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What is Addiction?
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Addiction is a treatable disease that affects millions of Americans. If you are struggling or worried about a loved one, don’t wait to reach out for help.
Worrying about the safety of someone you love can be completely overwhelming and it’s hard to know what to do to support them. The list below is designed to help you support a loved one in crisis by breaking the process down into some small, important steps. This can help you think through your options for getting someone the help they need, even if they don’t feel “ready” or are unwilling to engage at first. If any of the items below aren’t relevant to your needs, just skip ahead.
It’s always good to think through options – but remember, you shouldn’t wait if you are worried about someone. Like other diseases, the earlier addiction is treated, the better the outcomes.
Call our Helpline
Our trained counselors are available to take your call. They can answer your toughest questions about substance use disorders and help you find treatment and recovery resources where you live.
Talk to Your Doctor
It is very important to be honest with your primary care doctor about your drug and alcohol use or that of a loved one so that he or she can properly assess your condition and connect you with the right support. Not all doctors are comfortable treating substance use disorders. If your doctor is not comfortable, he or she should refer you to a doctor who is trained in addiction medicine to provide you with the care you need.
Here are some questions to ask your doctor to help make the conversation productive, and to give you a better sense of whether or not he or she is the right person to provide care for a substance use disorder:
How much experience do you have in working with individuals suffering from substance use disorders?
Are you able to complete an assessment to determine if I have a substance use disorder and what level of treatment I might need?
Do you work with addiction treatment providers to which you can refer patients?
Will you continue to coordinate my care with the specialist after referral?
Talk to your spouse, a family member, trusted friend, or acquaintance.
Think about people in your life who have experienced addiction in their own family and might be able and willing to support you in finding help for you or your loved one. Think about people in your community who you feel comfortable reaching out to.
Despite the fact that addiction is a medical illness, stigma, and misunderstandings surrounding the disease keep too many patients and families from reaching out for help. Millions of Americans are struggling with substance use and most of us know or love someone who has experienced addiction. You are not alone---reach out.
How do you help a loved one engage in treatment?
First, try to answer the questions below as honestly as possible. If the person is willing, include him or her in the process.
*"Drugs" is used here to refer to illicit drugs, prescription drugs, or alcohol.
Have you used drugs other than those required for medical reasons?
Do you abuse more than one drug at a time?
Are you always able to stop using drugs when you want to? (If you have never used drugs, answer "Yes.")
Have you had "blackouts" or "flashbacks" as a result of drug use?
Do you ever fell bad or guilty about your drug use? (If never use drugs, choose "No.")
Does your spouse (or parent) ever complain about your involvement with drugs?
Have you neglected your family because of your use of drugs?
Have you engaged in illegal activities in order to obtain drugs?
Have you ever experienced withdrawal symptoms (felt sick) when you stopped using drugs?
Have you had medical problems as a result of your drug use (e.g., memory loss, hepatitis, convulsions, bleeding, etc.)?
If the answer to some or all of these questions is “yes,” your loved one might have a substance use disorder (SUD) or, in severe cases, an addiction.
It's challenging to help a loved one struggling with addiction, and while you cannot fix the problem by yourself, there are important steps you can take. Start with a frank conversation expressing your concerns and offering support. If your loved one is willing to explore the issue, offer to support them in the process by first helping them find a nearby health care provider who can conduct an assessment.
Talk to your loved one
Think about when might be a good time to talk— ideally during a calm moment when the likelihood of interruptions is low.
Think about what you want to say beforehand. Always begin the conversation in love and concern and try to avoid making any kind of accusations, but own your statements and how their substance use makes you worry for their health.
This conversation may not “work” the first time but don’t give up hope. Every conversation counts.
Many people are compelled to enter treatment by the pressure of their family, friends, or the criminal justice system. However, there is no evidence that confrontational "interventions" (like those commonly seen on TV shows) are effective at either convincing people they have a problem or motivating them to change. Instead, such dramatic interventions often end up causing more harm than good. Instead, focus on getting your loved one an appointment with a doctor who is experienced in treating substance use disorders (SUDs). Often, it is easier for an individual struggling with a SUD to take concerns and recommendations seriously when voiced by a professional as opposed to a loved one or family member. Talk to your doctor about options.
What to do when your loved one doesn’t want help?
Sometimes an honest, frank conversation can prompt the path to recovery, but when it comes to SUDs, it can be difficult for people struggling to see or acknowledge the extent of harm their substance use is causing to themselves and to others. Know that your support matters, and try to be patient--even if a loved one doesn’t want to get help when you offer it, he or she will remember what you said and may be ready to engage in treatment at another time.
Try to respond to resistance with compassion and optimism--keeping in mind that your loved one may be feeling ashamed, afraid, hopeless, and isolated. When possible, continue to offer your support in finding help and reminders that addiction is treatable.
Remember, severe SUDs “hijack” the brain, making the person who is struggling think that the substance is more important than anything else. By the time a substance us disorder has progressed to addiction, living without the substance feels impossible—like being told you aren’t going to be able to breathe air anymore. Because of the way addiction impacts brain function, it is common for patients to rail against the idea of going to treatment.
Your loved one may not recognize the negative effects his or her behavior has on others, including you, but addiction impacts the entire family. Whether or not your loved one is willing to seek help, remember to take care of yourself. Seek out the strength and wisdom of others who have been in your position by attending a support group for loved ones impacted by addiction. You can’t control the actions of a loved one struggling with SUD, but you can control how to treat yourself. Prioritize self-care. Don’t isolate - what you are going through is very difficult. Seek the wisdom and support of others.
Get an Assessment
Getting an assessment is the first step in the process of accessing treatment. Assessments help doctors determine the best treatment approach for each individual. Keep in mind, assessments should always be provided by a clinician who is trained in addiction medicine.
Find the right kind of treatment
Treatment for substance use disorder isn’t “one-size-fits-all.” There are many different approaches to treatment, and the “best” option looks different for every patient.