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How to Help Someone with Drug Addiction when they don’t want help?

By Linda Whiteside

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Table of Contents

How to help someone with Drug Addiction

With more than 25 million Americans struggling with some form of substance abuse, chances are high that you know someone personally who is dealing with this issue. For a variety of reasons, it can be difficult for people that need help to understand or acknowledge the gravity of what is going on. But how to help someone with drug addiction?

When confronted, many addicts may be resistant, defensive, or simply shut down altogether. It’s important to understand that while you’re in a tough position, the addict is having an even more difficult time: agreeing to treatment means admitting that they have a serious problem and have hurt other people.

Resistance To Drug Abuse Treatment – How to help someone with Drug Addiction?

If you’ve tried to ask someone to get help but they refused to listen, what can be done? While there is no magic bullet to make someone want to get sober, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a try. A classic adage in addiction medicine is that addicts have three choices: dead, in jail, or sober. Intervening and offering help could save their life, or someone else’s. Before you ask again, read on to learn more about steps that can be taken to help make the process of talking about getting help more constructive for both people involved.

Find an outlet for your own feelings

If a person is abusing substances to the point where they may need help, chances are the situation is already having a big impact on the mental health of that person’s loved ones. Regardless of whether or not the addict in your life accepts the fact that they need treatment, it’s important to take care of your own feelings. Al-anon is a support group (not to be confused with Alcoholics Anonymous itself) specifically for family and friends of addicts.

Seeing a therapist or taking up yoga, meditation or exercise are all healthy ways to vent your frustration, despair, or other intense feelings that may come up. It’s important to deal with this outside of your relationship with the addict that you care about. Piling on him/her about how their behavior is leaving you in agony is not particularly helpful, even if it’s true. That’s not to say you can’t share how you’re feeling, but it needs to be within the context of offering help.

Talk one-on-one

When you’re ready to ask again if the person is ready to go to treatment, choose a time and a place where the person is likely to be sober and you can talk one-on-one. For some people, group interventions are overwhelming and humiliating. Talking alone with the addict may help them focus less on defending themselves and more on what you’re actually saying. Even if it’s extremely tempting, avoid blaming or belittling the addict. Chances are, they already feel bad enough as it is. Keeping the conversation calm and focused on positives, such as what could be gained if they stop using, is much less likely to be met by a “shutdown.”

If the person does stop engaging with you, don’t press the matter—simply tell them you understand they’re feeling overwhelmed, and that you’re here if and when they are ready to get help. Trying to force your way is only going to drive a bigger wedge into the conversation.

Offer solutions

Recovering from addiction can be an overwhelming process. Part of someone’s reluctance to explore treatment options may stem from how complicated getting help can be. Like any other big undertaking, getting sober can (and should) be broken down into small and manageable steps. Help the addict in your life by researching what kind of detox will be needed, available detox facilities, as well as treatment facilities or partial hospitalization programs.

Streamlining the logistics of the situation can give the addict one less excuse to avoid treatment. If they refuse to look at the information you’ve prepared, ask them politely one last time and then move to the next step. Again, arguing or trying to press the issue if the addict isn’t interested will not get you your way.

Draw boundaries

Understand that you can’t actually make someone want to go to treatment. All the shaming or shouting in the world doesn’t alter this fact. Your best chance is to make your point calmly, logically, and respectfully, and be ready to help if the person does finally agree to treatment. If, on the other hand, the person continues to refuse help, you need to protect yourself and your household. Setting solid, firm boundaries is how you do this.

Decide what type of behavior you’re willing to tolerate and draw the line by cutting off contact if the addict pushes your limits. It’s helpful to explain the terms of your boundaries once to an addict, but after that, it’s no longer your job.

For an active addict who is resistant to treatment, the best thing you can do is stop allowing them to continue drinking or using drugs in the presence of you or your family. Drawing this line doesn’t mean you have to stop caring about the addict, but it will protect you and everyone under your roof from toxic behavior that tends to accompany active addicts wherever they go.

Another benefit of setting limits is that consequences can also help spur someone to action—such as if a parent gets kicked out of their house and is no longer allowed around the kids. While the person may be resistant on their own, losing relationships with important people can finally force them to face the reality of the situation.

If you choose to stay in the life of an addict after you’ve tried to intervene unsuccessfully, it’s important to understand the limitations of what you can do. As long as you’re taking care of yourself and staying calm, you can occasionally check in and ask if they’re ready to get help yet, but don’t put stock in promises like “soon,” or “next month.” When an addict is actually ready to get clean, they will typically seek treatment that same day or as soon as possible. 

If you continue to offer things like a couch to sleep on, rides, or even money, understand that you are enabling your loved one’s addiction and this may ultimately delay them getting sober. While this is a painful thing to face, many well-meaning family or friends are ultimately just prolonging the suffering of everyone involved, which is why addiction specialists place so much value on helping loved ones set boundaries.

The Road to Recovery Has its Ups and Downs

It’s also important to adjust your expectations regarding treatment itself: even in the best cases, it often takes addicts several tries to get and stay clean. Addictions and addictive behavior tend to follow a fairly defined course, including a serious low point that forces the addict to reevaluate their life choices. Another trap loved ones may fall into is trying to prevent an addict from hitting this “rock-bottom” (losing their job, house, etc) moment.

While it seems like a nice thing to do, it’s really another form of enabling behavior. Without serious consequences, most people just can’t make the commitment to being sober— so while it’s painful, you need to let the addict in your life face the full consequences of their actions. 

Resistance in Addiction Treatment

The best thing you can do to help the addict and yourself is offer help a few times, avoid getting into arguments, and then make yourself available if (and when) the person decides on their own that it’s time to get help.

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Author

Written By: Linda Whiteside
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Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson
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Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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