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We’ll cover the following:
- Who qualifies as a drug addict?
- What to say to someone addicted to drugs
- Dealing with loved ones addicted to drugs
- When is it time to let go of a drug addict in your life?
- How to help someone addicted to drugs
It’s not uncommon for people to ask, how do I let go of someone or something negatively affecting me?
Rather than seeing it as letting go, it’s more digestible to see it as how to detach yourself from a person, place, or thing causing you grief.
We will continue to use the term “let go” as that’s what comes to mind for most people when considering detaching from someone. Please remember that we aren’t letting go, but rather, we’re detaching with love. We say this because letting go sounds harsh for some and feels like forever for others.
When we do interventions for drug addicts and their families, we never suggest kicking your loved one to the curb or “throwing them out.” Doing so means leaving a drug addict high and dry with nothing. That seems to be what people hear, not what is being said.
We suggest that you accept their decision not to get help or continue the status quo of drug use and destructive behavior. We also recommend that you ask in return for them to accept your decision to no longer stay front and center to their addiction and behaviors affecting you and helping them stay unwell.
“What you should be asking is, “how do I let go of my enabling and codependency to the drug addict so that they are able to see the need for help?”
Letting go of a drug addict starts with learning to let go of family behaviors that comfort or enable the addict. When an addict or an alcoholic is enabled, it disables the chances of seeing the need to ask for help.
When a family isn’t enabling, and the addict can still navigate the addiction in and of themselves on their own resources, you can still let go and detach yourself from their choices and destructive behaviors.
Regardless of leverage or whether or not anyone or anything is supporting the drug addict, the family can take care of themselves if they are being affected by the drug abuse. If you break down the question of how to let go of a drug addict, the question should be directed toward the affected people, not the drug addict. The person asking should be looking at what they can do for themselves and not what they can do for the drug addict directly.
We hope those asking the question aren’t looking for an answer as to how to manage the addiction better and are searching for ways to accept the addiction and move on with their life by letting go and detaching from it.
Letting go of a drug addict requires letting go of your attachment to the drug addict and their behaviors. The attachment requires detachment and self-healing.
Family First Intervention applies most of its resources and efforts before, during, and after the intervention to help families understand this. The family may not always be able to make their loved one stop using drugs directly. Most family members, however, can set boundaries, detach, apply tough love, hold the drug addict accountable, and allow them to feel their own consequences.
These principles, along with the family’s recovery, can help start the process of detaching and letting go of the loved one’s addiction.
Who Qualifies as a Drug Addict?
Determining the severity of substance use disorders, the clinically recommended levels of care, and appropriate treatment options requires a professional assessment.
In answering how to let go of a drug addict, the assessment most likely doesn’t change why you felt the need to research this question.
The question isn’t, “Who qualifies as a drug addict?” but rather, “Who should I let go of and detach from when drug use and harmful behaviors are affecting my family?” Whether the drug addict qualifies on a paper assessment or not, it doesn’t change how you are affected or how you feel about the situation.
In the eyes of the affected family and friends, when should someone affected by the addict detach and let go of the person using drugs?
Suppose someone close to you is abusing drugs or alcohol, and others are getting pulled into the chaos ensuing from addiction. In that case, that may be all that’s required for you to qualify them as an addict and the time to consider letting go and making changes for yourself. It’s not about what anyone else thinks, including professionals; it should be based on how you feel about it and what it’s doing to you.
“The question is not who qualifies as a drug addict.” The question is who qualifies to be let go of and detached from regardless of what an assessment says”.
The point we’re trying to make is that it doesn’t matter how much someone uses, it doesn’t matter how often they use, it doesn’t matter what they use, and it doesn’t matter where they use – it only matters what they do to themselves and others as a result of the drug use.
Of course, those things matter for treatment level of care and potential medical complications. But it’s time to do something when you have had enough of the addict’s behaviors affecting you and your family.
“Assessments focus almost entirely on the substance user with very little emphasis, if any, on the harm it is causing their family and friends.”
Assessments focus on the amounts used, the frequency of use, the drug of choice, the severity of the addiction, and recommended level of care. Some focus on medical problems, legal problems, relapse potential, and living arrangements. I can’t think of one that emphasizes what the drug addict or alcoholic has done to their family, friends, and society by way of emotional distress.
Imagine if assessments were done on a substance user and included input from their friends and family. Something tells me it would be far more accurate than the minimized assessment often served by the substance user.
We aren’t insinuating the substance user is a liar. We’re implying that substance users often minimize and tell a distorted story due to their skewed perception at the assessment time; This is why family recovery is so important and why we strongly suggest it. For the friends and family of a substance user to let go and detach themselves, they first have to find the education and strength to help them understand why and when to do that.
“Stop focusing on the drug of choice, the amounts used, and the frequency, and start focusing on their behaviors that are affecting you.”
What to Say to Someone Addicted to Drugs
What’s more effective than what you say to an addict is how you say it and whether or not you follow through with it. There are various stages a drug addict can be in, and their stage determines how to communicate with them effectively.
When there’s denial, the addict could be either in the pre-contemplation or contemplation stage. A telltale sign of which stage of addiction they are in is the reaction you receive when confronting them about it.
A person is rarely in the pre-contemplation stage. In this stage, the substance user is entirely unaware of a problem.
When a person is in the pre-contemplation stage, they are less likely to get angry when confronted. It’s not to say they won’t get angry; they are more likely to respond in an aloof or puzzled manner because they genuinely don’t believe they have a problem or feel that they are harming themselves or others.
If your loved one is in this stage, it’s best to consult a professional interventionist on how to start the conversation and create ambivalence.
Should your loved one be in the contemplation stage, your strategies are slightly different.
When trying to speak to someone in the contemplation stage, you are much more likely to be met with resistance and anger, most likely coming from the fear of being challenged.
Since you already have ambivalence in the contemplation stage, the goal is to invoke change talk and help overcome sustained talk while managing the confrontation. You are trying to help the drug addict see a greater need to do something about the problem than do little to nothing about it.
Moving a drug addict out of this stage and onto preparation, followed by action, requires a professional to use evidenced-based intervention strategies such as motivational interviewing. When used effectively by a trained professional, this art of communication can help the substance user see a greater need for change.
Furthermore, a trained professional interventionist can help the drug addict or alcoholic feel that they are taking the next step because they want to and not because they feel the family is making them do it.
One of the most effective ways to move a substance user out of the contemplation stage comes with the family changing themselves and the environment. In this crucial stage, the drug addict or alcoholic has to see a greater need to seek help than not.
Even the best professionals in the world with strong backgrounds in motivational interviewing are rarely enough to move an addict through the stages of change if the environment remains the same. In other words, along with the intervention professional utilizing evidence-based intervention strategies such as motivational interviewing, changes in the environment to confirm the need for change are also required.
Even if motivational interviewing were enough to assist the drug addict in seeking help, a lack of family recovery would most likely leave the loved one susceptible to relapse after completing treatment.
The environment is one of the number one predictors of outcomes in addiction treatment. When the environment doesn’t change, the substance user rarely sustains sobriety, if they even find sobriety.
Examples of changes in environment include the family changing course on their enabling, codependency, communication, boundaries, and accountability for the drug addict.
We’re saying that talk is cheap, but action is not.
Moving your loved one into recovery will require a professional evoking change in them. Simultaneously, the family changes the environment to help them see a greater need to accept help.
“It is not about waiting for the substance user to want help or hit bottom. It is about changing the environment that prevents the substance user from doing either”.
Dealing With Loved Ones Addicted to Drugs
Dealing with someone addicted to drugs is giving attention to the substance user, which involves the affected parties making a decision that would affect the substance user and their family.
The goal of dealing with your loved one is to change the environment in which their addiction thrives. In addition to changing the environment, the family can deal with the addiction by changing their position and addressing their family roles, codependency, enabling, boundaries, and accountability for the addict.
How you deal with your loved one depends on what you want for yourselves and them. If you feel you need to stay in the insanity of the addiction, then how you deal with the drug addict will look much different than if you choose to detach and let go.
And yes, some families do choose the first option. They cannot let go of the role that allows them to feel needed in the relationship. It gives them a sense of purpose in their life as the caretaker of the drug addict.
Remember, people enable for selfish reasons, not to help the drug addict. Most enablers know it hurts the addict, so why do they still do it?
They do it because it fills a void and feels good for the one enabling. It avoids confrontation, and it allows the enabler to remain a victim. These are just some behaviors of a dysfunctional family system that evolves due to a loved one’s addiction.
Dealing with a loved one addicted to drugs means dealing with your addiction to your loved one. Whether it be overwhelming codependency and enabling or just reactivity and stress from afar, if you let the drug addict own your thoughts and emotions, they are controlling you. The question isn’t “How do I deal or negotiate with my loved one addicted to drugs?” it’s, “How do I detach from their addiction and take my life back?”
Many families who call us don’t necessarily want everything to do a complete one-eighty and have the addict recover. Indeed, many families don’t intervene because they are selfishly more concerned about what will happen to themselves than they are concerned with what will happen if the drug addict gets better.
Many families are looking for how to better manage and control their loved ones and their addiction without fully letting go of their acquired dysfunctional family roles.
The tagline on the front page of our website states that an intervention isn’t about how to control the substance user; it’s about how to let go of believing you can. So the question should be, “How do I let go of believing I can control them, and how do I detach and avoid the insanity the drug addict pulls me into?”
“The question is not how do deal or negotiate with a loved one addicted to drugs. The question is, “how do I detach from their addiction and take my life back?”
When is it Time to Let Go of a Drug Addict in Your Life?
The time to detach and let go of a drug addict is when you have hit rock bottom and want help. So much emphasis is put on waiting for the drug addict to do something first. Why is that? Why are we not telling those affected by drug addiction that you don’t have to wait for them to want help or hit bottom and that you can make the first move?
The answer is most likely because people are so used to the drug addict running the show into the ground that it only makes sense to feel they are the ones who should run the show on to when to stop. It’s your choice to sit back and wait for them, and it’s also your choice to take the first step.
The time to let go is when you realize that you are contributing nothing to your well-being, and by being attached to the addiction, you are most likely contributing to the addiction.
It’s okay to say no.
It’s okay to detach yourself from an unhealthy relationship.
The only people we see who stay attached to addiction are those who get something in return for it. Ask yourself, “Why am I staying attached to the drug addict in my life?”
We know letting go is easier said than done. And we understand once you get through the pain of letting go, your life will improve.
You may never be entirely okay when your loved one is addicted to drugs, and you’ll be better than you were by detaching and starting your recovery for family members and loved ones of drug addicts.
If you are asking when it’s time to let go of the drug addict in your life, then now is probably the time.
“The only people we see who stay attached to an addiction are those who get something in return from staying attached to the addiction.”
Another way to answer the question of when it is time to let go of a drug addict is to reference our assessment of codependency and our information on how to detach and still love them without enabling them.
How to Help Someone Addicted to Drugs
The quick answer is to stop helping them use drugs. When a question or concern arises, ask yourself, “is what I am about to say or do for the substance user going to make their addiction more difficult or more comfortable for them?” If you bring this question back to the clinical data and the science, you have the answer.
We know that for someone addicted to drugs to move through the stages of change, they need to see the need for change. Most drug addicts don’t see that need for change in their distorted perception of reality.
There must be a change in the environment, the family, and the status quo to see the need to do something different. The drug addict doesn’t wake up one day when everything is going well and check into substance abuse treatment. If there are no consequences or uncomfortable moments in the addiction, the addiction remains the best option for the drug addict.
How to help someone addicted to drugs is to let go of them and detach from them. To help them is to hold them accountable, protect yourself from them with boundaries, and step out of the way so they can feel the consequences.
Anytime a person, place, or thing stands in the way of consequences, they shield the drug addict from seeing the need for change. The strategy is to allow them to feel the consequences while not believing the family is causing them.
When a drug addict is a perceived victim and is under the illusion that everything bad that happens is because of some other person, place, or thing, then the addict still finds it difficult to do something about their problem.
When this happens, they will spend more time in resentment seeking revenge than owing the problem and doing something about it. This is why do-it-yourself interventions without a professional rarely work.
0In the rare event the DIY intervention ends with the addict accepting help and entering treatment, they usually leave treatment early or relapse shortly after. This is because the drug addict is still most likely blaming everyone else for having to go to treatment. At the same time, the family does nothing different to change their behaviors or the environment.
“When a drug addict is a perceived victim and is under the illusion that everything bad that happens is because of some other person, place, or thing, then the addict still finds it difficult to do something about their problem.”
Choose Family First Intervention for Addiction Recovery
To help a drug addict is to help yourself first. At Family First Intervention, we help you understand that if the family wants their loved one to change, they almost always have to take the first step.
If the addict takes the first step, the family would be wise to take the second step right behind them. Addiction becomes a family illness, and only focusing on improving the substance user has caused many drug addicts to fail. As a result, many families lose hope that things will improve.
Let’s stop blaming the treatment centers and the systems for the drug addicts’ failures, and let’s all start taking accountability for our roles in addiction.
“What the family is expecting the substance user to do is what they also have to do. If only one side seeks help, the chances of success are greatly compromised.”
An intervention is not about how to control the substance user; it is about how to let go of believing you can.
“The most formidable challenge we professionals face is families not accepting our suggested solutions. Rather, they only hear us challenging theirs. Interventions are as much about families letting go of old ideas as they are about being open to new ones. Before a family can do something about the problem, they must stop allowing the problem to persist. These same thoughts and principles apply to your loved one in need of help.”Mike Loverde, MHS, CIP