Chapter 3: How to Talk to an Addicted Family Member
Recognizing there is a problem is difficult for family members and addicts. Sometimes, it may feel like hope is lost, and it is easier to ignore the problem or make excuses. Far too often, family members are enablers without realizing it.
It’s understandable. Watching a family member suffer from addiction is not easy. An enabler might give a loved one money for drugs or work overtime to make up for financial loss to avoid adding more stress at home. Other family members act as enablers by provoking and scolding the addicted family member. This takes the focus off the addict’s behavior and places it on the actions of the other family member.
If you realize you are enabling a loved one, you are not alone. Addiction is complicated, and you might feel hurt by the addiction. Before you blame yourself, realize the following:
- Addiction is an illness.
- You did not cause the addiction.
- You cannot cure or control the addiction.
So, what can you do for a loved one? It may seem counterintuitive, but to help your family member you need to first help yourself and learn everything you can about their addiction.
The path to recovery can be long and painful. You will be better prepared to deal with the ups and downs if your emotions are stable. Realize that you cannot force a person to stop using, but you can encourage them to stop.
When you are ready to face your family member’s addiction head-on, prepare to be patient and consistent. Your family member may not be ready to recognize they have a problem. Either way, you want to have a discussion as early as possible. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be. Do not wait for the family member to ask for help.
In this chapter, we’ll look at ways to talk to an addicted family member about their addiction and recovery, even if they are in denial.
How to Talk to an Addict in Denial
A loved family member might not recognize they have a problem, or they might deny they have a problem. Denial protects an individual from a threat.
Denial is, in short, a lack of awareness and is created unknowingly. Without awareness of the harm they are causing themselves and other members of the family, an addicted individual will see no reason to change. Denial comes in many forms such as:
- Simple denial: The individual is not aware of their dishonesty and says their addiction is not real, even though it is.
- Minimizing: They admit they have a problem but say it is less serious than it really is.
- Blaming: They deny responsibility for a behavior and blame it on someone else.
- Rationalizing: They justify or excuse their behavior.
- Intellectualizing: They avoid emotional awareness of the problem and instead theorize or generalize the problem.
- Diversion: They change the subject to avoid the topic.
- Hostility: They become angry when the topic arises. This causes others to avoid discussing the problem.
Although it might feel impossible to bring awareness to a family member in denial, there are still ways to approach the topic. Try these tips:
- Develop a consistent positive message: Consistently remind the family member that you love them and want to help.
- Avoid blaming and arguing: Be specific and show that you care about their well-being. State how you feel rather than focusing on accusing the person of doing something wrong.
- Expect denial or rationalization of the problem: If they deny there is a problem, ask to talk to them again about the problem in the future.
- Keep your goal in mind: Your goal is to express that you believe they have a problem based on your observations, not to convince them that have a problem.
If your loved one continues to deny they have a problem, try the above steps again at a future date. If that does not work, an intervention might be necessary. Remember — you cannot force them to change or realize they have a problem. You can only show them you care.
To seek immediate help for your loved one, contact Tranquil Shores today!
With that said, there are some things you should know as a family member to prepare for an effective discussion about recovery. Never talk about recovery when you or the family member is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Your loved one will not handle the conversation logically and may act violently or irrationally.
Here are some tips to help you make the most out of the conversation between you and an addicted family member:
- Set a time: Ask to set a time when you and your family member can talk in private. The goal is to have a two-way conversation where you get to speak your concerns, and they get to share their point of view in hopes to gain a better understanding. You want a comfortable, no-pressure environment for this.
- Ensure they know you care: Start the conversation letting them know that you want to discuss things because you care about their health.
- Provide specific examples: The greater level of clarity, the less room for misunderstanding and hurt feelings. List the addictive behaviors you observed. Remind them that you are worried what will happen to them if they continue to abuse drugs or alcohol.
- Practice empathic listening: Try to first understand what they are saying and then try to be understood. Do not listen with the intent to reply. Listen to what they have to say and resist an urge to lecture.
- Set realistic expectations: Do not expect your loved one to change right away. Recovery takes time.
- Resist judging: Try not to judge and instead focus on the goal of the conversation, which is to help your loved one understand that they have an addiction problem and you want to help them because you love and care about them.
- Start small: Ask your loved one to first try cutting back on their substance intake. This may help them realize they have a problem if they are unable to cut back or if they return to heavy use after a few days.
- Recommend help: Suggest visiting a professional for an evaluation. Let them know you will go with them if they wish.
- Offer your own help: Suggest ways you can help make treatment easier for your loved one, like providing rides to appointments or childcare.
- Show your support: Reassure them you are in it for the long haul.
- Recognize the need for intervention: If conversations are not enough to encourage your family member to get the help they need, it may be time for an intervention.
Talking about addiction and recovery can be a frustrating experience, especially if you feel misunderstood or if your family member is in denial. They might react negatively or express self-pity, and you might feel tempted to react with anger because you are also suffering. Emotions can get intense, and that’s why it is best to approach your loved one when you feel prepared and stable. Remember, your family member is experiencing an illness — they might not act in ways you’d expect.
We recommend practicing compassion, as difficult as it might be at times. We understand you may feel anger or resentment toward your loved one, making it hard to feel compassion. Compassion does not mean enabling, but letting your loved one know you want to gain understanding. To practice compassion:
- Let your loved one know you recognize their suffering, and you hear them.
- Work on trying to understand your loved one’s addiction.
- Try to find outlets to release your anger so you can support your loved one through treatment.
- Practice self-compassion. Do this by acknowledging your emotions and pain and allowing yourself to feel your emotions, and express them.
- Listen with your head and your heart.
How to Break the News to Other Family Members
Some family members might be unaware of the problem. Children, in particular, could feel confused by a family member’s behavior, or they might think it’s normal to be under the influence of a drug. Older children might feel alone, embarrassed or guilty because of a family member’s addiction.
According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACA), children of addicted parents exhibit symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders more frequently than children from non-addicted families. Children from addicted families can benefit greatly from group counseling and therapy to help them cope with difficult emotions and build important skills.
Everyone needs to be considered because everyone is affected. There is nothing wrong with getting therapy as a family member of an addicted individual. In fact, it’s one of the best things someone can do.
When it comes time to talk about the addiction with other family members, encourage honesty, open communication and respect. Make it a goal to face tough emotions and overcome the addiction together.
Keep these points in mind:
- Talk honestly and openly.
- Children in addicted families need guidance and support.
- Help children express their feelings.
- Find support for all family members.
- Allow everyone a chance to feel heard.