What’s the best approach when someone you love is walking a path to danger and destruction because of substance abuse?
If you believe a loved one has a substance abuse problem, do something about it – as soon as possible and before it’s too late
Just as addiction is devious in nature, so too are addicts. The insidiousness of creeping addiction forces the addict to become sneaky and wily. Because of this, by the time loved ones become aware of a problem, the journey is often well on its way. In such a situation, hope and love become dangerous bedfellows, lulling you into a state of delusion that your addict loved one will eventually give up on their own. Or, guilt becomes a prevailing emotion where you believe you may have driven them to the state they’re in. All this stymies positive action.
DID YOU KNOW: Brain imaging studies of drug-addicted individuals show changes in areas of the brain that are critical to judgment, decision making, learning and memory, and behaviour control?
It’s not easy to make the decision to confront an addict. And it’s not easy to do the confronting once you’ve made the decision to do so. But, for most addicts, intervention by people who care about them is often their only chance of survival.
If you believe a loved one has a substance abuse problem, whether it’s over-the-counter pain killers, alcohol or the latest street drug, do something about it – as soon as possible and before it’s too late. But do it respectfully, with love and after serious thought and planning. Here are some tips on how to stage a successful intervention. Remember always, that any intervention needs a good dose of care and understanding, as well as a heavy dash of resolve.
- Get help: form a planning group made up of concerned friends or family members who you know will bring wisdom and strength to the table. If necessary, consult a professional counsellor or social worker to assist you
- Get information: do some research about the extent of your loved one’s addiction and the treatment options available. Find out costs, if treatment involves a clinic, and understand what you may be in for once treatment begins
- Get the message: form an intervention team, which doesn’t have to include all the planning members, and spend time together formulating a consistent message that you’ll communicate to your addict loved one. It’s important that you are all in full agreement about the necessary measures
- Get conditional: decide upfront what consequences your addicted loved one will face should they refuse treatment. Each member of the intervention team must decide and stick to certain conditions; for example, the addicted person may be asked to move out of the family home if they don’t agree to treatment
- Get the story straight: before you stage the intervention, write down specific incidents where the addiction resulted in issues and the toll it has taken on the addict as well as members of the intervention team
- Get going: once your planning is complete, set a time and date for the intervention, without telling your addicted loved one what it’s about. Each member of the intervention team must take turns in presenting their concerns and feelings. Then present your chosen treatment option and ask for a decision to be made immediately. Reiterate the consequences of not accepting treatment.
If you don’t plan an intervention properly, it could easily backfire, leaving your addicted loved one feeling under attack and more resistant to treatment.
NOT ABOUT WILLPOWER
A person may well make a conscious choice to take that first drink, that first drug. But when addiction begins, it’s no longer a question of choice. Essentially, drugs affect the way your brain works by tapping into its communication system and disrupting the way nerve cells process, send and receive information. Different drugs or substances have slightly different mechanisms, but all affect the brain’s pathways. Two ways drugs cause a disrupting in the brain’s communication structure are by imitating the natural chemical messengers (such as marijuana and heroin); or overstimulating the reward circuits, (e.g. cocaine and methamphetamines).
AFTER THE FACT
A successful intervention is just the first step and treatment is also not an easy process. Withdrawal is difficult and depending on the substance your loved one is addicted to (remember that many addicts have more than one substance they favour), withdrawal symptoms can vary and may need to be supervised by a medical practitioner. Withdrawal and detoxification isn’t the end of the road, either. It’s vital for counselling and preferably behavioural therapy to also take place.
Recovering from addiction is never over. Remember that fact when you are supporting a loved one. Addiction has happened once and it can happen again. Show support by changing your own behaviour in ways that don’t trigger drug and alcohol use – for example, if you usually have alcohol in your home, get rid of it. Remove as many reminders and triggers as you possibly can and agree to counselling if that is going to help your loved one move toward sobriety.
Everyone in the intervention team must be aware that they’re in it for the long haul and must be committed to supporting the addict as far as possible in their journey to sobriety.
DID YOU KNOW: Between 40-60% of people relapse after addiction treatment and that opioid users have a higher rate of relapse than other addicts?