Identifying the Signs and Talking with a Loved One About Addictive Behavior
Through the holidays and into January with football season playoffs, we may be around our family members much more than usual. With this increased togetherness, certain unhealthy behaviors that our loved ones may be able to hide from us during the rest of the year may suddenly come into the light. When this happens, we may understandably be caught off-guard and unsure where to begin in terms of having a constructive conversation about our concerns.
Take note of the signs of addictive behavior
First, it’s important to trust our instincts. If we sense something is wrong, there’s a good chance we are right. A tendency for our family member to isolate from traditional holiday festivities in an uncharacteristic way may be a clue to a real problem, as could significant irritability or other notable changes in his or her behavior, personality and typical grooming and self-caring habits. Examples include:
- Problems at work or school such as chronic absenteeism, disinterest, and/or a drop in performance
- Changes in demeanor such as irritability or a lack of energy and motivation
- Neglected personal grooming or overall appearance
- Behavioral changes such as secrecy or changes in relationships with family and friends
- Increased spending coupled with requests for money, or missing valuables or cash
Make a plan for your first conversation
If you suspect something, you must make a serious plan to say something. Do be prepared for denial and push back from the individual as he or she has likely become quite adapt as hiding addictive behavior.
Confronting a loved one struggling with the disease of addiction is hard and heartbreaking. If you don’t feel you can do this on your own please seek the assistance of a treatment facility or a professional interventionist.
If you choose to talk to your loved one on your own, it is helpful to jot down the main points of what you want to say beforehand. For example, you’ll want to point out the effects that your loved one’s drinking or drug usage has had on their career, physical health, and relationships with children and friends. Highlighting these negative effects out in a compassionate, yet honest way is crucial to the success of the conversation. Be prepared in advance.
Pick a time when your loved one is sober, but have a support person standing by – either in close proximity or waiting by the phone – in case things don’t go as well as hoped. Having a few names of local support agencies to give to your loved one if the conversation allows may be empowering for both of you. Sometimes choosing a time just after an embarrassing night of misusing substances can be effective, as your family member may be feeling remorseful and receptive to considering help.
As scary as it can be to begin a difficult conversation, saying nothing is much more devastating for everyone involved – especially your loved one. You may be afraid of not saying what you seek to say perfectly, mentioning the wrong thing, or getting your family member angry, but as long as you focus on the addictive behaviors and their consequences rather than the personal failures of the individual, you can feel more confident that your message will be received in a positive light.
Express your feelings in a caring, honest way and be sure to listen carefully to your family member’s responses so that you can reflect back his or her feelings. Try to remain rooted in the facts of the situation rather than get too emotional, as this technique will also help to minimize defensiveness.
Be prepared for plenty of minimizing and denial as well as some questionable truth telling. Try to bring up incidents in a very specific way rather than speaking in generalities. Speak also in terms of your personal feelings rather than being accusatory. Say things such as “I’m worried” and “I noticed you were late to our breakfast date yesterday morning and looked very stressed.” Avoid the temptation to blame, shame or criticize them.
Treat yourself with compassion
Remember that addiction is a disease.
If you feel like you are not getting through, don’t take it personally. Denial is a common reaction for those suffering from addiction. If your loved one doesn’t listen to you right now what you have said may have an effect on them later. Provide them with the locations and times for a local Alcoholics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous or another support group meeting. Having the name and number of an addiction professional or a treatment center may also be helpful. Again, trust your instincts in terms of what type of help your loved one might be open to receiving. Small steps are best – particularly in the beginning.
Regardless of how the conversation goes, avoid offering alcohol when your family member visits, and if he or she repeatedly asks to borrow money, it may be time to refuse them as you may be enabling them. Also try not to enable your family member’s behavior further by receiving and engaging in late night telephone calls, especially if you suspect drunkenness or active drug usage.
Most importantly, if you live with the family member, be sure you are taking active steps to tend to your own physical, emotional, spiritual and social needs. It can be especially exhausting to witness your loved one struggling on a daily basis with the disease of addiction and feel like you are all alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for professional help when you need personal support. Only you can care for yourself. Al-Anon can be a great resource for family members of those suffering with addiction.
Find an AA Meeting http://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/find-local-aa
Find a CA Meeting https://ca.org/meetings/
Find an Al-Anon Meeting http://www.al-anon.alateen.org/find-a-meeting
To speak with a professional at Clear Springs Ranch about your loved one call 877-843-7262.