One of the main obstacles when it comes to facing an addiction is admitting there is, in fact, a problem. Anyone familiar with treatment and the 12 Steps knows that the 1st Step is accepting that you are powerless over your addiction, and it is often said to be the most difficult. The concept is difficult to grasp because it threatens the thing a person with SUD feels is holding them together.
As family members or friends begin to understand their loved one’s addiction, it becomes clear to them that addiction defies logic. It corrodes trust, manipulates a person’s moral compass, destroys relationships, homes, and livelihood. A disease of the mind and body, addiction causes the afflicted person to believe they need it no matter what, and they will likely put up a fight to give it up. They will likely deny there is a problem at all, and may deny any help or treatment at first.
What is known for certain is that treatment and connection is the way to reach a person who is in the throes of addiction, and through research and evidence-based treatment, some steps have been proven to help when approaching someone about getting professional help. There are also ways in which you can arm yourself by establishing boundaries and maintaining your own mental health so that if your loved one is still denying an addiction and/or treatment, you can still find peace of mind.
Signs of a Problem
If a person has been using substances heavily for quite some time, they have likely been approached before about their use, or thought about it themselves. However, because they have become mentally and physically addicted to this substance, they will not want to stop using. The question is, how can you know if a person’s use has become a serious problem?
Establishing whether their use has become an addiction is the first step. They may be exhibiting the following:
- Drinking/using far more than normal
- Experiencing blackouts or nodding out
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Problems at work or at home
- Lack of interest in activities they once enjoyed
- Diminished or dramatic changes in physical functioning (extreme exhaustion or very rapid, excitable behavior)
- Financial difficulties
- Unexcused absences
- Lying or making excuses
If you have established that they have a problem and are concerned, you may feel ready to approach them about it.
It is worth noting that if you have tried to talk to them about it and they were intoxicated at the time, there’s a chance they may have been amenable to the conversation. They may have been open to discussing it, or agreed that they needed help, only to take it back upon later reflection when they sobered up or started to come down. The best time to approach a loved one about their drug or alcohol use is when they are sober, if at all possible.
Common Methods of Denial
If you are thinking of taking the plunge to talk to the person you’re concerned about, there are several methods of denial that you should look out for. Try to keep in mind that their denial is not something you should take personally—it is their addiction kicking into survival mode.
Some of the common forms of denial include:
- Deflecting: Comparing their use to others’, or saying that their use is the same or not as bad. Saying that everyone does it and that it is nothing out of the ordinary. Accusing the concerned person of doing something bad as a way to shift blame away from themselves.
- Minimizing: Dishonesty about the amount they are using, trying to cover it up to diminish others’ concern. Comparing it to another person’s use, or saying they use much less than others think.
- Dishonesty: Flat out denying there is a problem even if presented with evidence or testimony of others, likely responding with hostility or defensiveness.
- Manipulating: Dismissing by claiming it is mere disapproval, judgment, the person not wanting them to have fun. This can even make the concerned party think it is their error to bring the attention to light.
- Bartering/Empty promises: Saying they will stop or cut down; promising to replace one substance with another or a form of a substance they believe to be less dangerous (i.e. switching hard liquor with beer).
- Justification/Rationalization: Claiming the reason they use is because of x, y, z – this could be from trauma they experienced, a difficult job or relationship they feel they are ‘stuck’ in, other misfortunes or hardships they feel contribute to their need to use. (‘Anyone in my situation would do the same.’)
- Falsely claiming control: They will say they do have control over their addiction, and say they could stop any time they wanted.
No matter what method of denial they choose to employ—sometimes unknowingly, as addiction is so insidious—their attempts will all be to diminish your concern. For this very reason, it shows that there is a problem that they are making excuses for. Whether they have ever struggled with honesty before or have been transparent in all their relationships up until now, their addiction has brought forth a whole new territory to traverse.
Choosing to Intervene
When dealing with a person who is in the midst of an addiction, we must also remind ourselves that their behaviors, actions, and words are not the person we know and care for. In truth, they are dealing with an untreated disease that is a matter of life and death, and the danger it poses far outweighs any anger they might feel toward you in confronting them. The urgency in getting help for addiction is more important than ever in the current opioid epidemic.
Intervening will be difficult, but it can be made easier if you have a mutual friend, family member, or recovery advocate that can be with you for the conversation. If you suspect the person with the Substance Use Disorder might feel threatened/ganged up on by this, merely have the person in another room or closeby while conducting the conversation if it would ease your discomfort.
When trying to frame the conversation around their addiction and your concern for them, highlight the effects their use has had on their life and others around them. This can be specific incidents, issues with their health or work, family and/or relationship discord, etc. Try to be gentle with your approach so as not to shame or guilt them; they are more likely to shut down to resort to the aforementioned denial.
In order to protect yourself, if a person is not agreeing to get treatment, stand your ground. If you feel their use and behaviors stemming from their addiction are putting you in danger, take the steps to keep yourself safe. For example, if they live in your home, impose a curfew or a rule that prohibits drugs or alcohol. Set up boundaries that will ensure your safety and explain that if they are not open to seeking professional help, you may need to distance yourself until they are willing to.
How We Can Help
At the core of your concern for your loved one is compassion and fear for their well-being. Though they may not see it at the time of the conversation, you would not intervene if you did not care for them. Our desire for the people we love and care for is health and happiness, and that is simply not attainable when living with an active addiction. With the right support and treatment, the person living with this addiction will begin to see the reality of their disease, and begin to see that their life is worth fighting for. Then they can begin to accept life on life’s terms, and take the first step toward recovery.
Consulting a therapist, attending family support meetings for support, or calling our specialists at Granite Recovery Centers are some other ways to navigate a loved one’s addiction and the denial that may follow. Our Admissions Specialists are available 24/7, and are happy to advise you on treatment that is available for you or your loved ones. Please give us a call today.