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How to Convince an Addict to Get Help: Love, Honesty and Respect
Living with an addict is harrowing. Convincing them to get help can seem nearly impossible. If you love an addict, you may have tried all sorts of begging, threatening or bargaining tactics to coax them into treatment. Whitney Jones, MSW — an interventionist and recovery coach with over two decades of experience helping addicts accept treatment — suggests a different approach. Jones, founder of Sober Life Services and celebrating 21 years of her own recovery, uses love, respect, honesty and dignity as the foundation of her work with addicts.
Invite Your Loved One to Change
Instead of the traditional Johnson intervention model, which can be confrontational and catch the addict off guard, Jones uses an invitational intervention model. In this approach, addicted individuals are invited to attend a gathering of their loved ones to discuss their issues. Whether it is days, hours or minutes before the intervention, an invite is extended to the addict to help set the stage for a discussion that is respectful, open and reciprocal.
Jones advises clients to approach the subject in a loving, direct and nonjudgmental manner. For example, the designated individual might say, “Your family and friends are gathering in two hours and we’d like you to join us. We are concerned about you. We love you and we want to talk about possible solutions to the challenges you are having. All you have to do is listen, but we’d like to hear from you, too.”
Jones finds that most individuals when approached in this manner do show up. They know everyone who is at the intervention. They know they will be the topic of conversation. Usually they are curious and want to be present.
Don’t Blame or Shame the Addict
Blame and shame are two conditions that most addicts already experience in abundance. Confronting the addict in a way that is blaming or shaming puts them on the defense and sets up communication to fail. Instead of accusing or blaming the addict, Jones recommends operating from a place of concern and love. For example, “I fear that you are using heroin again. I am devastatingly frightened for your life. I love you and don’t want to lose you. What can I do to help you?”
Write an Intervention Letter
If you didn’t care about the fate of your loved one, you wouldn’t care if they got treatment. Jones encourages her clients to find and draw upon that love when they are preparing for an intervention. Each person is asked to pen a letter ahead of time to the addicted individual.
Letters can serve several functions in an intervention. They are a structured way to gather your thoughts ahead of time without getting caught up in the heat of the moment. They allow you to succinctly express concern and fear as well as hope. They also provide tangible reinforcement your loved one can take with them and read later. This is especially useful if your loved one is under the influence or requests time to think about entering treatment.
At the beginning of the intervention, Jones has her clients read their letters aloud one by one. “This is often a powerful turning point,” she says. “Hearing such an outpouring of love and concern can be immensely moving for the addict and everyone in attendance.”
Offer Hope for the Future
Jones recommends painting a picture of a better future when trying to convince a loved one to seek treatment. Recall memories of happier times in the addict’s life. Express your hope that these good times are possible again. “It helps to provide a vision of a better future,” says Jones. “Making the person visualize their life sober can be a strong catalyst for change.”
Many addicts have so much shame and guilt that they don’t really believe they deserve a better life. When expressing hope for their future, it’s also important to let your loved one know you think they deserve to be happy again. For example, “I want you to know that you deserve to enjoy life again. My wish is that you regain your confidence and follow the dreams you once had.”
Use the LARs: Love, Appreciation and Respect
Your loved one has likely experienced a lot of disrespect as a result of their addiction. Jones says it is critical to foster an environment that is respectful for both the addict and their loved ones. “Everyone needs to see the problem not as their fault, but as an illness and a disease,” she says. In her experience, interventions are most successful when they are rooted in a love for the addict and appreciation and respect for the courage it took him or her to be present.
Being loving, appreciative and respectful of the addict encourages them to reflect those sentiments back to their loved ones. For many, an intervention may be the first time the addict is really able to grasp the extent of pain, fear and concern they have caused their loved ones.
“Approaching the addicted individual with honesty, integrity and dignity is important,” says Jones. “If they feel respected and they feel like you are giving them a chance to be heard, they will be more willing to work with you.”
Enlist the Help of an Addiction Professional
Addiction is a complex disease. The actual behavior of drinking and drugging is only a symptom of intricate underlying biological, psychological and environmental causal factors. Whether you are trying to navigate everyday life with an addict or ready to ask them to go to treatment, it is important to seek the help of professionals who are specially trained in the disease of addiction.
“Interventions raise ‘rock bottoms’ for people,” says Jones. “The addiction elevator is always going down, and the addict can get off at any level and work their way up to a better life. Interventions save lives.”
By Sara Schapmann