Denial is a psychological defense mechanism that allows addicts to rationalize their continued substance abuse. Denial tells the addict they can quit any time they want, that their substance abuse is someone else’s fault, that they deserve a drink to help them relax after a long day — and similar falsehoods.
Unfortunately for both addicts and those who love them, denial is a powerful force. Anyone who’s tried to get through to an addict about his or her substance abuse issues knows that the addict’s sense of denial can make this next to impossible. Recovery from addiction isn’t possible until the addict emerges from denial and faces his or her problem.
If someone you love is an addict, break through his or her denial by speaking to him or her from a place of love and concern. Don’t place blame; set clear boundaries and limits, be consistent and persistent, and be prepared to back up your concerns with evidence of your addicted loved one’s substance abuse problem.
Focus on Expressing Your Concerns
When you speak to an addict about his or her substance abuse problem, avoid placing blame, casting aspersions on his or her choices, being judgmental, making threats or ranting. Speak to your addicted loved one with kindness. Focus on expressing your feelings and concerns. Make “I” statements such as “I worry about what will happen to you if you don’t stop taking drugs,” or “I feel hurt that you drink so much.”
Your loved one has turned to substance abuse for a reason. She or he is probably struggling to cope with something tough. Be compassionate. Give them a chance to express his or her feelings and concerns. Put aside your judgment and listen without criticizing or interrupting.
Use Evidence to Support Your Concerns
When you’re speaking to an addict about his or her behaviors, it’s helpful to have evidence to support what you’re saying. That way, the person can’t just chalk it up to you having a skewed perspective. If you have documentation — like police reports or medical records — have them on hand. Also make a list of all the bad things your loved one’s addiction has caused — job loss, damaged relationships, mental illness and loss of property or assets, for example.
Establish Limits and Boundaries
By setting limits and boundaries, you can protect yourself from your addicted loved one’s manipulative and damaging behaviour while also letting them know you cannot continue to live with or maintain a relationship with someone who is actively addicted and not seeking help. Decide what behaviors you won’t accept from the addict. Let the person know what your limits are, and stick to them.
Showing your loved one how much his or her behaviors trouble you can help them understand that it’s really a problem and that it needs to be changed. While you can, and should, let the person know that you will love them no matter what, loving someone does not mean putting up with his or her bad behavior.
Once you have spoken with someone about his or her substance abuse, you have to continue to maintain your position. You can’t tell someone you think they have a drug problem one week and then act like his or her use is no big deal the next week.
You should also be careful your actions match your words. If you’ve told your brother that you think his drinking is a problem, for example, don’t invite him out for beers on Saturday night. You shouldn’t drink or use drugs in the presence of an addict. Model the behavior you want to see.
Your addicted loved one may not come around to your point of view the first time you express your concerns. He or she may not even come around the second, third, fourth or fifth time you speak to him or her about his or her substance abuse issues. Accept that you may have to have the same conversation again and again before the addict hears you.
Denial is a strong psychological mechanism that protects addicts from facing the consequences of his or her addictive behavior and making the changes needed to recover. When someone you love is addicted, you’ll need to break through his or her denial to make him or her see the need for change. While it can be difficult to get through to an addict in denial, speaking with compassion, being persistent, modeling appropriate behavior and maintaining clear boundaries can help your loved one to eventually understand that they need to get help.