What to Do When Your Loved One Refuses Help

As our understanding about the causes of addiction increases, so, too, do our methods for treating addictive behavior. What was once thought of as a lack of will power is now known as a disease that can only be treated through medical and psychological methods. But even with advances in medical science, it’s hard to know what to do when your addicted loved one refuses help.

substance abuse changes the brain

The root of addiction is caused by biological and genetic issues, but over time, substance abuse also changes the way a person’s brain functions. This complicates the issue of getting off drugs or alcohol because the part of the brain that handles impulse control gets damaged, making it even more difficult to practice good decision making.

If you have a friend or loved one who might be dealing with addiction, it’s hard to know how to help them get treatment. While it will be impossible for you to solve the problem yourself, you can provide gentle guidance and reassurance in seeking out a treatment program. While your friend might be resistant to the idea, it’s important that you both know many people have happy, productive lives after they enter recovery.

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How to Know If Your Loved One Needs Rehab

Occasional overindulgence is not always an indicator of a substance abuse problem, so it might be difficult to determine when your loved one crosses the line of needing treatment for an addiction.

Below is a list of questions to ask about your friend’s substance use. After thinking about these factors, you might want to address them with your friend and acknowledge your concern. But keep in mind that denial about a substance abuse problem is also one of the symptoms. No one with an addiction problem will willingly and openly talk about it, at first.

denial is a symptom of substance abuse

The following are some questions to ask yourself about a loved one’s drug or alcohol use:

Can They Stop on Their Own?

Most people with addiction problems will try to quit using their substance of choice on their own, only to fail and begin using again. Although the person might make good progress going “cold turkey” for a period of time, relapse is highly likely in people who do not receive proper counseling and medical support.

relapse is likely in those who do not receive support

Are They Neglecting Their Responsibilities?

Regularly missing work or family obligations because of substance use is a sign that what was once a casual indulgence is becoming an addiction. You’ll also want to consider if the person is neglecting responsibilities due to the aftereffects of using, such as having a hangover.

Are They Getting in Legal Trouble?

Being arrested for drug use or possession should be an obvious wake-up call, but minor legal infractions, such as DUIs or public intoxication, are also a sign that substance use is turning into a problem.

Is Their Tolerance for the Substance Reaching Alarming Levels?

As people use drugs or alcohol regularly, they need more and more of the substance to reach the desired effect. So someone who usually drinks two to three beers during an evening might finish off a six-pack by themselves. This might be one of the first noticeable signs of a substance addiction.

regular users struggle to avoid their addiction

Are They Hiding Things From You?

Being secretive can be a sign of a substance abuse problem. For example, does your loved one leave their usual group for an hour or two during a fishing trip and seem inebriated upon their return? Do they have blocks of time they can’t — or won’t — account for? It could be because they use this escape to use and don’t want anyone to know about it.

Do They Spend Time Planning How to Get the Substance?

Stopping on the way to a tailgate for quick six-pack of beer might be common, but if trips to the liquor store seem to take priority over other plans, this might indicate a problem.

Do They Direct Conversation to Alcohol or Drugs?

In the course of a serious conversation, do they interrupt to mention the need for alcohol? If you’re making plans to watch a funny movie, do they say they’ll first need to pick up drugs to make the movie even funnier? Being unable to focus on a non-substance related conversation or event could demonstrate your friend’s inability to socially cope without that substance.

Do They Get Physically Ill From the Substance?

Most adults know when to stop drinking, but if your friend drinks to the point of vomiting or passing out, this is a definite problem. Physical problems such as headaches, dehydration and hangovers the following day are also signs that the body has had too much alcohol. Not recognizing their cut-off point is a definite red flag that the substance is having an addictive effect on the user.

drinking to excess indicates a problem

Do They Put Themselves in Dangerous Situations?

Many people have stories about getting too drunk at a bar and picking a fight with a friend or fellow patron. While this behavior is not okay, it’s not a definite sign of a substance abuse problem unless it occurs frequently. Because alcohol lowers one’s ability to make clear and safe choices, simple arguments can easily escalate into violence.

If this occurs more than once, you have to ask yourself if your loved one is seeking out dangerous opportunities as a result of their drinking. If the answer is yes, this could be a red flag, especially if a bar room fight happens more than once or if the police are involved.

If your friend is a woman, she is at an even greater risk of harm. A recent study found that 43 percent of sexual assaults occur when the victim is drunk. Close to 70 percent of sexual assaults are committed by people who are drunk themselves. While both men and women can be victims of sexual assault, women are most likely to be abused by men in a situation when one or both of the people involved have been drinking.

alcohol abuse and assault

Have They Been Asked to Stop?

If your friend’s usage of drugs or alcohol has caused enough problems in their social and personal life that a loved one has asked them to stop, they should be able to step back and reassess their need for drugs or alcohol. If this request has been made by you or someone else in their life and they meet it with anger or denial, they might be a prime candidate for rehab.

How to Tell If Your Friend Doesn’t Need Help

Good friends and family members always look out for each other. If you notice that someone close to you has been drinking too much during weekly Monday night football parties and is sometimes late to work the next day, it’s okay to bring it up with them. If they realize they’ve overindulged at times and are able to self-correct the problem, it might not be a substance abuse problem. Many people drink to excess on occasion without it leading to a serious problem.

However, as outlined above, a drug or alcohol problem becomes more obvious when the individual cannot curb the problem on their own or is unwilling to listen to the concerns of family and friends. This inability to self-regulate is one of the most obvious clues that your friend will need outside help to deal with his or her addiction.

Approaching Your Loved One

Once you suspect your family member or close friend might have a substance abuse problem, it’s difficult to know how and when to approach them. It’s a good idea to speak with mutual friends and loved ones to confirm they are seeing the same behavior. If they’re not, you might want to take a step back to further observe your friend’s behavior.

In many cases, close family members might not want to admit the problem even to themselves and would prefer to stay in denial. If this is the case, continue to speak with other close friends until you feel comfortable with your view of your loved one’s substance use. Even if you’re the first one to spot it, it doesn’t mean the problem isn’t there. It might just take other people longer to accept that they need to step up and address the problem.

Although no one will admit to wanting to enter a treatment program, some substance users might be waiting for a loved one to approach them to offer support. If you bring up the topic of addiction and getting help to your friend and they respond in a positive manner, most of your work is done. You can then work with your loved one to find the best treatment option available for their recovery.

work with your loved one to find the best treatment

But in most cases, you’ll need to figure out how to get someone into rehab who doesn’t want to go. Your loved one or family member with an addiction might make excuses and try to shut down the conversation without committing to seeking help.

How to Help a Loved One Into Recovery

After you’ve approached your friend or family member about your concerns and you’ve been shut down, you might wonder if there’s a way to force them into rehab. Some people will turn to law enforcement if the person’s actions involve illegal drugs or to a medical doctor for issues like alcoholism. In most cases, however, you cannot force an adult to enter a treatment program unless they are willing to go voluntarily. This is due to legal reasons — someone cannot be committed to a rehab program without their consent.

you cannot force rehab

You also cannot force someone into rehab because, in order for rehab to be successful, they must want to get better. If your loved one is not ready to address their addiction problems along with the biological and psychological reasons behind the addiction, rehab will fail. The person with the addiction must be ready to accept help and must be committed to making changes in their life.

When approaching your loved one about seeking treatment for drug or alcohol abuse, you’ll probably be met with some standard roadblocks that people struggling with addiction use to avoid rehab. While these may be legitimate concerns, they can all be addressed with a little research.

Social Stigma

Many addicted people worry that entering treatment will subject them to a social rumor mill among friends, family and co-workers. But in many cases, those closest to the person with an addiction will react with compassion and support.

You can also tell your friend there are medical laws that prohibit the sharing of health information beyond a small circle of “need to know” co-workers, such as human resources personnel and their direct manager. Most companies have benefit provisions in place that allow for time off from work for the treatment of a drug or alcohol problem. In some cases, your friend might be able to get a letter from their doctor stating they need time off due to a medical problem without giving reasons.

Although their doctor can’t discuss the addiction issue with you directly, you might have a general conversation with the doctor to find out how they handle these situations. Having this information ready to present to your loved one when you first bring up the idea of rehabilitation can alleviate many concerns.

Not Understanding Treatment

Again, this is another area where you can do some early exploration that will put your friend at ease. Check out local drug and alcohol treatment programs to find one that seems best suited to your loved one. In some situations, the best option might be far away from your hometown, but it can provide the solitude and setting your friend will respond best to. Treatment works best when it’s offered in an atmosphere that is welcoming and conducive to the person who needs treatment, so it’s not unusual to look outside your home state to find the best option.

Fears About Detox

Someone who uses drugs or alcohol regularly will probably be concerned about the physical symptoms they’ll experience as they detox. While each center is different, you should look for one that believes detox doesn’t have to be a punishment. Finding a rehab center that makes sure detox is a safe and comfortable process will put your loved one at ease.

safe detox center

Confusion About Treatment

Your loved one might have a skewed sense of treatment based on movies and television shows. Many of these portray rehab in a negative light. A treatment program like those offered at 12 Keys Rehab is tailored to the individual person, which means your loved one will have a treatment program specifically designed to address his or her needs. The clinical staff will review your friend’s history and build a treatment program based on the substance that is being abused, as well as the underlying causes of this abuse, such as family stress, financial problems, past trauma and health problems.

Maintaining Your Mental Health While Helping a Friend Accept Treatment

While you are focusing so much time on your friend, there a few things to remember to help you remain mentally healthy:

  • Take care of yourself first. While your loved one has problems that need to be dealt with, you probably do, too. Don’t sacrifice your own health or well-being to help your friend. If you get so overwhelmed or stressed out by the process that you need to walk away, you won’t be helping either of you.
  • Know when to walk away. If your suggestions of rehabilitation have fallen on deaf ears, or if the mere suggestion has brought hostility from your friend, it might be time to walk away. This doesn’t mean you no longer care for your loved one — it simply means you aren’t willing to stand by and watch their self-destruction. Let your friend know you can no longer be a bystander of their addictive behavior but that you are ready and willing to help them when they realize they need help.
  • Proceed carefully with an intervention. Reality television makes it seem like a highly organized intervention is the best way to get someone to accept treatment. But this should only be attempted with a highly trained social worker or psychologist who takes the time to learn about the person’s social, family, and addictive lifestyle. If not done properly, an intervention will only bring out a lot of negative emotions from everyone involved without helping the person enter rehab.

don't sacrifice your own health

Choosing 12 Keys Rehab

If you or a loved one is suffering from a substance abuse problem, contact 12 Keys Rehab today. Our staff is available 24 hours a day to help you determine the best route for your recovery. If you are calling about a family member or loved one that you suspect has a substance abuse problem, we can help guide you through the process of helping them get treatment.

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The Addiction Blog