When you love someone, something bad happening to them feels like it happens to you, too. It’s almost harder to watch a loved one struggle with an injury or disease than it is to be the patient yourself. The feeling of helplessness can be overwhelming.
If your loved one is suffering from addiction, you probably have that helpless feeling. There are some things you can do to make it a little easier for them, though. Motivation is a very important part of getting through addiction treatment and maintaining a long, healthy recovery, and motivating your loved one to get help for their addiction is the first step you can take. Sticking with them through the recovery process will also help ease their burden.
Table of Contents
- Understanding Addiction
- How to Recognize an Addiction
- Expressing Your Concern for an Addicted Loved One
- What Won’t Work When Trying to Motivate Someone to Get Help
- Tips for Motivating an Addict to Get Help
- Helping a Loved One Through Recovery
Roughly 40 million Americans are addicted to at least one substance, according to a study by Columbia University in 2015. In 2010, there were more than 38,000 fatal drug overdoses in this country. Addiction still has a stigma in our society that prevents people from getting the help they need. Part of the problem is that no one wants to talk about addiction or admit that someone they love could be suffering from this chronic disease.
It’s important to understand what addiction is and how it happens in order to help a loved one you think might be in need of help. Addiction is not a character flaw or something that happens to people who grow up in broken families. It does not affect only certain social groups or people of poor economic standing in our society.
Addiction can happen to anyone, regardless of their upbringing, intelligence or socioeconomic status. No one sets out to become an addict, and in many cases, addiction sneaks up on people who weren’t doing anything wrong.
Here are some scenarios that lead to addiction:
– A college student who is feeling the pressure to increase her academic performance learns that certain stimulants can be used to get her through some all-night study sessions before finals. Although she only meant to take them once or twice, she likes the feeling of having an added advantage.
She begins to believe that her academic career is dependent on taking these stimulants for an all-night study session at least once a week. She doesn’t realize that her brain has become addicted to the substances, and she cannot convince herself to stop taking them.
– A grandmother in her early sixties experiences constant hip pain that keeps her from continuing her walking routine. Her doctor recommends hip replacement, which is a very popular surgery that gives people back their mobility. After the surgery, the doctor prescribes opioid pain relievers for her to take as needed. The physical therapy for her hip replacement is particularly painful in the beginning, so she continues taking the pain relievers the doctor prescribed. On therapy days, she exceeds the recommended dose because the pain is so intense. By the end of three months of therapy, she is addicted to opioids and does not know how to stop taking them.
– A weekend athlete in his twenties suffers a severe sprain one Saturday afternoon. The emergency room doctor prescribes pain relievers and sends him to an orthopedic doctor on Monday. He has never missed a game before, so he decides to take some pain relievers and tough it out. When he goes back to the doctor for a follow-up, he ends up exaggerating the amount of pain he is experiencing because he does not want to run out of those pain relievers. It turns out they make him feel pretty good, and his athletic performance seems to be enhanced when he takes them. He doesn’t realize that his brain is addicted to opioids.
– A teenager gets invited to a party where the other kids are experimenting with over-the-counter cold medicine they found in their family medicine cabinets. He wants to fit in with the popular kids, so he gives in to the pressure to try some. Everyone gets a good laugh out of their experience getting high on the medicine. They assume OTC drugs are safe, and they haven’t broken any laws by taking them. The teenager figures he can’t get addicted by trying it this one time, but the next day he thinks about doing it again. The experience was pleasurable, and his brain urges him to repeat it. OTC drugs are easy to access, and so he does it again. After a few weeks, he’s doing it on a regular basis.
Addiction is a very strong force that takes over part of your brain. It causes people to do and say things that are completely out of character. People suffering from addiction engage in risky and often illegal behavior. They try to hide their actions, sometimes by lying to the people closest to them, because they are ashamed.
People struggling with addiction usually know they have a problem but are helpless to change their behavior. They experience guilt because they see how they are hurting the people around them, yet they are not able to stop. Sometimes they even lie to themselves about what’s wrong, so they don’t have to face the truth about addiction.
While your loved one is suffering from addiction and trying to hide it, their life is falling apart. Addiction causes relationships to fail and people to pull away. It’s very difficult to hold a job and maintain an active addiction. When you don’t have a steady job, it’s impossible to meet your financial responsibilities. All of this causes a tremendous amount of inner stress and turmoil your loved one does not want anyone to see.
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How to Recognize an Addiction
Only a professional can properly diagnose an addiction, but you might be able to recognize the signs in someone you are close to. Addiction can be treated, but it requires an accredited recovery program. You cannot heal your friend’s addiction, and he cannot overcome it by himself.
The sooner you recognize these signs of addiction, the faster you can work on getting help for your addicted loved one. Starting treatment as soon as possible increases the chance of a positive outcome.
Here are some signs of addiction:
New friends —
In general, making new friends is a positive step, but in addiction, it can be a sign of trouble. Often, when someone is abusing drugs, they will pull away from their longtime friends. They will start spending their time with a new group of people who accept or even participate in their drug use habits.
People suffering from addiction tend to pull away from others in general. They opt to spend more time on their own than they did before. Part of this is because they could be experiencing withdrawal symptoms, and in part, it's an attempt to keep their addiction a secret. They are hiding from people who might recognize that their behavior is strange.
New sleep patterns —
Whether they sleep four hours at a time or a full six to ten, sleeping is routine for most people. Substance abuse, however, interrupts natural sleep patterns. You may find that your loved one is sleeping much more than usual. They may also be struggling with insomnia and be sleepy during the day because they are not sleeping properly at night.
Weight changes —
Addiction happens in the brain, a complicated organ that controls all functions. It's not unusual for addiction to affect metabolism. Someone suffering from addiction might have a sudden weight loss or weight gain. Their eating habits could change severely, as well as their activity level. The combination of these changes caused by addiction will result in sudden changes in weight.
Mood swings —
The most even-tempered people will become irritable when they are suffering from addiction. Everyone has a bad day or gets angry once in a while, but if addiction is in play, that bad mood could last a long time. Addiction can also cause periods of heightened moods. Your loved one might be exceptionally giddy for no reason. Or, they might be happy one moment and depressed the next. Severe mood swings can be a sign of addiction.
Financial problems —
Anyone suffering from addiction has to obtain an increasingly larger amount of their substance choice. No matter what the circumstances might be, this will eventually stress their finances. You might notice your loved one asking to borrow money frequently or borrowing money from multiple people. They might also show signs they are diverting funds from other expenditures to cover the cost of substances. They may stop buying those expensive lattes or start doing their own laundry rather than sending it out.
Recognizing the signs of addiction can help you save a life. Intervening as early as possible and motivating a loved one to seek help for their addiction can stop the damage and begin the healing process.
Expressing Your Concern for an Addicted Loved One
Addiction is a difficult topic to talk about. It comes with a bunch of stereotypes and judgments. If you’re going to help your addicted loved one, you have to be able to talk about addiction.
Many people get angry or judgmental when they realize their loved one is struggling with addiction. They’re scared, and they feel a great sense of responsibility to fix the situation. You must realize that most people do not want to be fixed — it implies they are broken
When you’re ready to talk with your loved one about their possible addiction, you have to do so from a position of empathy. Try to put yourself in their position where you’re dealing with something you cannot control, do not understand and are ashamed to share. If you have not experienced addiction yourself, consider what it might be like to feel helpless and hopeless while trying to maintain your pride at the same time.
People suffering from addiction feel like they are all alone. They usually do not believe anyone can help them because they think no one understands what they’re going through. It’s important to express your concern for an addicted loved one to and to confirm your loyalty no matter what.
What Won’t Work When Trying to Motivate Someone to Get Help
A gentle approach to the topic of addiction is very important if you want to actually help your loved one. Here are some tips on what not to say:
- Giving ultimatums — Telling your addicted loved one you will withdraw your love and support if they do not seek help will not motivate them in a positive direction. You cannot bargain with someone suffering from addiction because they are under so much internal pressure to keep their secret and handle it themselves that no ultimatum will work. They will risk losing your love if that’s what it takes to hold onto their addiction. That’s how strong addiction is.
- Making declarations — Telling someone suffering from addiction what they have to do will not get you anywhere. There are so much shame and guilt associated with addiction that addicts will fight for their last shred of pride with everything they have. They will come up with a hundred arguments for why you are not qualified to direct their actions.
- Playing the victim — When you tell your addicted loved one their actions are hurting you, they will feel bad — but that’s not enough to make them stop. They knew all along they were hurting you — that’s what part of their guilt is about. However, if they could stop using because it was hurting you, they would have done so long ago. Playing the victim in this situation is more likely to harm your relationship than help. It may cause your loved one to redouble their efforts to hide their addiction from you.
Approaching the issue of addiction in the wrong way can cause your loved one to withdraw even further. As much as it feels like this addiction is affecting you, it’s important to take yourself out of the equation when discussing the issue with your loved one. Focusing on them is the way to motivate them to get help.
Tips for Motivating an Addict to Get Help
The key to motivating your addicted loved one to get help is understanding that they have to take control of their situation. They have to stop denying their addiction, come up with their own internal reason for getting help, and believe they can overcome the addiction.
The first thing you can do to motivate your loved one, then, is to help them see that they really have a problem. This needs to be a non-emotional plea full of hard evidence. Every time you allow your loved one to explain away their addictive behaviors as something else, you help them stay in denial.
Often, family members enable addiction to continue out of love. You run out and rescue your loved one, so nobody, including themselves, see they are in trouble. To shake your loved one out of their denial, you have to allow them to see all those empties in the trash can and let them hear their children cry because of a lack of attention. Make your loved one clean up their own mess, and don’t let them explain away the morning headaches.
Draw your loved one’s attention to the fact they are always stressed out lately. Ask them to talk about why they’re changing jobs again. Find out why they’re borrowing money from you and others all the time. Pointing out the signs of their addiction is a gentle and compassionate way to help them see they have a problem.
Here are the next steps you can take to motivate your loved one to get help with their addiction:
- Offer information about addiction and recovery — Without pressuring your loved one to get into a recovery program, you could present some information. Let them know how common this problem is and that they’re not alone. Tell them about the thousands of Americans who enter treatment facilities every year. Find some stories about people you both know who have overcome addiction and gone on to live happy lives.
- Offer choices — One of the problems with addiction is that it happens while you’re in the middle of your life. Your loved one might be in college, just starting a career or raising children. They don’t feel like they can put their life on hold to address this addiction problem. In reality, if she doesn’t focus on overcoming her addiction, the things she’s working toward in her life may not happen.
There are different ways to approach addiction recovery, though, and you could research them and present them to her. Some combination of inpatient and outpatient work could be just right for their beliefs and lifestyle. Plenty of people take a break during college or their career and then come back better than ever. Your loved one needs to know they have options for how to proceed.
- Offer positive encouragement — People suffering from addiction lose sight of the big picture and are often treated like addiction is their only characteristic. Remind your loved one of the positive aspects of their life and personality. Encourage them to see something other than the flaws they are currently dealing with. Knowing they’re more than just their addiction can give people the motivation they need to move their lives forward in a more positive direction.
- Offer ideas for creating change — When you’re dealing with difficult situations in your life, the negative messages often take over and impede your ability to move forward. Your loved one needs to know they have the ability to change their behavior and their life. Often, people suffering with addiction feel stuck and helpless to make the necessary changes. However, everyone has the ability to change given the right information and support.
- Offer unconditional love — Addiction recovery is hard, and it can be a long journey. Your loved one needs to know you support them under any and all conditions. Admitting their addiction will mean showing you and the world, to some extent, that they are flawed. This flaw is only temporary, but it’s a big deal. Your loved one needs to understand you love them despite the addiction, and you will love them throughout all of the stages they go through in recovery.
It’s important to remember that you cannot solve this problem for your loved one. Ultimately, they will need professional guidance to overcome an addiction. You can only offer support and encouragement to seek the help they need and to stick with the program until they are successful.
Helping a Loved One Through Recovery
Motivating a loved one to get help is not the end of the story. Once your loved one commits to a recovery program, the hard work will begin, and they’re going to need you even more.
Addiction recovery is a physical and mental program to heal the body and the mind. It does not just deal with a substance and its effects. Recovery is about breaking bad habits and replacing them with healthy ones. At its core, treatment for addiction requires behavioral change that’s not easy.
Along the way, your loved one might discover an underlying mental illness or trauma that contributed to the addiction. These issues need to be dealt with for recovery to be successful. Most addicts in recovery spend a lot of time and energy dealing with painful emotions that were suppressed by the substance abuse.
Recovery is not a linear process, either. Some days you move forward and achieve new understandings about yourself and the world around you. But, some days can feel a little like moving backward. Through all the ups and downs, there will be a desire to give up and just take drugs again.
As much as you may want to, you cannot go through recovery for your loved one. You can, however, go through it with them. They will need to know you’re there supporting them emotionally, especially on the bad days. Many recovery programs have family groups that can help you learn more about addiction recovery and the role you can play in your loved one’s success.
To learn more about how you can motivate a loved one suffering from addiction to get help, contact us at Tranquil Shores in Tampa, Florida by calling (727) 888-6623 today. Let us answer all of your questions about addiction and recovery and the role you can play in helping your loved one overcome addiction.