When you have a loved one you suspect is struggling with an addiction, it can be difficult to know when and how to voice your concerns. Most people struggling with addiction do their best to conceal it, so it is not always easy to know the full extent of their problem. Some subtle signs there may be an issue include missing school or work, a suddenly more distant demeanor, or having difficulties with interpersonal relationships. Furthermore, if you notice your loved one is keeping odd hours or exhibiting abnormal mood swings, these are still more indicators they may be headed toward, or even fully immersed, in an addiction. You may have even noticed concerning paraphernalia, such as empty bottles, glass pipes, or needles lingering in your loved one’s home space, or they may have gotten into legal trouble. This of course, is a much clearer indication help is in need.

Though it may seem daunting, it is important to always voice your concerns when you notice any signs your loved one is struggling. According to the National Institute of Health, over 22 million people in this country are in need of drug and alcohol addiction treatment, and sadly, less than 1 percent of those folks are getting the help they need. I know it can be scary subject to tackle—we are often fearful our loved ones will push us even further away—but there are some very real tactics that can assist you in guiding the conversation to a positive place.

The first step is to schedule a low distraction time and place to meet with your loved one. Next, consider these tips to ensure your conversation goes more smoothly:

Set a Goal. When planning how to approach your loved one about their addiction, a smart first step is to check in with yourself and set a firm goal for the chat. Your primary aim should be to encourage them to get help. To that end, it’s important to avoid too much finger-pointing and rehashing of the past; you don’t want your message to get lost. You may even write down your goal to help you stay focused on the priority at hand. After all, it is easy to get wrapped up in the emotional details of the past.

Skip the Blame and Set Your Boundaries. Your loved one will not be able to hear your concern if you bring up all of the things they are doing wrong; they will only become defensive. It is fine to point out concrete reasons for your concerns, but be careful not to center the conversation on how hurt or angry you are. Instead, plainly state you are concerned for their health and well-being, and tell them that you want to talk to them about getting some help. It is important to set boundaries and be firm with how much you will tolerate. Without blaming their character, you can tell your loved one that you can’t continue to support them in their habit by providing financial help or keeping secrets for them.

Helpful phrases:

Don’t come to your love one with, “I just can’t take this anymore!  You’re ruining everyone’s lives with your alcohol/ drug use. The whole family is depressed. I can’t sleep! Why are you doing this to us? What is wrong with you?”

Instead, the conversation should look more like: “I can see that you’re struggling. It is hard for me to watch you self-destruct. I’m worried about you, and I want to support you in getting help. Until you agree to get help, I can’t keep financially supporting you. I love you, but I can’t let myself be held hostage by your addiction.” 

Focus on the Solution and Don’t Become Sidetracked. Remember, your goal in the conversation is to help your loved one become well again. If they begin to make excuses or they begin to blame you or other people for why they have a problem, don’t get dragged into an argument. Continue to acknowledge that you see they are struggling, and reinforce the fact that you want to help them find the right kind of support, so that they don’t have to keep struggling. Make sure they know you are on their side!

Helpful phrases:

If your loved one tries to distract or make excuses, you can say, “I hear that you have a lot of reasons why you’re struggling, but I don’t think it is helpful to justify or deny your drug or alcohol use. I really feel that you need help, and I want you to know I’m here to help you get the support you need.”

Know Your Resources. It may take a little time before your loved one is ready to accept help, but when they are, you’ll want to be ready with the necessary information and resources available to them. Try to find a treatment solution that will serve their unique personality. For instance, if your loved one is between the ages of 18 and 26, you may consider a facility like Sober College, which will not only assist them in addiction recovery, but also provide them with a pathway to college education and other artistic and vocational careers, and/or hobbies in the process. Providing them with a solution to their addiction while also opening new doors of opportunity, may help them feel more hopeful and optimistic about this journey, and thus, more inclined to receive help.

While you may feel hesitant to broach the topic of addiction, it is important to not let fear guide your choices. Instead, let love guide the conversation. Showing compassion and understanding for their struggle will help to dismantle much of the guilt and defensiveness your loved one is likely feeling, thus making them much more likely to accept the support you are offering.

For more information on Sober College, please visit: www.sobercollege.com

Author's Bio: 

Holly Daniels, PhD, LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist, meditation teacher and mental health advocate. She brings her many years of experience working in dual diagnosis treatment to her role as Clinical Systems Director at Sober College. After earning her degree in clinical psychology, Holly worked for many years as a primary therapist at Monte Nido and Associates, the Valley Community Clinic and The Canyon residential treatment center in Malibu, where she specialized in treating those with complex issues including co-occurring addictions, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and associated mood and anxiety disorders.
As the Clinical Systems Director at Sober College, Holly contributes her complex clinical expertise to enhance and support clinical operations within Sober College treatment centers and utilizes her passion for relationship building and business development to collaborate with professionals and families in the recovery and mental health communities. Holly shares Sober College’s dedication to encouraging and promoting self-discovery and resiliency toward long-term, sustained recovery for every young adult who comes in for treatment. She feels fortunate to be able to continue her life’s work alongside the compassionate, expert, invigorating team at Sober College.
A mother to two teenagers, Holly relies on her personal daily meditation practice to bring balance to her own life, and she enjoys teaching meditation and mindfulness skills to others. “I believe,” explains Holly, “that healing involves building connections with other healthy people and creating fulfilling, meaningful life experiences outside of treatment. Sober College offers young adults opportunities to do just that.” Holly loves watching clients grow, heal, learn gratitude and develop passions as they practice interacting with the world in life-affirming ways. “I feel fortunate to be part of such an innovative and effective team, and honored to be even a small part of our clients’ journeys.”