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How to talk to a loved one that is a drug addict about treatment

Drug addiction is like a bad relationship that you can't escape. You know the drug is bad for you, but you can't get away from it, even when you try. If you talk to a loved one or a close friend about quitting their drug use, you must realize it may be like asking a person to leave a close (but destructive) friend.

There are many things you should keep in mind as you approach this individual. It is good to understand addiction, withdrawal symptoms, inpatient and outpatient treatment methods, and also what those treatment facilities are going to cost with and without insurance. It is also good to keep in mind their feelings, psychological and physical dependency, and never hesitate to enlist the support of family and friends if your loved one is resistant to getting help and you have to stage an intervention. Here is some advice to help you help your loved one in this difficult and stressful life transition.
 


Do

Do understand addiction

Different Drugs can provide a number of different things to the addicted individual: an escape, pain relief, temporary improvement in anxiety or depression, improvement in sexual functioning, weight loss, or a number of other conditions that a person is trying to self-medicate. Obviously, drugs of abuse are not good long-term solution to any of these problems, but can be a factor in a person's reluctance to stop using the drug.

Do approach the person with a non-judgemental attitude

Remember that a person may be sensitive about their substance use. Think about how you would want to be treated in their situation.

After understanding what drug addiction is, they can be approached with less judgment. Asking the individual about their drug use should be free of any criticism. Avoid saying “You should…” and stick to “I feel...” statements.

Instead of "How can you put a needle in your arm?!" try "Tell me about this drug and what you like about it," or "You seem to enjoy this drug, tell me more about it."

This puts the addict at ease, and allows for more open communication. Explaining your personal feelings about the situation is less confrontational. For example, "It makes me sad when I see you going through this pain." You will notice that this statement is showing consideration for how the addict is feeling.

Do express concern for the person

The reason you are approaching this difficult matter is because you care about the person. Remind yourself, and the other person of this fact.

You can then ask the person, "Have you ever thought about quitting this drug?" Most addicts have had periods of wanting to quit their drug use. There is a loss of control with addiction. While the addict enjoys the drug's effects, there is a love-hate relationship with the drug.

Once a person admits to having thoughts about quitting, you may inquire about what they dislike about their drug use. For example, using opiates, such as Heroin or OxyContin is a frustrating thing; a person may wake up with pain, nausea, or diarrhea, in withdrawal from their drug of choice.

Do describe your feelings about the situation

Explaining your personal feelings about the person’s drug use will sound less judgmental, and is more difficult to argue with. Not every interaction will be successful; planting the seeds of Your feelings and acknowledgment of the drug problem may bloom into eventual change.

Do have a treatment option available for them

While not every discussion will lead the addicted individual into treatment, it is important to have treatment options available. Research drug and alcohol treatment options before this conversation. It is helpful to know about which facilities accept their insurance, or are within their price range. Treatment centers vary greatly in price and amenities. It is helpful to know where the addict can get help right away, when there is a window of opportunity. Visiting these centers and speaking with the staff beforehand can be helpful, but be aware that doing this research can make the addict feel that you are plotting against them, so tread lightly.

After you have done all of your research, ask your loved one if they would be willing to accept treatment. And if so, you can present your findings to them.

Do consider an interventionist if the person is resistant

Sometimes, a person does not acknowledge or want to change their problem after repeated one on one discussions. When this happens, for example with parents who have an addicted adult child, an intervention may be helpful.

If the person refuses help repeatedly, despite the encouragement of multiple family members, it may be time to consider an Intervention. This is not unlike the ones you may have seen on TV, but require much more work and preparation than you see on a 30-60 minute show.

Interventions are difficult to perform correctly, and can make the person defensive. Discussing the case with an interventionist can help guide you in the most difficult cases. An interventionists may be a Drug Counselor, Psychiatrist, Psychologist, Marriage and Family Therapist, or may not have any kind of license at all. This area of addiction help is relatively new, and does not have strict licensure requirements, state by state. It is always best to do your research, and inquire about the training and licensure of the interventionist.


Don't

Do not do intervention as the first step

An intervention should be considered a last resort when no other attempts to speak with the person have been successful. Some individuals with addiction realize that they need help, and are just waiting for a close friend or family member to encourage them to get treatment. Intervention is not always necessary.

Do not preach

Telling the person, “Using drugs is bad for you,” or making moral statements such as, “A good Christian shouldn’t be drinking so much,” will make them defensive. Attempt to remove your personal ideals about the drug or alcohol use for a moment, and learn about the person and their struggle.

Do not use the word "you"

It sounds confrontational. Stick to “I” statements such as, “I feel scared by your drug use,” or “I love you, and this is why I am worried.” Using “I” is a way to express your personal feelings, rather than placing blame on the other individual.

Do not take the addiction personally

Remember that lying, cheating, stealing, and other behaviors are part of addiction, and may not be a reflection of the drug users feelings toward you. A person may become very upset when confronted about their drug use, and this anger is a part of the addiction.

Addiction is like a dysfunctional relationship with a lover; the addict both loves and hates the drug at various points in time. When discussing drug or alcohol use with this person, you are pointing out the dysfunction in their long-term relationship. Remember this, and you will take their anger less personally.

Do not let them attempt detox or treatment on their own

Stopping drugs or alcohol cold turkey can be dangerous, or even deadly. Never attempt to detox yourself without seeking the guidance of a professional.

For many who are addicted to drugs, there are periods of intense withdrawal when the substance is stopped. Many drug users will continue their substance use to feel well (particularly opiate users), and no longer get high from the drug. Following using their drug of choice, there is a period of shame for many individuals. This shame, combined with the drug withdrawal, fuels continued use of the substance.

This is the vicious cycle of drug use that keeps addicts hooked.

Avoiding withdrawal from various drugs can be scary, or even medically dangerous, so professional advice should be sought.


Summary
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While this article discusses general principles related to talking to an addict, it does not constitute medical advice. You should always consult a medical professional and an addiction specialist prior to any decisions or discussions with your loved one. There are many things to keep in mind, and this advice will help prepare yourself for getting your loved one the help they need to live a happy and sober life.


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Jeremy Martinez, MDAddiction Psychiatrist

Jeremy Martinez, MD is an Addiction Psychiatrist who works at Pasadena Recovery Center and The Solstice Clinic in Los Angeles, CA. His addiction training was completed at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, with general psychiatry training at t...

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