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How to Help Your Friend or Family Member Without a Fight

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  • How to Help Your Friend or Family Member Without a Fight

    This is a guest post by Daniel Hochman, M.D., on how to help when you are concerned about substance use.  This article will review some … How to Help Your Friend or Family Member Without a Fight Read More

    This is a guest post by Daniel Hochman, M.D., on how to help when you are concerned about substance use. 

    This article will review some real-world answers to those struggling to talk to their loved one about their drinking or substance use. As a psychiatrist who has helped hundreds of patients and teaches nationally on the subject, I understand what’s going on in both sides’ minds. It’s always sad and hard to watch the self-destruction unfold, and frustrating when your best efforts are rejected.

    By understanding the psychological dynamics at play, helping your friend or family member becomes easier and even emotionally connecting. In this article, I’ll guide you through proven concepts and specific examples to help you develop a plan that works and feels right.

    Use Simple Language

    Sometimes doing less can actually be more effective. Using words like ‘addict’ or ‘alcoholic’ may seem important to diagnose the issue, but those words can create unnecessary roadblocks. Instead, it’s better to use specific and regular language to call out the problem.

    When I talk to patients who are dependent on alcohol, they often feel misunderstood when they are called an ‘alcoholic’. The word can create friction and defensiveness right from the start. The problem with using loaded terms in this area is that they mean different things to different people, and it’s better to avoid them unless you’re specifically studying or treating addiction.

    Whether someone drinks five drinks a night or has occasional binges doesn’t matter as much as whether their drinking is causing problems. Instead of getting hung up on definitions, it’s better to focus on the concerns at hand. Let’s move on to some examples and explore this idea further.

    Use Facts, Not Opinion

    Now that you’re prepared to use regular language, you might be wondering what to say. The key is to stick to the facts. This isn’t the time to insert your opinions or judgments about your loved one’s behavior. The more you try to make it a conversation about addiction, the more sidetracked and defensive it will become. The point isn’t just to avoid conflict. It’s that we want our words to have an impact.

    An example of what not to say is: “You’re a liar and an alcoholic!” As much as you might be upset and know it’s true, it will be met with an argument. The reason is because it uses opinion and judgment, not indisputable facts.

    The idea is to focus on specifics that are hard to refute, and avoid attacking their character. Now, let’s look at an example of how to stick to the facts about their drinking: “You used to get drunk a few times a year, but I’ve noticed it happening more frequently lately.”

    Next, we’ll explore how to build on these examples.

    Come From a Place of Concern

    It’s a common mistake to assume that simply pointing out your loved one’s addiction is enough to convince them to change their behavior. Arguments about what constitutes acceptable levels of drinking or use can lead to pointless conflict. Instead, it’s more effective to focus on why their behavior is concerning or upsetting to you.

    Shifting the focus from addiction to shared values and concerns can make a significant difference in how they will respond to you. By avoiding policing and promoting a partnership dynamic, you can make progress toward a positive outcome. The focus should be on why it’s scary or sad for you.

    When expressing your worries, it’s important to be specific and stick to the facts. You can’t know what concerns your partner, so it’s more fair to focus on your own worries. Here’s an example of a specific statement about your concerns and the reasons behind them: “You’ve been spending more time alone upstairs every night. I’m worried that we’re becoming more distant from each other.”

    By using specific, regular, and personal language, you can make your concerns clear and avoid unnecessary traps. Now, let’s move on to the next topic: the impact of addiction on your relationship.

    They Need To Do the Work

    Your loved one’s destructive behavior has probably forced you into the role of a tireless helper. But here’s the good news: you don’t have to do all the heavy lifting for them. Think of it like a gym: you wouldn’t help someone get stronger by lifting their weights for them, would you?

    If you do too much for them, it can actually hinder their growth and progress. Your role is to make it easier for them to work on themselves. And if you find it too difficult to watch them struggle and end up helping them too much, it may be worth reflecting on your own discomfort – a very common theme.

    Here are a few specific examples of how to help without doing their lifting: plan healthy activities together, help schedule a doctor’s visit, if they’re scared to, or send them links to resources based on what you discussed together.

    Depending on how close you are, it’s also alright to do none of these. If you find yourself getting resentful or burned out as a helper, that’s a good sign you’ve gone too far.

    Make It Easy To Start

    A lot of families and friends try to stage an intervention and demand their loved one get better in a month and confess their addiction to everyone. That can be overwhelming and create a huge obstacle to their progress. Instead, think of ways to help them take one small step at a time. Just like things can spiral downwards, they can also spiral upwards.

    Since everyone is unique, you may already know what could work for them. Try to think of something that they would find hard to say no to. The idea isn’t for them to give up their addiction by tomorrow, but rather to show them that the process can be interesting and rewarding.

    Invite Them Into a Psychological Approach

    As a psychiatrist, it’s crucial to address the underlying issues if your loved one is going to overcome their addiction. In my clinical experience, emotional pain is almost always present in cases of addiction. It’s important to recognize that it often stems from underlying pain, such as boredom, being upset with one’s direction in life, trauma, or depression.

    Psychological discovery should be interesting and enjoyable. Some examples include having a heart-to-heart conversation with someone they admire, reading books or listening to podcasts on feelings and behavior, and trying mindfulness or meditation practices.

    Additionally, I created a program called Self Recovery that brings people on a thought-provoking, effective journey to build the psychological tools needed for change. The idea is to make it easy for friends and family to offer something their loved one will actually be interested in. It’s a fully private, on-demand program that is less expensive and more effective than traditional rehab programs.

    Whatever you think of, make this a stimulating step they’re excited to say yes to. When done right, the pathway out of addiction leads to a more holistic growth than they ever bargained for.

    Daniel Hochman, M.D. is a board-certified Psychiatrist, and creator of a revolutionary online addiction recovery program, His treatment philosophy cuts through the confusion around addiction and has helped thousands of people finally solve their addiction puzzle.