Watching someone struggle with an addiction is a painful, baffling and often frustrating situation. Family and friends might find themselves asking, “Why are they doing this?” “Can’t they see what’s happening?”
Don’t be worried that you might not know how to talk to someone with an addiction. It’s difficult to acknowledge and accept that no one can make anyone else get sober. They have to want to do it for themselves.
“They’re hoping you don’t address it; they’re hoping the fear the family has stops them from talking to them so they can continue with their use and their life,” Angela Frye, clinical director at Bayview Recovery, says. “But the best way to approach someone is with love. Speak to them as if this is the last conversation you’re going to have with them. That love and urgency will be conveyed.”
When approaching someone about their addiction, timing is key, Bayview Recovery Executive Director Ryan Hickey says. Typically the best time to approach someone is when something extremely negative has impacted their lives. This could be losing a job, divorce, dropping out of school or facing legal ramifications like a DUI. “It shows their life is unmanageable,” he says.
He recommends that only one or two people approach someone and recommends using an “open space” to avoid anyone feeling trapped. Be direct and “ask questions to get them to be reflective and see that there may be a problem.”
Whether your intervention group includes family members or friends, it’s important for everyone to work together, share similar goals and set boundaries. “If this doesn’t happen, people seeking help for their addiction may manipulate situations to pick and choose where they attempt to get help and support,” Hickey says.
And Frye says that friends can be even bolder than family, saying they “should be even more direct and be prepared to cut ties immediately — the only thing addiction knows or understands is consequences.”
Hickey offers this advice not only as someone who helps others, but as someone who needed help himself.
He set out on his recovery journey when he finally became “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” It was a big life change — he moved 1,500 miles from home to come to the Pacific Northwest, entered a program and carved out a new life that included a different career and building a supportive network.
What to expect during, and after recovery
The early stages of recovery can be bumpy as the person suffering from addiction is finally — and clearly — assessing their life and the toll exacted by drugs or alcohol. It’s important to understand that as someone is going through recovery that they’re undergoing monumental change. “But you might not be. Those in recovery will see things differently once they’re sober and things change for them, but people around them may not,” Hickey says.
And don’t forget to take care of yourself, Hickey says. “If you’re not getting what you need to stay healthy, it will be very difficult for you to support someone going through treatment. Things such as Al-Anon are very helpful where the meetings are more about you and what you’re going through.”
The road to recovery is long and ongoing.
“Once someone goes to treatment they aren’t simply ‘healed’ — recovery isn’t so black and white. There’s continuous effort to maintain recovery and sobriety. One key for success for the long-term is to stay consistent with the basics of aftercare — going to meetings, working with a sponsor, staying connected to your support network and, if possible, one-on-one therapy.”
Frye says it’s important to know that often “the longer a loved one is in treatment, the better the outcome.” But it’s equally important to understand that people can relapse after finishing their recovery program. If that does happen, not all is lost.
The last year has been especially trying for many in recovery because a lot of the resources people use to stay sober haven’t been accessible. Isolation and loneliness are triggers and Frye said she’s seen people relapse after long periods of sobriety. “With people losing their jobs, losing their support systems, and losing accountability, it’s a recipe for disaster.”
Hickey says there’s been a lot of additional work to ensure patients have “a solid aftercare plan and resources available to them to remain sober. Fortunately, the AA/NA communities are strong, and many people continue to look out for one another and find ways to stay connected. There’s our Telehealth program that’s a good resource for our clients once they leave our structured housing treatment services.”
Bayview Recovery has helped thousands of adult men and women safely navigate their way through addiction and back to sobriety. Bayview Recovery uses the latest treatment modalities and provides care from intake and lifelong aftercare for alumni.