Starting Discussions with an Addict
If you see something like an intervention on television, you’ll likely hear words like “we think you have a problem”, “your drinking is hurting your family”, and so on. These kinds of words almost never have the effect that you might want. Instead, they will likely get angry and either completely deny a problem, blame their substance use on stress or on you, or otherwise become aggressive. You won’t get anywhere, and they will likely begin to pull away emotionally, because they know that you are prepared to hurt them.
If you go to a loved one with the intent of getting past this denial, you will have to remain calm, be logical, and not make blatant accusations. Try starting normal discussions and leading up to topics surrounding substance use.
There are a few tactics you can use to do this without evoking denial.
Communicating that you are worried about the person is a very good strategy, because it says that you care, and it reminds the person that even though they’re using, they’re still a person you love. Starting conversations off with things that are concerning you and making them about the other person’s health (not the stigma of drug or alcohol abuse) is a good way to ‘get your foot in the door’.
- “I noticed you didn’t come home last night, I was worried”
- “I really missed you at dinner the other night”
- “I miss talking like we used to,”
You can also talk about very specific substance use related events, but you should do so carefully, because many people will be aggressive about it.
- “I saw you have track marks on your arm, are you going to be okay? Should I get Naloxone for you?”
- “You blacked out the other day, I’m really worried about you. Is there anything I can do to help?”
The idea with approaching someone with concern is to tell them that you care about them first and foremost as a person, and it’s their health and wellbeing you care about, not your reputation or association with someone who uses or abuses alcohol. By talking about health and relationships, you show the person you love that they are your concern, not their substance use.
Leading to Self-Acknowledgement
Discussing concern is a very strong approach which puts someone’s behavior in the spotlight, but it isn’t always the right approach. Some people don’t want to be told that they have a problem, even by a concerned family member. Here, you can take a completely different approach, where you don’t bring up concern or worry, but instead talk about their goals, their life, and their achievements with natural concern when they bring them up. You can use simple phrases like these to get someone thinking about what’s actually getting in their way.
- “Can you make that?”
- “What’s stopping you?”
- “Is that possible?”
- “How can you make that happen?”
You can also discuss your own goals or a plan or an achievement, and then shift the focus to them. For example:
- “What are your goals, are you planning something”
- “Where do you want to be this time next year”
- “What about you, what’s going on in your life?”
Many people who are denying their addiction are in a state of precontemplation, meaning that they haven’t actually begun to consider the problem or how it’s affecting them. By getting them to talk about their goals, their plans, their dreams, you get them to consider what is actually in the way, their life, and how their substance use is actually getting in the way.
You can also try giving up bad habits yourself or starting good ones and then talking about the difference it made for you. But don’t make it about drugs or alcohol.
- “I smoked my last cigarette two weeks ago and you wouldn’t believe how much easier it is to go for a run”
- “I started going to bed an hour earlier, and man has it made a difference to my energy levels during the day”
- “I started cycling to work two weeks ago. I lost 5 lbs. already, can you believe it?”
Why would you talk about yourself? Getting people to start thinking about how things affect their life is a big step to bringing someone to the realization that their substance use is affecting their life.