Being There: Talking To Your Loved One About Drug Addiction
Being the loved one of someone who struggles with addiction is one of the most difficult challenges anyone could imagine facing– and having an effective or meaningful conversation with your addict might seem near impossible. Maybe you’ve tried hard to calmly speak to your loved one, only to have it escalate into a conversation laden with intense rage, fear, and resentment: it might leave you feeling hurt, emotionally drained, and at the end of your rope. Maybe you said some things that you regret, and maybe some old wounds were opened along with any fresh ones. Maybe you don’t really even know what you’re feeling.
Let’s be honest with ourselves: it’s really hard. It is normal, natural, and very easy to get frustrated, sad, angry, and even judgmental when you are talking to your addict about his or her problems–and even expected. If you continuously struggle with how to speak to your addicted loved one, you need to know you’re not alone. Though you might be in pain, the most important thing is that you’re here right now, wanting to improve and open the lines of communication and get your addict the help that he or she needs–and that’s the best place to start.
While there are no set rules to effective communication with those who are afflicted with addiction, there are ways to build trust and take steps to make it effective for you. Because you can’t control the way your addict feels or responds in discussions, you must focus on controlling the way that you react and respond. And, once effective communication is in place, you will be able to help your addict seek the kind of specialized treatment, like that at Alta Mira, that is needed for his or her addiction.
If ever an addict feels like he or she is being judged in the least, it can send off warning signals to completely dissolve all trust that has been built. The last thing your addict wants you to do is shed light on their addiction, because it is a source of deep shame and guilt–so treading on neutral ground is the best way to effective communication. It can be difficult, but most times it is better than a knee-jerk reaction that could cause the addict to shut down.
Perhaps your loved one has tried to open up in the past about some of the situations and problems he or she has faced throughout the course of their alcohol or drug addiction, and you find yourself wanting to respond with your personal opinions or advice–which is completely natural. Unfortunately, these types of responses can seem threatening to addicts; instead, construct your responses as feedback and recognition of their struggles. For instance: your addict may tell you about a time where he was held at gunpoint for drug-related reasons. Your instinct as a human being who loves them may be to respond with something like, “Are you serious? How could you let it get to that point? Don’t you see how dangerous this is?”
Of course, responses like these not only seem judgmental, but they will undoubtedly make your addict shut down. If you remain calm even when you are distressed over something your addict has told you, and reshape your response into one of honest feedback while still being respectful, it might sound something like this: “Wow. That must have been a really scary time for you. It hurts me that you would allow yourself to be caught up in this, but it doesn’t have to happen again.” This type of response is effective for many reasons–it not only shows that you are truly listening, but that you can control your immediate reactions and mold them into honest, calm pieces of feedback. Remember: the ultimate goal is to get your addict treatment for his or her illness, and that can only happen if he or she feels comfortable expressing their truths and struggles around you without fear of judgment.
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With compassion and love
It will always be impossible for you to actually know what goes on in your addict’s mind, but it isn’t as hard to understand what goes on in his or her heart. Remember that deep down, your addict doesn’t want to cause you pain or suffering–even though that is often a natural consequence of loving someone who struggles as an addict. Addiction is a very powerful and destructive disease, and just like any other treatment for any other disease, should be handled with compassion and love. With every response you give to your addict during a conversation, make sure there is one compassion and/or love-filled phrase: “I love you and want to help,” “That must have been really scary for you,” “How did that experience make you feel?” These types of phrases not only show that you are truly listening, but that you are vested in the emotional struggles of the addict as well as the addiction itself.
With resiliency and emotional strength
Although being kind and compassionate is a key component of communicating with your addict, it is important to remember that to have an effective conversation, you must be prepared to stand your ground and not give into the manipulations of your addict. This will perhaps be the hardest thing to carry out effectively in communicating with your loved one, simply because it will require you to not budge an inch on the rules you have in place for the relationship you wish to have with him or her.
During conversations, if you find it really difficult to withstand the manipulation tactics of your loved one, this aspect of communication is most vital. When your addict tries to avoid your gentle pushes toward treatment, or attempts to guilt trip you into feeling like his or her struggles are your fault, you simply must remember–your loved one is sick. He or she is fighting a big battle, and needs all the troops possible on their side. Instead of giving in to your addict just to see him or her temporarily happy, use phrases like, “I understand what you’re saying, and I love you no matter what, but I can’t allow you do ___ anymore,” or, “I’m here to help you get treatment when you are ready for it–but I don’t appreciate being guilted by you. Let’s be respectful of each other’s emotions.”
Remember: being strict and steadfast with your addict may make things a little tumultuous for a while, but it is for the greater good. It needs to be known that you will not compromise your well-being–physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually–just so that your addict can continue to exploit you. If you remain calm, resilient, and in-tune with your emotions as you converse, you are treating yourself with love and compassion, all while giving yourself credibility in the face of addiction.
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Encouraging treatment through effective communication
Understanding how to intervene and communicate with your addict will be tough, but it will be much tougher for you to continue to live in a state of emotional turmoil forever. Though your addict may resist these tactics initially and for a great period of time, it is important that you stick with all three of them and remain honest and true to your needs in the relationship just as much, if not more so, than your addict’s.
Getting your addict to personally want treatment as badly as you do for him or her is not an easy task. It requires time, patience, and a lot of strength to remain calm and collected in difficult conversations–especially ones with extreme emotional weight. The most important thing to keep in mind is that your addict needs to know, first and foremost, that you love him or her regardless of what has been done in the past, and that making the ultimate choice to receive effective treatment will be the best thing your addict can do for themselves. Your loved one can’t do it alone, but with your help, recovery is possible.
Finding a treatment program is the first step towards allowing your loved one and yourself to heal. Alta Mira helps educate families on how they can support their loved one’s journey to sustained sobriety–we also strive to keep the family involved in treatment. We have a team of compassionate, reputable alcohol and drug addiction treatment experts in various disciplines who are dedicated to helping people break free from substance abuse. Please contact us today.