One of the many frustrating aspects of having a loved one with a substance use disorder is that they are so resistant to getting help, even if they admit having a problem. If you’ve never had a substance use problem yourself, it’s hard to understand how someone could recognize how destructive drugs and alcohol are in their life but not get help to fix it.
What’s important for family and friends to understand is that they aren’t just being stubborn or contrary; they’re afraid. It’s hard to appreciate this since fear often takes the guise of anger or disengagement, but the fear is often overwhelming.
Understanding that fear can help you be more empathetic and patient as you do what you can to get your loved one into treatment. The following are some common fears people have about getting help for a substance use disorder.
Awareness of a problem often comes by slow degrees. Maybe you realize you use drugs and alcohol a lot but don’t really see it causing problems or maybe you explain it away by saying you’ve just been under a lot of stress lately.
Typically, something will happen that makes your substance use impossible to ignore, perhaps an accident or a breakup. When someone gets to the point where drugs and alcohol are clearly causing them problems, you might think they will surely accept help but instead, they might insist on getting sober their own way.
The problem is that having a substance use disorder, almost by definition, means they have no control over their substance use. There are two issues here. The first is that they don’t want to admit they don’t have control over their substance use.
Second, they don’t want to go into a situation like treatment where they won’t have control over what they do. There are aspects of treatment that are invariably unpleasant. Everyone likes to believe they can avoid these and still get sober but most of the time they can’t.
What they need to understand is that they didn’t have control to begin with—drugs and alcohol do. If they want to get more control over their life, something has to change.
Similar to the fear of losing control is the fear of being vulnerable. Substance use disorders are often the result of abuse, neglect, or trauma, and often these things happened early in life.
They learned they have to stay on guard just to make it through the day. Often, they can’t even open themselves up to their own thoughts and emotions and drugs and alcohol are a means of avoiding emotional pain.
Therefore, the prospect of opening up, whether to a therapist, a group, or at a 12-Step meeting might seem unimaginable. Group therapy is often especially intimidating because it seems like being forced to tell your darkest secrets to strangers. It’s hard for them to believe that that can make anything better.
One thing that is important for people to understand about therapy, whether group or individual, is that no one is forced to do anything. In fact, it’s counterproductive to share if you don’t feel comfortable.
Therapy is a process. Your therapist is not concerned about digging up your darkest secrets; their only concern is helping you and they know that the client sets the pace.
People facing the possibility of treatment are often intimidated by the prospect of going through this strange ordeal alone. They imagine going to some treatment center, possibly a thousand miles away, and being locked up for at least a month in a facility where they don’t know anyone.
When you consider that substance use is often a way to try to fill an unmet need for safety and connection, perhaps you can understand why the fear of loneliness can be a major barrier to treatment.
While it’s true that they probably won’t know anyone when they walk through the door, loneliness is typically not a persistent problem in treatment. The staff will do their best to make you feel welcome and you have a lot of social contact during most parts of treatment.
Everyone is in the same boat and they typically find they have a lot in common. People frequently say they’ve met their best friends in addiction treatment.
Another issue is that once you’re sober, you have to distance yourself from friends who drink and use drugs. If that describes all of your friends, the first months of recovery start to look pretty lonely.
While it may take some time to make new friends, it’s not as hard as people anticipate. If you participate in mutual-aid groups like AA and other 12-Step programs, you’ll meet a lot of sober people and you will probably make some friends pretty quickly.
Entering treatment comes with a lot of pressure. It’s a big commitment of time, money, and effort. Anyone who enters treatment is aware that the people who care about them will hope they do well, perhaps even that treatment will turn their lives around.
That can be a lot to deal with. Active addiction may be miserable, but at least the expectations are low. It can feel unfair to have other people expect too much from you. While failure is always a possibility, it doesn’t have to be permanent.
About half of people, give or take, do pretty well after treatment but if you do relapse, you can try again. You haven’t failed until you quit trying.
The possibility of success is, in some ways, more intimidating than the possibility of failure. As long as drugs and alcohol are running your life, you don’t really feel responsible for what happens.
You can tell yourself, “I might have done this or that if it weren’t for this awful addiction,” but once you’re sober, that excuse is gone. What’s more, many people don’t know any other way to cope with life’s stress than to use drugs or alcohol.
What if it’s too much? These are tough questions and there are no easy answers. Part of treatment entails learning new, healthier ways to cope with challenging emotions.
As for what you do with your sober life, that’s up to you. Whatever happens, it’s better to live life on your own terms rather than have the terms dictated by drugs and alcohol.
Fear is one of the biggest reasons people don’t accept treatment—fear of giving up control, fear of being vulnerable, fear of being alone, and letting others down. If you’re trying to encourage a loved one to get treatment, it’s important to acknowledge their fears and take them seriously.
There may be a number of ways to get past those fears, such as having an intervention or perhaps by finding a positive step, however small, that they are ready to take.
At Hired Power, we help get people into treatment with intervention services and sober escorts and we help support them after they leave with sober companions and recovery care management. To learn more about our services, call us today at 714-559-3919.
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