulation and codependency issues
Struggling addicts and alcoholics need help. Friends and family members are sometimes there to provide them with help, but it is not always the best thing for them. Sometimes when we think that we are “helping” someone, we are actually enabling them.
How to tell the difference? I have a very simple method that has served me well since I have been trying to help others in recovery: only offer them help on your terms. Never offer them help on their terms.
What does this mean?
It means that if the struggling addict or alcoholic in your life comes to you and asks for help in some way, then you should only offer them help that directly assists them in getting clean and sober. Do they need money for groceries? Sorry, can’t help you. Do they want to check into rehab? Yes, I will help you with that. Sit down, let’s get out the phone and call some places that can help us find a treatment center. Now we are talking! We want to see them get professional help and change their life, not just put more money in their pocket and give them a pat on the back.
In a lot of cases when an addict or alcoholic asks for help, it turns out to be manipulation that furthers their disease or aids them in getting high. Even if they need money to feed their kids, they are still basically manipulating you to get more drugs, because the money that they should have spent on food already got spent on drugs. If you “bail them out,” then it is enabling them to continue to get high. They know they can count on you when they are really desperate. This has to change.
So offer to help them on your terms only. That will generally mean getting them professional help for their addiction only. You can be willing to assist them with this, and nothing else.
What to do when this approach fails: Stand your ground. Do not give in to enabling them again. Sometimes the addict has to go through a lot of pain and misery until they become willing to change. If you continue to extend help, but only in the form of treatment, this can help move them closer to true surrender.
Problem number one: piercing their denial
What if an alcoholic or addict does not even realize that they have a serious problem? What if, upon suggesting that they seek help for their addiction, they look at you like you are crazy and they insist that they can stop any time that they want to? What do you do then?
If this is the situation then you have to withdraw your support until they can see through their denial. All you can really do, as a player in the addict’s life, is either help them to maintain their denial, or stop helping them to maintain the illusion. So what you must do is that in every opportunity to do so, you must not help them to maintain their denial.
How can you do this in real life? The first step is to let them suffer the natural consequences of their addiction. Do not bail them out of anything, do not soften any blow for them, do not apologize for them in any way, to any person. Let them crash their way through life without your trying to pad the walls for them in any way. If they are ever going to see through their denial, they have to get to a point where they are alone with their disease and they cannot shift the focus to anyone or anything else.
You can help be a small part of this process by withdrawing your support. You may be afraid that you are pushing the addict to isolate themselves. This may be a necessary step. When I finally surrendered and broke through my denial, I was alone. The people who were usually around me had left (on vacation) and all I could do was to try and medicate myself into oblivion. It wasn’t working so great and I was stuck having to examine my life and what it had become. This was the moment that I finally broke through my denial, and realized that it “really wasn’t all that fun anymore.”
If my enablers had still been in the picture, patting my back and soothing my depression, then I would not have broke through my denial. It was only when these people withdrew their emotional support that I was forced to really look at my miserable life, and thus break through my denial.
What to do when this approach fails: Can you yell at someone loud enough, or long enough, to make them see past their denial? No, you cannot. Sometimes the best you can do is to step back and let the addict experience their own misery. This may be the isolation that pushes them to finally come to grips with their problem.
Problem number two: motivating them beyond depression or other issues
Let us say that your friend or loved one is now past their denial, and they admit that they do, in fact, have a problem with addiction. Are all of your problems solved? Not yet.
I have personally been at the point where I was past my denial and could readily admit that I was an addict. I knew this to be true, yet I still could not embrace a solution or find the secret to changing my whole life. To be honest, I was just too scared. I was living in fear, medicating myself with drugs and alcohol, but I was also too scared to face life sober again and try to deal with emotions, feelings, and relationships without having the crutch of drugs and alcohol.
Getting them to admit to their problem is one thing. Getting them to take real action in order to remedy that problem is something else entirely. So how can we make the leap necessary to get them to actually get motivated for real change?
There is no single magic bullet that will work for everyone. I stayed in this particular stage of denial for several years, and was too scared and depressed to try and face life sober. Nothing that anyone could say or do would have really accelerated this process for me. I had to work through my fear and become willing to take action on my own.
So how can you help to facilitate this? One way is by practicing the basic principle of healthy relationships, and making sure that you are not enabling the person at all. Stay loving, caring, and supportive, letting them know that you will always help them to find professional help or drug rehab, whenever they become willing (and that you will help them with nothing else).
What to do when this approach fails: Some addicts and alcoholics may have certain mental health issues that can block them from recovery. In these cases, you might also encourage them to seek help for depression, anxiety, or mental illness, in the hopes that they will have a better shot at sobriety once they get their mental health issues sorted out.
Moving them closer to surrender
There is a point that any addict or alcoholic might get to where they finally throw up their hands and say “That’s it. I cannot keep going on like this. I am ready to try something different. What I have been doing is not working for me.” This is the point of surrender.
One thing that is crucial to understand is that any attempt to help the person is not going to do much of anything unless they have already reached this point of surrender. You will know when they “get there” because they will stop trying to manipulate everything and they will be willing to try just about any suggestion in order to get help. They will become willing to take suggestions from other people.
So how can we get them closer to this point? How can we move them closer to surrender?
Again, it all comes back to how we behave in relationship to the addict. Are we enabling them in any way? Are we being supportive in the right way, by offering to help them get professional help only? Are we withdrawing our emotional support, so that they are forced to face themselves as they really are, and see their addiction for what it really is?
Sometimes we have to let them screw up on their own. We have to get out of their way and let them get into trouble. Addicts and alcoholics tend to be motivated by pain. They do not choose to get clean and sober when everything is going good in their life. It is only when they are really suffering that they will get closer to surrender. Do not deny them of their pain!
You do not have to be malicious and try to make the person miserable. They will do this all on their own if you just get out their way. Withdraw your emotional support so that you are not enabling them to endure more misery. Withdraw your financial support so that you are not enabling them directly. Do not bail them out when they get into trouble. Let them pave their own path to surrender, without your interference.
What to do when this approach fails: You might consider trying a more organized form of intervention, although this should be carefully considered in terms of the possibly backlash and resentment that might be created. At some point, you may throw caution to the wind out of concern for the person’s well being, in that you can see them rapidly self destructing due to addiction. At that point, you may decide to put together some form of intervention.
An informal intervention is any time that you make a non-organized effort to try and convince the addict or alcoholic to get help. This could be as simple as a chance conversation that you had not even planned on, or it might be something that you have thought about, prepared for a bit, but is pretty much just you doing a straightforward one-on-one conversation with the person. The main difference here is that you are not bringing in any outside professional help, nor are you probably going to get lots of people involved. Those techniques are reserved for a more formal intervention.
Now just because this type of intervention is informal does not mean that it can not work. You can expect that at the very least, you can at least demonstrate to the addict that you do care about them and want to see them get better.
Depending on your unique situation with an addict or alcoholic, you might try an informal conversation with them with the following goals:
1) Get them to admit that they do have a problem.
2) Convince them that they probably need professional help in order to solve their problem.
3) Get them to commit to taking action in getting that professional help.
It is not uncommon to get stuck at any of these 3 stages during any type of intervention. For example, the addict might admit that they have a problem, but they may argue that they do not really need professional help to fix it, as they could do it on their own “if they wanted to.” So they are stuck at the second point. Or, they might be stuck on the first point, and argue that they do not really have a problem at all. And of course it is possible that they will admit to anything, but simply be unwilling to commit to professional help, even though they know and can agree that they probably do need it.
When you find in your discussions with the addict that you are getting stuck at one of these 3 points, is there a magic wand that you can wave? By now you must understand that there is no such trick, and the best we can do in some cases is to set healthy limits and boundaries so that we do not feed into their addiction. In the end, we can only change our own behavior, not someone else’s.
What to do when this approach fails: You might try a formal intervention or get more people involved (such as friends and family). But be cautious when doing so, because it is possible for such an organized effort to backfire and create even more resentment and tension. Really think about how the addict or alcoholic will respond to an organized intervention. It can be overwhelming for some personality types.
Formal interventions and hiring outside help
A formal intervention is where you do either of the following 2 things, or both:
1) Get very organized and involve several friends and family in confronting the addict or alcoholic.
2) Hire a professional interventionist to help you persuade the addict or alcoholic to get help.
The first point of caution I want to mention here is that this is not a magic bullet for success. Sometimes it feels like hiring professional help is going to give you a major edge in convincing someone to change, but really, this is not the case. What is more important is the person’s willingness to change, not the details of the intervention.
How close are they to surrender? Have they truly hit bottom yet?
These questions actually point to one of the important truths about an intervention: timing is everything. You can hire the best interventionist in the world, but if the addict is stuck in denial and not ready for change, then it makes no difference. There is no magic wand. However, you may be able to make a significant impact by doing an intervention at just the right moment.
For example, say that a person has just lost their job because of their drinking. Or maybe they just spent a few days in jail due to a drug possession charge. These are possibly opportune times to confront them and try to convince them to get help.
If the timing is wrong, then nothing you do will make a difference. If the timing is good, then just about any effort on your part will be met with willingness and real action.
Now if you do decide to do an intervention, either formal or informal, make sure that you have a specific goal planned out. It does no good to get a vague commitment for change from the person. Better is to have a rehab visit all planned out and ready to accept the person. For most interventions, actually getting the person into a drug rehab should be the ideal outcome. So make sure you have a clear and specific goal in mind when you confront the person.
What to do when this approach fails: Back to the basics and working on changing the things that you can change, which is your own behavior and attitude. Remember that it can take time to move a person closer to surrender, and that you must keep up with your efforts at not enabling them while still offering support. Sometimes they need time to process what has happened.
Putting your foot down: setting limits and boundaries
If you are continuously angry and frustrated with the addict or alcoholic in your life, then you probably need to set some sort of boundary with them. Doing so will benefit both of you, and possibly help to move them closer to their moment of surrender.
Say, for example, that your boyfriend or girlfriend continues to abuse alcohol. You decide that you can no longer be around them if they have been drinking, so you set this as a boundary. You might tell them simply: “If you have been drinking, I will not be around you. I will leave the situation.”
Then, you follow through with that. Every time, without fail. You do exactly what you said you would.
This is not said to try and get them to stop drinking, necessarily. It is a boundary for you to set, to regulate your own behavior. Follow your boundary perfectly and things will start to change. If not for you, then for both of you. But definitely for you.
Maybe you have more leverage than this, and are in a position to make an ultimatum. Only do this if you are willing to follow through with the consequences. “If I catch you with drugs in my house again, I am going to call the police on you.” Don’t say this unless you mean it, and will actually do it.
Once you are serious about your boundaries and will enforce them without fail, the relationship will start to change. You have to be strong enough to set healthy boundaries and then stick by them, no matter what. If you can do this, then you will reclaim much of the sanity in your own life, and it may also help the addict to start to change.
What to do when this approach fails: When done properly, setting boundaries never fails. It may not make someone clean and sober overnight, but it is the way of healthy behavior that can help move both of you closer to the moment where they decide to change. Failure to set healthy boundaries will only keep them stuck in active addiction for longer. Setting limits and boundaries is something that you have to keep working at, and practicing.
Be ready with a solution for them
My recommendation to anyone who is trying to help a struggling addict or alcoholic is to be ready to help them when they finally surrender.
Let’s say that the struggling addict in your life comes to you tomorrow and says “I can’t go on like this any longer. I am ready to try something different. What can I do?”
My hope is that you can be ready for that moment, when it does arrive. There really is not a huge danger of screwing things up, so long as you are caring and supportive and do what you can to get the person professional help. There are professionals you can call that will help them to find a rehab center that best fits their needs and can help get them started on their path to recovery.
Remember not to try too hard to force things. Get help for yourself as well. The addict will be ready to change when they become ready, and not a moment sooner. Be ready for the moment and practice the principles outlined above so that you can help move them closer to surrender.