The Difficulty of Confronting Someone With an Addiction
If you are watching a loved one destroy their life because of an alcohol or drug addiction and don’t know what to do, FHE Health is here to provide the professional advice and compassionate support you need to get your loved one help. You may be afraid of what the addict may do if pushed to enter a recovery program. Or you may be conflicted about abandoning the addicted loved one to suffer the consequences without you there providing housing, money, and transportation.
Even more difficult than confronting a family member or friend about addiction is the ability to separate yourself from powerful feelings of resentment, helplessness, and guilt when coping with a loved one’s addiction. Understanding and accepting the fact that you are not the problem is essential for finding the inner resolve and strength required to take that first step in seeking assistance from FHE Health.
Drug addiction is a chronic disease, not a flaw in a person’s character. No one is immune to becoming addicted to illegal or prescription drugs. Addicts are still being stereotyped as people who lack will-power and choose to abuse drugs or alcohol-free. Nothing could be farther from the truth. No one “chooses” to live on the street and subject themselves daily to dangerous situations. The stark truth is that addiction affects people from all walks of life—from the librarian who works in your local library to friendly neighbors you’ve known for years to the mayor of your town.
Is It An Addiction or Something Else? Signs a Loved One May Be an Addict
Family members or friends undergoing inexplicable physical, emotional and mental changes involving these signs may have an addiction to drugs or alcohol:
- Bloodshot eyes not attributed to other medical or environmental conditions
- Unusual pupil size (smaller or larger than normal)
- Frequent nosebleeds (common among people who “snort” drugs)
- Unexplained weight loss
- Disrupted sleep patterns (insomnia or hypersomnia)
- Neglecting personal grooming (wearing the same clothes for days, not brushing teeth, not bathing, etc)
- Slurred, incoherent speech when no odor of alcohol is detected
- Excessive perspiration, nervousness, irritability (indicative of a meth/speed/cocaine user)
- Changes in attitude, personality, general outlook on life (more aggressive, irrational, impulsive and self-centered)
- Mood changes that occur without warning–sudden deep depression, sudden angry outbursts, or appearing apathetic and lethargic after a period of agitation
- Having trouble keeping a job and blaming getting fired on “bad” bosses or “troublemaking” co-workers when the real problem is their addiction
Paranoia is another classic symptom of addiction. Cocaine, Adderall and methamphetamine users often report being followed by “shadow people,” or thinking that strangers are “out to get them.” Addicts may even sleep in closets or cover their windows with black curtains because of paranoid thinking.
Addicts will also steal cash or valuable items from family members and friends fund their addiction. You may find hidden caches of drug paraphernalia, bottles of alcohol or even actual drugs in your home if an addict lives with you. If you suspect your spouse is abusing drugs, you might start getting unpaid bills in the mail because your spouse is spending money on drugs instead of paying bills.
Drug or alcohol addicts will try to control everyone they want to hide their addiction from by manipulating them, deliberately pitting one family member against another for selfish reasons and doing anything to prevent their addiction from being exposed. However, addicts never admit to being the cause of family drama or fractured relationships.
Withdrawal symptoms mimic symptoms of the flu; a runny nose, fever, reddened eyes, aching joints, nausea/vomiting, and fatigue. Addicts who cannot access their drug of choice within a certain time period will suffer varying degrees of withdrawal symptoms. When someone you suspect is abusing drugs seems very sick one day and perfectly fine the next, they may have found a way to get high again.
When Should You Decide to Talk to Someone About their Addiction?
The moment you suspect a loved one is abusing drugs or alcohol is the time to start talking to them about getting help. The longer someone uses drugs, the more involved with the addictive “lifestyle” they become. It is never ‘too early’ to begin discussing addiction, in fact, prevention is the most effective method for combatting drug abuse. After it is a known problem though, how can you be sure they are staying sober and what are the signals that you should confront them?
The changes in their lifestyle may be a gradual change, not marked by significant events. Without clear landmark moments in their behavior, it can be unclear when it is time to confront them. It is likely that someone spiraling out of control will be arrested for drug-related activities, develop an extensive criminal record and possibly cause irreparable harm to others while driving intoxicated. Rarely do addicts go “cold turkey” and not relapse, so promises of ‘change’ should be viewed skeptically if not accompanied by commitments such as rehabilitation. Recovering from an addiction demands professional help and ongoing support services provided by FHE Health.
What to Expect When You Talk To An Addict About Their Addiction
Never lecture or angrily confront someone you think may be addicted to drugs or alcohol. Simply be honest about what you feel–that you love the addict and want them to get professional help. Let them know you understand that they are terrified about what is happening to them and that addiction is not a lifestyle choice but a chronic illness like diabetes or high cholesterol.
Having a recovering addict who has “been there, done that” talk to a loved one about addiction is another option. Recovering addicts naturally connect with addicts because they know exactly what the addict is going through. They can also tell addicts what to expect if they don’t seek help: homelessness, incarceration, loss of family support, failing health and involvement with potentially dangerous people and situations.
Addicts deny their addiction or refuse help for two reasons–they are afraid of suffering severe withdrawal symptoms and coping with a reality they previously could not cope with. Life without the escape hatch provided by drugs is terrifying to addicts. They know they will face a tough life if they complete a recovery program–stigma, finding employment, dealing with the shame and guilt of hurting loved ones, making up for lost time with children they abandoned.
When you talk to your loved one about their addiction, expect them to blame others for their addiction by justifying their reasons for abusing drugs or alcohol. For example, an addict may blame a cheating spouse for their addiction to prescription opioids or an alcoholic will blame their alcoholism on losing their job or going through a divorce. Denying responsibility is also a form of manipulation, a psychological tool that most addicts are expert at using to get the kind of attention they want from others.
Denying the Impact Addiction Has On Family and Friends
Addicts refuse to or cannot think about how their addiction is affecting others because their addiction has disrupted normal thinking patterns. Failure to acknowledge the consequences of their addiction is a way for addicts to avoid excruciating feelings of guilt and shame. Although addicts may seem apathetic to the problems they are causing you and other loved ones, be aware they are relying on an innate defense mechanism we all use occasionally–denial.
Should You Talk to an Alcoholic Differently Than Talking to a Drug Addict?
No. Alcoholism and drug addiction are both diseases of the brain and body. It would be helpful for you to learn about the disease of addiction and the biological complexities surrounding the “whys” and “hows” of addiction before talking to loved one with an addiction. All addictions–whether to alcohol, drugs or behaviors–severely disrupt brain activity and the release of neurotransmitters. This disruption interferes with an addict’s ability to think rationally, usually to the point they say and do cruel, selfish things they would never say or do when sober. That said, alcoholics will very often prefer to see themselves differently than drug addicts. There is a perception many carry that: a video game addiction isn’t as bad as an alcohol addiction, which isn’t as bad as a cocaine addiction, which isn’t as bad as an IV drug addiction. For the sake of treating the addiction, we shouldn’t be worried about pride and who is better, but rather, how they are all addictions that need to be addressed.
Understanding that an addict is driven by an overwhelming craving for a substance that the brain has become addicted to can further help you manage feelings of anger and resentment when trying to convince an addict to enter a recovery program.
How to Confront an Addict: Tips for a Successful Talk
Confronting an addiction will need preparation. This is going to be a difficult conversation. To ensure it goes as well as possible, you’ll need to plan for it. Of course, the outcome won’t be entirely in the hands of the person who initiates the talk. At the end of the day, it’s impossible to predict how the addict will react. Still, there are some things anyone can do to help the conversation go more smoothly.
1. Don’t Be Scared
The confronter must get over their fear of the conversation. Undeniably, this will be a challenging exchange that comes with some discomfort. It can be especially scary to think of the possible outcomes. The addicted individual might storm off, get angry and shut down, or recoil and double down in a pattern of drinking or using drugs.
Still, it’s important to remember why this conversation is happening in the first place. It’s to help a loved one come to terms with their problem and seek help. Not having this conversation can be far more dangerous, as it leaves the person unchecked and spiraling further into their addiction.
2. Be Prepared for What to Say
This is a serious conversation, so it requires some planning. This conversation shouldn’t be accusatory or judgemental—this will only serve to push the addict away. Instead, do your best to speak from a place of concern and love. Try to stick to “I” statements to avoid judgment:
- I feel…
- I wish…
- I am sad, hurt, scared…
- I’ve seen…
- I hope…
Consider writing out a script for your talk, with the main points and a conversation starter. Without pre-planning the speech, it’s more likely that the conversation will get emotional and heated, and you may say things that aren’t productive. Another benefit is that it shows you’ve thought and planned this out; it’s not a spur-of-the-moment ambush.
3. Gather Evidence
When considering what to say to an addict or alcoholic, give thought to what unhealthy behaviors or negative effects and consequences point to an underlying problem with drugs or alcohol. An addict’s first reaction will often be to deny they have a problem. It’s a lot harder to move on with the confrontation discussion if they can’t admit to their problem. This is where evidence comes in handy. Gather as much evidence as possible to show them when they deny their addiction.
Evidence can be as simple as changes in behavior, missed important life events (birthdays, holidays, etc.), DUIs, or hospital stays. Even if the addict explains all these away, you’ll both know the truth deep down.
That said, avoid the temptation to throw evidence into the addict’s face. Remember that all parts of this discussion should be compassionate. When discussing evidence like missed birthdays and family gatherings, focus on how sad the individual’s absence made everyone feel. Evidence isn’t meant to be a tool for casting blame. Evidence is a way to express concern and sadness.
4. Maintain Composure
It’s almost guaranteed that this type of confrontation will produce emotion—and probably on both sides. There is nothing wrong with showing emotion in your conversation. It is only natural and could help drive home the points that you’re trying to make.
Try to avoid breaking down completely, though. This could steer the conversation off track and make it more difficult to get all points across. Additionally, the addict might choose to storm off during any breakdowns.
As much as possible, maintain composure throughout the talk. Practicing the speech beforehand can help you stay calm
5. Have Empathy
Remember that addiction is a disease. Someone struggling with addiction may look like they’re making bad choices, but they’re actually battling a mental health condition that turns their body and mind against them. Because addiction still carries such a significant stigma in society, most addicts aren’t met with much empathy when discussing their addiction. This mustn’t be one of those times.
Come from a place of empathy during this talk. Acknowledge that you know this is a disease and not their fault. If they’ve been dealing with hardships in their life before turning to addiction, address this. Showing you understand where they’re coming from can help this conversation go smoothly.
6. Be Firm With Consequences
It’s best to go into this conversation with some goals in mind. In most cases, the ultimate goal will be to get the addict to enroll in a rehabilitation program and seek professional help. At some point, it’ll be necessary to bring this option up. In addition to suggesting treatment, name any consequences for not seeking help. Some examples might be (depending on the nature of your relationship):
- Kicking them out when they’re drunk or high
- Preventing them from seeing their children
- Cutting off access to bank accounts
As hard as it may be to draw clear and potentially harsh-sounding boundaries with a loved one, this is an opportunity to stand firm for them. They need to understand that their behavior cannot continue without consequences.
7. Research Rehabilitation Options
If this talk goes well, it’s good to have rehabilitation options ready ahead of time. It’s crucial to capitalize on any expressions of willingness to get help in the moment. Before the conversation happens, research rehab centers that might work. (For help researching treatment options, contact FHE Health.) Come to the meeting with some flyers in hand to share with the addict to see which might work for them.
8. Have Realistic Expectations
In an ideal world, this confrontation will lead to acknowledging the problem and a willingness to seek help immediately. Unfortunately, this isn’t always how it goes. Some people will refuse help when confronted. They might change their mind after a few days or they may stay insistent in denying they have a problem. It’s essential to have realistic expectations before any confrontation; and, if the conversation doesn’t go well, it’s vital to stick to the consequences laid out.
If the confrontation didn’t work today, that doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless. These talks can repeatedly happen, with various groups, until they finally get through to the addict. The most important thing is to not give up on your loved one. Eventually, they’ll be open to help, and it’s just about being there when the time is right.
FHE Health Provides Help for Family Members and Friends of Addicts
FHE offers interventions conducted by intervention specialists, medically supervised detoxification, individualized recovery programs incorporating the latest cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, transitional living programs and an experienced staff of compassionate, caring addiction specialists who provide the long-term support you and your loved one needs to defeat addiction.
Call FHE Health Today
If you suspect someone is suffering an addiction, get help immediately for your loved one by contacting FHE today. You can also find more information about getting help for loved ones addicted to drugs or alcohol by visiting the family program page on our website.