“The worst thing is watching someone drown and not being able to convince them that they can save themselves by just standing up.”
For me, this quote has always epitomized what it feels like to watch someone battle substance abuse and addiction, in denial that any problem even exists. It can be very difficult to be a bystander in a situation like this, knowing that the person on the other side can improve their life if they just acknowledge the problem and take the right steps to combat it.
In this situation, you may feel like you have exhausted all your options when it comes to trying to help someone with substance abuse disorder—and the reality is that sometimes that may be true. But that doesn’t mean you should stop trying. Helping an addict or alcoholic takes education, persistence, and patience.
The following are points to keep in mind when attempting to intervene or help someone battle substance abuse and addiction.
Develop An Understanding Of What Denial Is
In order to understand what goes on in the mind of someone battling substance abuse and in denial, it is important to understand exactly what denial is in a situation such as this.
According to Merriam-Webster, the psychological definition of denial is “a condition in which someone will not admit that something sad, painful, etc., is true or real.” Often it is difficult for addicts and alcoholics to reach out for help because they don’t think any problem exists—denial is that powerful. Denial can also be a coping mechanism of sorts. Someone with a substance abuse disorder may have an inkling that something is wrong, but they may remain adamant in their denial of a problem in order to keep drinking or using.
Do Not Enable An Addict Or Alcoholic
Sometimes family members and friends of someone with a substance abuse disorder make the mistake of enabling the addict or alcoholic through their own behaviors. In this sense, enabling means that family or friend’s actions allow the addict or alcoholic to continue their self-destructive behavior. This could mean paying their legal fines, bailing them out of jail, or even continuing to forgive them time and time again. In order to stop enabling someone, it may feel like you’re too harsh or mean. But ultimately, when you stop enabling someone it is a sign of how much you care for them.
This can often be a sign of codependency. If you think that you might be in a codependent relationship, it’s important to seek help not just for your loved one, but yourself.
Pay Attention To How You Approach Someone With A Substance Abuse Disorder
If you broach the topic too often or too aggressively, threatening legal action or rehab, it is likely the addict or alcoholic in your life will begin to pull away and seek comfort in using. Before confronting the addict or alcoholic, think through what you want to say. This may mean planning an intervention. Come up with specific instances that demonstrate how their addiction has become detrimental to their life and the lives of those around them. Try to convey how their addiction has affected you specifically. Do not cast blame or negativity, but rather focus on why you why like to see your loved one lead a better, substance-free life. Express that while there is no easy cure for addiction, you are committed to helping in any way possible.
Make It Clear That You Will Help When They Are Ready To Seek Treatment
Even if this is not the case immediately after confronting a loved one about their addiction, it’s important to express that your support is not going anywhere. They should know they have someone to turn to when they are ready to confront their problem and take action by seeking treatment and recovery. When someone is ready to undergo treatment, it is important that they have support and feel as if people care whether or not they recover. Knowing someone cares about their well-being may be a positive factor in their recovery.
Though not all of these suggestions will work in every situation, they are a good place to start if you are unsure how to help an addict in denial.