Does Your Loved One Struggle With Substance Abuse? How to Intervene
Posted by Soribel Martínez, LCSW
If you have a loved one struggling with substance abuse, you may be eager to help but don’t know how to go about it.
Perhaps you’re worried you’ll only anger them and cause them to isolate, causing them to lose what support you already provide. Or you yourself may be angry by the problems substance abuse has already created in their life and maybe even yours. It can also be tempting to think that the problem will go away on its own if you just ignore it.
Unfortunately, if your loved one’s substance abuse has gotten to where you’re concerned about it, ignoring it won’t help. Because you love them, you want what is best for them.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to intervene.
Understand Substance Abuse
Substance abuse is a complex disorder. There are many factors that can cause addiction. You can’t always pinpoint one cause. Before trying to intervene in a loved one’s life, however, take the time to study reasons for addiction.
Often, childhood experiences, poverty, mental illness, and other challenges are contributing factors. These can complicate recovery.
The understanding of addiction and substance abuse has changed over the decades. While sometimes it is necessary to practice “tough love,” in some cases it can do more harm than good.
Just as those with mental illnesses or other life challenges need kindness and support, so do addicts. Let them know that you’re willing to listen to them and that you will support them on their journey.
But Don’t Enable
While it’s important to be supportive, it’s just as important to not enable your loved one’s addiction. Don’t make excuses for them when they show up intoxicated at a family event.
Don’t lend them money to buy drugs or alcohol. Know your boundaries and stick to them. If you have a hard time being firm, consider reaching out for therapy to build your emotional resources.
If you feel that the time has come to arrange for a formal intervention, be sure to plan it properly. Reach out to other friends and family members who also see the signs that you do and will be able to participate in the intervention. Write out precisely what you want to say to your loved one with addiction.
One of the most important things to do when planning an intervention is to work with a substance abuse therapist. An intervention can be a volatile situation that can easily go south. Talking it through with a therapist is a wise step. Some therapists will even go to the intervention with you.
Researchers are beginning to understand that relapses are often a normal step along the road to full sobriety. If your loved one enters rehab but relapses while in it or afterward, don’t give up hope. Don’t berate them or criticize them or tell them you knew they’d fail. Rather, evaluate what you can do and how much you’re willing to do to support them.
Accept What You Cannot Control
Sometimes, despite your best efforts and your most loving intentions, your loved ones with addiction will not be open to our concerns. They may blow you off, continue to manipulate you financially and emotionally, stab you in the back, or shut you off entirely.
It’s important to know that this is not your fault. The addictions of others are completely out of your control. While it can be very difficult to accept this, in the end, it’s an important step.
It’s never easy to see a loved one struggling with substance abuse. If you’re in this situation, don’t give up hope. I’ve worked with many families and individuals in your situation and am well-equipped to help you through this time.
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Soribel Martinez, LCSW, CEO of SMPsychotherapy