Less than 10 percent of the people who struggle with drug or alcohol abuse get treatment, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The reasons for this lack of treatment are plentiful. For example, they may include denial of the severity of the problem (self-denial and/or loved ones’ denial), a lack of understanding of available resources or a misperception that willpower is all a person needs to overcome an addiction.
Why Curing an Addiction on Your Own Is Difficult
While it is sometimes possible to cure an addiction on your own, doing so is impossible for many people. One huge reason is that addiction literally changes the structure of the brain. For example, the pathways governing rewards can be rewired, with drug-related pathways delivering a huge hit of pleasure and pathways related to rewards such as positive socialization diminishing substantially in effectiveness. As more time passes, the brain pathways of a drug user cloud areas such as learning, memory and judgment even more, setting negative behaviors “in stone.”
Extensive work is necessary to undo the rewiring of a brain on drugs, and it is a task many people are not equipped to do themselves.
Curing an addiction on your own is also tricky because so many factors go into the process. You must identify triggers, for example, struggle with cravings and make many lifestyle changes. An entire new set of friends and/or hobbies may be necessary. Put simply, it is a lot to handle alone. Last but not least is the fact that other issues such as depression or anxiety may be occurring at the same time as drug or alcohol addiction. In fact, these other issues may be a big part of what led to the drug or alcohol addiction in the first place, and they need addressing.
What to Do For Your Loved Ones if You Suspect They Struggle with Drugs or Alcohol
First, it may be useful to explain what you should not do to help someone who may be struggling with substance abuse. For instance, refrain from judging, preaching, enabling and joining. Avoid making excuses for a person’s behavior, and do not pull guilt trips. In fact, guilt trips may drive someone to drink or use drugs even more.
Now on what to do. First, educate yourself thoroughly on drug and alcohol abuse and addiction. Make a note of the ways in which a substance is affecting your loved one’s life. For example, your mother may have lost her job or harmed herself and others while driving under the influence of alcohol. Next, reach out to a doctor or professional to find someone willing to help. This person may also be able to make customized recommendations for your situation.
Interventions and emotionally stricken pleas to get help tend to backfire. Instead, try to create incentives to encourage a person to seek treatment; one example is to not bring up a drug problem for the rest of the month if your loved one will briefly see a doctor.
Never talk to your loved one while he or she is drunk or high, and perhaps most importantly for your well-being, remember the part about not enabling.
If your husband’s mother calls to ask why he was not at a party, do not lie on his behalf. It is perfectly fine to say she needs to ask him herself, but do not cover up with a statement such as, “He was sick,” when in reality, he was blacked out.
Having the conversation when someone is hung over can be a good idea, as the person is dealing with the practical consequences of his or her struggle. Be sure to meet at a neutral place such as a park and not anywhere where alcohol is available. It is fine to share your observations on the effect the problem is having on the person’s children, work and the like. Do aim to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. (“I feel that…” instead of “You are hurting your kids.”) Say something like, “I thought you might want to talk about it.”
In some cases, specific, detailed examples can be helpful, as can having names and contact information of professionals ready in case your loved one agrees there may be a problem and is open to meeting with someone. Above all, remember that you must take care of yourself first in order to best help your loved one.