Why Can’t My Loved One Stop Abusing Drugs and Alcohol?

By The Fix staff 07/11/18
Most people in active addiction can’t imagine a life without drugs or alcohol.
A couple on a couch, arguing.
It’s painful to watch someone in a downward spiral.

For anyone who’s struggling with addiction, there are countless people around that individual who are suffering, too. Drug and alcohol abuse causes a ripple effect that reverberates through everyone and everything. If your loved one is suffering, you probably see the solution to their problems clearer than anyone. It can also be easy to see addiction as a point of weakness or a personality flaw. But for someone in the throes of active addiction, nothing is easy. Stopping simply isn’t an option. Most people in active addiction can’t imagine a life without drugs or alcohol. Even worse, if they’ve tried to stop before, they may have experienced all the mental and physical consequences of withdrawal and turned right back to the false comfort of substance abuse. In fact, that’s the nature of addiction: it’s a disease that locks people like your loved one into a pattern from which it seems there’s no escape. They don’t have any control over their behavior and keep craving the same substances that are likely killing them. Left untreated, things will probably only get worse for your loved one (and you) until there are no choices left at all.

A Better Today (ABT) sees addiction as a disease, not unlike diabetes or heart disease. It’s a complex problem triggered by many behavioral, biological and environmental factors. The first thing to understand about addiction is that it’s a lifelong disease. It doesn’t just go away. It can’t be cured; it can only be controlled. Not everyone suffers from addiction the same way, either. Because of this, there’s no one-size-fits-all model. In order to address someone’s addiction, a treatment plan needs to be developed that’s as unique as the person wrestling with the disease. When drugs and alcohol become an addiction as much as a way of life, it’s virtually impossible for people to stop using on their own. It’s also incredibly difficult for you to help them without professional help and guidance. From hallucinations to nausea, tremors to uncontrollable sweating, withdrawals are medical problems in all the same ways that they’re barriers to sobriety. There is hope, though. With the right staff, support and medication, withdrawals can be managed. And in time, your loved one can get their life and freedom back.

Just as it’s not easy for your loved one to stop using drugs and alcohol, it’s not easy to get them to agree to treatment, either. While you should educate yourself on the nature of addiction, you should also inform yourself of all the options available to you and your loved one. Going online for information is a good place to start, but you may find it helpful to speak directly with an addiction specialist. After all, there’s no guidebook for how to navigate the complexity of what you’re dealing with. By speaking with a professional, you can draw up a plan for how to help guide your loved one to treatment. At the very least, you need to find the best way to communicate the desperate need for your loved one to stop using. Interventions are a common way of doing that, but you can’t hold one without a game plan. Like anything when it comes to addiction, though, with the right help, what once seemed impossible or daunting suddenly becomes doable.

Staging an intervention takes lots of planning. If done correctly, it will be the most important—and best—method to communicate your serious concern and love. The cruel truth about interventions, though, is this: no matter the amount of planning, no matter the time and energy spent in gathering friends and family and co-workers to help your loved one understand the gravity of their situation, there’s no guarantee that one will work. All you can do is prepare. He or she may understand the severity of their problem and seek help—or they may simply ignore everything you have to say and keep using. But interventions have a good track record for nudging people into treatment. An intervention might not work immediately, but it might plant the seed in your loved one’s head that they’re in the grip of something larger than themselves. If your loved one doesn’t respond the way you want them to, don’t give up. It’s as much a process as it is a journey for everyone involved.

If the intervention doesn’t go as you’d planned, the best possible thing you can do is enforce healthy boundaries between you and your loved one. If your loved one decides they’re never going to stop using, you need to have prepared yourself for that devastating possibility. Boundaries are key. That way, you’re protected from being too negatively affected by anything they do. Boundaries differ from person to person, but they can range from establishing an agreed-upon place to meet (only at a coffee shop downtown, for example) or limiting the amount of time you’ll see them. Refusing money is another common tactic people use. Some people also choose to break off contact with their loved ones for a while. It’s painful to watch someone in a downward spiral. By having a healthy distance, you’re removing yourself as a factor in their problem. They won’t be able to rely on you as a safety net. That said, it’s difficult to determine what boundaries will be right for you. Speaking with a professional will help you better understand the needs on both sides, as well as helping you lay out a plan of action.

If an intervention isn’t the right option for your loved one, all isn’t lost. You have options. There are a number of support groups you can choose from, including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, among other 12-step programs. (Don’t forget that there are programs and support groups for you, too, like Al-Anon.) Fortunately, there is no shortage of meetings going on at any hour of the day in many cities, either. If nothing else, these groups are insightful, free ways to learn about the disease of addiction from other people who have endured the same struggles your loved one has. Sometimes, that’s all it takes for someone battling addiction: hearing their story told by someone sitting right across from them.

When it comes right down to it, you have to remember that you can’t get your loved one sober. You can’t make them stop. Only they can decide to put substance abuse behind them. No amount of pressure you put on someone will ever drive them to quit and get better. Sometimes, the opposite may happen: you might end up driving them even deeper into their addiction, simply by trying to help. Also, even if your loved one makes it into a treatment program, you can’t work their program of sobriety. They have to carry that burden and put in the necessary work. You can’t do any of the heavy lifting that’s required of someone embarking on sobriety. After all, if they don’t pursue recovery for themselves, they’ll have no chance at finding lasting sobriety or a happy, meaningful life.

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