Ideally, a person with an addiction would recognise that they have a problem before it is too late. However, the main characteristic of the disease of addiction is denial. Denial is extremely powerful and can cause even the most rational person to fail to see that they have a problem and need help.
Family members and friends are often guilty of turning a blind eye to a situation with which they don’t know how to cope. Collusion at the workplace is also all too frequent and the underperforming colleague is often tolerated until given a golden handshake or simply fired on a technicality.
In the addiction field, the moment an addict decides to break free from their destructive cycle and seek help is often called “rock bottom”. However, it can be extremely painful for close family members to watch their loved one on this downward spiral and many wish to intervene before it is too late.
Steps to helping someone with an addiction
Your approach should be non-confrontational and persuasive. It is important to keep your cool, no matter how hurt you are. Express your deep concern for your friend and your commitment to helping them.
Present the facts
Describe to them how they have behaved while under the influence and how this has affected those around them. Be specific and avoid moral judgements and opinions.
Explain that they have an illness
Explain that a serious alcohol or drug problem is an illness, not a moral weakness or lack of willpower. Help them to recognise that the only way to deal with this illness is through abstinence and that to achieve this professional help will be needed.
Use leverage where possible
Sometimes the only way to get an alcoholic or addict to listen is by using bargaining power. This isn’t a threat, but it is a choice. For example, the family can offer their support, but only if their loved on seeks help; or if you are an employer it may be necessary to offer a choice between treatment or the risk to their career.
Offer information and professional help
Do the research for them. Research the names and telephone numbers of agencies or professionals who provide treatment. Leave brochures lying around the house. Offer to phone a clinic on their behalf.
Recommend a self-help group
Recommend the self-help groups of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Offer to take your friend to a meeting and go along with them. AA provides hope, support, and exposure to stable recovery. The experience of realisation, sober fellowship and mutual support take the place of previous lonely struggle and isolation. Remember that attending these self-help meetings may not be a palatable experience at the beginning, and they will complain, but they should be encouraged to persevere.
An intervention should not be used as an opportunity to vent your anger and frustration at the individual. Remember that they have an illness and through seeking professional help they can overcome that illness and become the person you knew before the addiction.
In time you will have the chance to express your hurt feelings and plan for the future through family therapy sessions.