Getting someone to go to rehab—especially someone who is adamantly against the idea—can feel like a hopelessly overwhelming challenge. But once you’ve made the decision to confront your loved one about their alcohol or drug use, it’s important you act swiftly and strategically in order to get them the help they need. Below are eight tips to get you started:
1. Don’t wait for “rock bottom”
It’s a common myth that addicts must hit “rock bottom” in order to get and stay clean and sober. While most people will need to experience at least a few painful consequences before they become sufficiently motivated to seek help, that doesn’t mean you need to wait until your loved one has irrevocably destroyed his or her life before you intervene. In fact, if you suspect your loved one has a serious problem with alcohol or drugs, it’s better to do something about it sooner rather than later. Addiction is a deadly disease and your friend or family member could die while you wait for an elusive “rock bottom” that may never appear.
2. Plan an intervention
If your loved one is in denial about their substance use disorder, it may be necessary to plan an intervention—the keyword here being “plan”, as staging an impulsive intervention can oftentimes be worse than doing nothing. Consult an interventionist or a drug and alcohol rehab beforehand in order to get a strategy in place. This is necessary so that, should the intervention be successful, you’ll be ready to move fast. You’ll need to coordinate with a rehab admissions counselor to ensure your loved one secures a spot in a treatment program and that they have the insurance or financial means in order to cover the cost of care. You’ll also need to pack a bag for your loved one and be prepared to drive him or her to the facility so that he or she can begin the detox process immediately following the intervention.
3. Talk to your loved one using “I” statements
Addiction is a mental illness, and like other mental illnesses—such as depression—those that have it often don’t realize it. They will likely feel ashamed to admit that they’ve been struggling, which is something you’ll need to keep in mind when confronting them about their alcohol or drug use. In order to avoid escalating the conversion into an argument, it’s a good idea to stick with “I” statements. For example, instead of saying “You’re ruining your life”, say “I feel sad because I think you’re in trouble” and “I want to help but I don’t know how.” This may prevent your loved one from becoming defensive and stonewalling the conversation. When expressing your feelings, however, resist the urge to vent. Though you’ll likely feel angry and frustrated, try to keep a calm and even tone and stick to the facts.
4. Admit that you don’t know everything
When someone is being confronted with a painful truth about himself or herself, their automatic response may be to deny and defend. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” they may say. Or, “You’re just over-reacting”. To minimize this, it can help to concede that it’s possible that your assumptions are wrong.
“I don’t know for certain if you have a problem with drugs—only you know the answer to that,” you could say. “But what I do know is what I’ve seen with my own two eyes, and what I’ve seen has made me scared for you.”
5. Ask your loved one to make going to rehab their “gift” to you
Your loved one doesn’t have to think they need rehab in order to go – they can go simply because they love you and this is something you want them to do. If a gift-giving holiday or birthday is coming up, tell your family member that “the greatest gift you could give me is to go to rehab.” Because even if, initially, they only enter treatment out of obligation or so that you’ll stop “bothering” them about it, once they start seeing a counselor and attending 12-step meetings, they may begin to become more receptive to the idea that their alcohol or drug abuse is causing havoc on their lives and relationships.
6. Involve the children (but carefully)
For many who are deep into their active addiction, seeing how their behavior has hurt their children can often be the eye-opener they need in order to get help. But it’s important to tread carefully when involving children to avoid causing any further trauma.
One subtle and gentle approach you can take is to have the child (or children) draw a picture of their family and then record them as they articulate their thoughts on “mommy” or “daddy” and their current life situation. Then, when the child is out of earshot, you can show your loved one their drawings or have them watch the video. Children are honest in ways that most adults aren’t able to be, and this can make them extremely effective messengers.
7. Film your loved one “in action”
Rather than telling your loved one how their behavior has embarrassed, scared or angered you, you can show them. Your loved one may not remember the things they said or did while under the influence, or if they do, they may have reconciled their behavior by convincing themselves that their actions weren’t “that bad”. Having video evidence to the contrary can force them to face reality. Once they’ve watched themselves stumbling and slurring their words or passing out in public, they may find it harder to run from the truth about their alcohol or drug use.
8. Take the fear out of detox
If your loved one has tried to detox on their own in the past, they might be hesitant to go to rehab because they’re afraid of the painful affects of withdrawal. And in many regards, they’re right to be afraid. Coming off of a substance is hard on the body and if it’s not medically managed, it can be fatal. But when you detox at a rehabilitation facility, you’re under the 24-hour care of a team nurses and doctors who specialize in detox and can help to ensure your remain safe, and as comfortable as possible.
Before suggesting your loved one go to rehab, arm yourself with the facts. A rehab admissions counselor can point you to resources that may help lessen your loved one’s fears. Detoxing may not be easy, but it’s rarely bad as people think.
A good place to start is: What’s Rehab Like? What to Expect When You Enter Treatment