Discovering that a loved one has an issue with substance abuse is a distressing situation. It has the potential to rock a family dynamic to its very core. Few people feel equipped to deal with the situation effectively, and most people struggle when trying to convince an addict to go to rehab.
It’s a challenging process, but there are general guidelines to follow about what not to do, as well as strategies that can help persuade a person struggling with addiction to get help.
How Not to Deal With an Addicted Loved One
There are specific tactics that simply don’t work. It’s in your — and your addicted loved one’s — best interest to learn how to address the issue of encouraging them to get treatment. Here are a few strategies to avoid
- Ignore it. Some people wrongly believe the best way to deal with an addicted loved one is to ignore the situation. When confronted about their drug or alcohol use, addicts will lie. The behavior is part of the disease. Even if an addict is confronted with clear evidence of drugs — such as a bag of marijuana, cocaine or pills — they will have some type of story or excuse to deflect blame away from their behavior. They may say that the drugs aren’t theirs or that they only tried them once them. The addict may promise never to use again. Your family member may simply deny any knowledge about the drugs or how they came to be in their possession.
If you decide to ignore the situation, you are only allowing the addiction to continue and become stronger. Your addicted family member will tell you anything they think you want to hear to get you to back off and allow them to continue using.
- Become Angry. Getting angry in this situation is understandable. It’s frustrating and hurtful to deal with a family member who is an addict. It’s difficult to see someone you care for and who you know has the potential to accomplish a lot in their life throwing it away because of substance abuse. You may see them making poor choices repeatedly in order to support their drug habit, and you don’t understand why their drug of choice always has to come first.
Approaching an addict while you’re angry or aggressive won’t help them change or make healthier choices. Addiction is a disease, and it creates a physical dependency. An addict’s brain no longer reasons in the same manner as a non-addict. Unless they seek professional help, feeding the addiction is their main priority and will always come first.
- Use Guilt or Shame. You must learn to separate the person from the addiction. Don’t use phrases designed to make an addict feel guilty or shameful because of their addiction — it’s not an effective way to encourage them to go to treatment.
People aren’t blamed for having other chronic illnesses like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, multiple sclerosis, heart disease or lupus. Addiction is a chronic disease, too. The initial choice to use drugs was likely the individual’s choice, but once they develop an addiction it’s no longer a choice.
No one has the ability to turn back time and change past events. Continuing to try to make your loved one feel guilty about the past is not the best choice when you want them to turn toward a better future. Your family member is likely struggling with low self-worth already, which is likely an underlying reason for their addiction. If you try to guilt or shame them into going to treatment, you could be unknowingly feeding the underlying reasons that keep the addiction going.
Can You Force an Addict Into Rehab?
You may see that your loved one needs help for addiction. Wouldn’t it be quick and easy if you could just have them “sent” to a treatment program where they can get the help they need? Not so fast. Even someone who is deep in the throes of addiction and making really lousy choices for themselves has the right to make those lousy choices.
They are able to manage their own affairs in the way they choose, and they particularly have the right to refuse treatment. Detox and drug treatment fall under this category. As long as your loved one is considered competent to make their own decisions, they can decide for themselves whether they want to get medical treatment for their substance abuse in most instances.
Reasons for Committing Someone for Addiction Treatment
There are several reasons why a family may consider committing their loved one for treatment:
- The family members have tried other options and feel completely frustrated in their efforts to move their loved one toward getting the help they need. The family feels they don’t have any choices left.
- The level of drug abuse has escalated to a point where the addict’s life is in danger.
- The addict is either a danger to themselves or others when under the influence of their drug of choice.
- The addict’s substance abuse is making the symptoms of an existing health problem worse, and this is putting their life in imminent danger.
Under certain very narrow circumstances, the court can order that a person be ordered into treatment if they have a mental health issue. Involuntary commitment is only used as a last resort, and the court will only allow someone to be committed without their consent for up to 72 hours. In the case of an addict, the person will need to clearly demonstrate they are putting their own lives at risk and the danger is imminent (not simply due to the fact they are using drugs) or that they are a risk to others.
Involuntary commitment for addiction is no longer common. At one time, concerned family members would discuss their concerns with the family doctor, who would arrange for the addicted family member to be committed to a hospital.
The civil rights movement in the 1960s meant that all civil liberties were examined, including patients’ rights not to be involuntarily committed simply on the suggestion of on relative. Medical professionals are far less willing to get involved in this type of situation now. Judicial decisions interpreting the law have set the standard for the burden of proof higher before the court will allow family members to obtain an order allowing them to force someone into treatment.
The need for treatment is great, and courts are mindful that there must be a treatment center with a vacancy available to send an individual to when it issues an order. There are not enough community resources available to manage all the potential requests for involuntary commitment to a detox or treatment center.
Involuntary Commitment Treatment Laws
The following are some examples of laws passed in certain states regarding involuntary commitment for drug treatment. Specific provisions about who can apply for a court order, the standard that must be met before the court will intervene and how long someone can be made to stay at a treatment center.
Kentucky has Casey’s Law to help parents and other concerned people in an addict’s life get them into treatment. Named for Casey Wethington, who died of a heroin overdose in 2002 at age 23, the law allows a petition to be filed with the court requesting an order for involuntary commitment. The respondent has the right to be examined by the court as well as two medical professionals (one of whom must be a physician). The petitioner must show that the addict is a danger to himself or others. If the court finds that the addict could benefit from treatment, an order will be made that they will undergo treatment from 60-360 days. The petitioner is responsible for paying for the cost of treatment.
Florida has the Marchman Act. It is used to help families get loved ones into a court-ordered and monitored assessment or detox, and long-term treatment program when they won’t seek help on their own. An addict’s spouse, family member (blood relative) or any three people who have “direct knowledge” of their substance abuse can apply for a court order. The court requires proof that the addict has lost their self-control in the addiction and that they are likely to inflict harm on themselves or other people if they don’t get treatment. The applicants for the court order must also show that the addict can’t appreciate that they need help or make “rational decisions” about needing to get treatment. The addict must also be unwilling to voluntarily go to treatment.
Connecticut law sets the standard for having an addict committed to a drug treatment facility to a very high level. The person must be either dangerous to themselves or others when intoxicated or gravely disabled. The State’s definition of gravely disabled means someone who could suffer serious harm because they fail “to provide for basic human needs and refuses to accept necessary hospitalization.” A probable cause hearing is held to determine whether the person should be placed in treatment. The court appoints two doctors (one of them must be a psychiatrist) to examine the person who is the subject of the application for the court order. Making a false claim carries severe penalties of a fine or imprisonment.
Does Forced Rehab Work?
Even if forcing someone to get drug or alcohol treatment is possible, is it effective? It does get someone to go to a program, but it can’t make them cooperate with the staff or participate fully. For those who are ordered by the court to go to treatment, failure to comply with the order to get help with their addiction means the possibility of being held in contempt of court and a jail sentence.
An addict does not have to wait to hit “rock bottom” before they will treatment can be successful, nor do they have to be “ready” to give up their addiction. If family and friends waited until an addict decided on the optimal moment to get clean, very few people would ever go to treatment. The addiction would simply continue on, and grow stronger over time.
Nearly 40 percent of clients admitted to publicly-funded treatment programs in the US were referred to these programs by the court.
In Ontario, Canada, 22 percent of clients referred to publicly-funded treatment had a specific condition attached to treatment entry. These conditions ranged from being a condition of probation or parole, receiving social assistance, continued attendance at school, child custody or contact with family members.
Over eight percent of the Canadian clients referred to in the point above were referred to treatment by the justice system. A similar percentage was referred by family members or friends.
Sending an addict to treatment through the judicial system is a type of coercion; however, the addict can choose not to comply with the court order and go to jail. Someone who has been deemed a danger to themselves or others will be hospitalized and evaluated.
If an addict chooses to refer themselves for drug treatment, they may be doing so to minimize consequences from an employer or the legal system (i.e., they need to get clean and sober to avoid losing their job or to make a better case for themselves following a DUI charge). This can also be thought of as a type of coercion.
Can putting someone in the position where they “have” to make the choice to get treatment or suffer consequences that are worse work? Yes, it can, as long as there are going to be clear consequences if the addict does not choose to get the help they need. They need to understand that they can’t continue living the same lifestyle anymore.
Ways to Admit Someone Into Rehab
How do encourage someone to check into a treatment program if you aren’t even sure they will really go for help? You start with a plan:
- Initiate a Conversation
You may have had heated conversations with your addicted family member before about their habit, but this one is going to be different. Choose a time when they are sober, not hung over or looking for their next fix.
Don’t make it easy for your loved one to simply walk out on your conversation. Suggest going for a drive or going to a neutral location together. If they agree to meeting at a neutral location, choose somewhere outside of your local neighborhood.
- Make the Discussion About your Loved One
The purpose of your discussion is not to unload your frustrations and anger on your family member. If you have been living with addiction in your family for any length of time, you have likely had discussions (and probably arguments) about how your loved one’s addiction is affecting the family already. This time, you are going to keep the focus squarely on your loved one and what you have observed about their life since they have become addicted.
Start with saying that you wanted to talk to your family member because you love and care for them. State what you have personally observed in connection with your loved one’s behavior surrounding the addiction — without passing any judgment. This can be challenging, and you may want to practice what you are going to say in front of a mirror or with another family member. Don’t be so practiced that it sounds like you are not sincere, though.
- Bring your Loved One into the Discussion
Next, ask your loved one whether they can see how their life would change for the better if they weren’t drinking or using drugs anymore. Your goal is not to “sell” them on the idea of checking into a treatment facility but to get them to see that getting help would benefit them. You’ll be more successful in getting someone to agree to seek help if they agree that it’s something that will lead to positive benefits for them.
- Talk About Reservations your Loved One May Have
Now, you’ll need to deal with objections your loved one may have about going to treatment. They may agree — in principle — that getting clean and sober is a good idea — but there is some reason why they can’t do it right now.
For some people, it is the fear of going through detox. They may have heard horror stories about what the process feels like and are prepared to do just about anything to avoid experiencing withdrawal. Tell them that withdrawal support is available from a medically-supervised detox program. Your loved one can get help for cravings, as well as the physical and other psychological symptoms of withdrawal. Counseling and support are provided after detox is completed to help clients cope with feelings of depression and worry.
- Don’t Argue the Point
Don’t get pulled into an argument about whether the problem is serious enough to warrant treatment or what “you” have done to contribute to your loved one’s addiction. Addicts are very good at deflecting attention away from the issue at hand or blaming others for their problem.
Refuse to be drawn into this type of situation. Say that you want to be a source of support for your loved one to get the help they need and that you want them to get better.
- Get Help from a Professional Interventionist
An intervention is not about punishing the addicted family member. It gives the family affected by addiction the chance to let their addicted family member know that they are no longer prepared to allow that person to continue controlling the family unit through their addiction. They want their lives back.
The interventionist meets with the family members before the intervention is held. As a professional, the interventionist needs to determine whether anyone else in the family could benefit from family counseling or codependency counseling. Addiction is a family problem; it doesn’t just rest with the person who is living with the disease.
During the intervention, the addicted family member is invited to a neutral location to meet with the interventionist and a number of close family members (and possibly friends). Each person reads a letter they have prepared talking about how their loved one’s addiction has affected them and asking their addicted loved one to go to treatment. It also states the consequences of not going to treatment.
The addict has a choice about whether to get help. The intervention means that they have to take responsibility for their actions, which is something they may not have had to do for quite some time.
Need to Get Someone Into Rehab?
If your loved one says yes to getting help, have a space waiting at an inpatient drug treatment center. Arrangements should be made for immediate transportation and admission, so you don’t have to stop to figure out how to check someone into rehab at the last minute. This is a situation where you want to have all the details arranged in advance so that you can get your loved one the help they need right away.
JourneyPure at the River can provide the type of inpatient/residential treatment program families need when looking for help for a loved one struggling with addiction. We also offer a medically-supervised detox program. Call us now to learn more about how we can help.
Chris Clancy is the in-house Content Manager for JourneyPure’s Digital Marketing team, where he gets to explore a wide variety of substance abuse- and mental health-related topics. He has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist and researcher, with strong working knowledge of hospital systems, health insurance, content strategy, and public relations. He lives in Nashville with his wife and two kids.