How to talk about substance use disorder

talk about substance use disorder Wednesday, September 15, 2021

When someone you care about admits that they have issues with substances, you may feel awkward and uncomfortable. Talking about addiction and treatment isn’t easy. But if they came to you about their disease, it usually means that they trust you, your opinion, and your support. In recognition of National Recovery Month, we’ve compiled this guide to help you navigate the conversation.

Listen, don’t talk

You may find yourself inclined to offer advice about treatment or rehab. Make sure you know the whole story first. We all want to ensure that our loved ones are safe and happy. But those struggling with substance use disorder (SUD) can feel scared or nervous to seek help. It may be hard to convince them that they need help. You may find yourself alienating them by making them feel guilty for confiding in you. Listen to what they have to say before jumping to conclusions about their condition.

Prepare yourself

Take a pause before you start talking with someone in depth about their substance use disorder. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the disease, the substances, and how they affect people. At any time, that person may change their mind about how they feel about sharing. They may completely change their tone regarding help and treatment. That can be frustrating and confusing, but it could be due to shame and guilt. You can find some resources here.

Consider your sources

When you’re researching SUD, be careful what kind of advice you take. Be sure only to take advice from survivors, professionals, and mental health providers. You can visit family support groups, community centers, and read about addiction to get a better grasp of what they’re struggling with. There are risks in taking the advice of someone who isn’t educated on the topic. You’re not only spreading private information, but you also may hear a lot of misinformation. Here are some topics that you may want to consider researching:

Be patient

Helping someone with substance use disorder can be difficult, but patience is necessary. One minute they may admit that they need help, but then deny it later. Regardless of how they process their own disease, you can’t force them to do something that they aren’t ready to do. The recovery process can only begin once they have accepted their condition and take action to get better. If they’ve told you they need help, encourage them gently using their own words. Remind them of what they’ve already told you. You want to help them come to their own conclusions to avoid pushing them away. Demonstrating concern is the empathetic approach to encouraging someone to seek help. It avoids making them feel guilty or burdensome.

Be empathetic

Substance use disorder is often fueled by shame, guilt, and self-loathing. That means when you’re talking with someone suffering from addiction, it’s crucial that you don’t fuel those feelings. One of the most important aspects of being there for someone struggling with SUD is to maintain empathy. Know that they’re still in there, struggling to stay afloat—they need you. Try to separate the human from the disease. Convey your faith in them and their ability to recover. Fighting, shaming, and begging will only cause them to pull away more. It may result in loss of trust, alienation, and damage to your relationship.

Hold them accountable

While you shouldn’t blame someone for having SUD, you can still hold them accountable. Don’t protect them from the consequences of their actions. This kind of behavior may seem supportive and positive at first. But it’s enabling and can make the situation worse. If you find that they’re backsliding, try using general questions, neutral suggestions, or “I statements.”

Some examples of general questions are:

  • “Do you feel like you’re self-isolating?”
  • “I haven’t heard from you in a while, are you ok? Do you need anything?”
  • “Do you feel like you’ve been spending a lot on alcohol lately?”
  • “Aren’t you worried you might be hungover tomorrow?”
  • “Want to go for a walk before we drive home?”

Some examples of neutral suggestions are:

  • “Let’s get tea instead”
  • “You have to drive home soon. Let’s switch to water”
  • “Let’s walk to the store and get a snack before you head home”

These kinds of interactions can help them avoid triggers, reduce backslides, and face the effect that their addiction has on their own reality.

Some examples of “I statements” are:

  • “I am worried about you because…,”
  • “I feel hurt when…,”
  • “I miss how things used to be”
  • “I don’t like how this feels because…,”
  • “I feel unseen and unheard”
  • “I’m worried I’m losing you”
  • “I’m scared for your safety”
  • “I want to help fix things between us”
  • “I feel like you’re pulling away.”

These kinds of interactions can help them think about the situation from a different perspective to better understand how their actions may be affecting those they love.

Maintain your own boundaries

Substance use disorder can be chaotic and all-consuming for everyone. That’s why you need to establish your own healthy boundaries to look out for your own well-being. It’s OK to ask for space or say that you can’t talk about it right now. It’ll be easier to remain empathetic and level-headed when talking to them if you’ve taken your own needs into consideration. To help remember your boundaries, it may be beneficial to write them down. Include a list of topics that are off limits. Practicing self-care is important while you support your loved one through their SUD.

Discuss their options

It’s not an easy decision to seek treatment. As someone they trust, your loved one may want to talk to you about their options. During a conversation like this, let them lead so you they can tell you what they need and how they want to proceed. There are many forms of treatment that aren’t rehab. Someone suffering from SUD may find individual counseling sessions or support groups the least intimidating option. You can gently guide the conversation to help them accept that they need help. If they’re not serious about getting better and continue to make unhealthy choices, it may be time for an intervention. Interventions can be a helpful tool when someone is having trouble facing the realities of their substance use disorder. When planned and run properly, they can motivate those in denial.

Encourage professional help

Remember that you’re not responsible for your loved one’s treatment, and you’re not alone. There are many resources at your disposal that you can use or relay to them. For example, if you don’t have the emotional capacity to help them along their journey, you may benefit from some professional assistance. Professional interventionists can coach you and your loved ones through the intervention process. Professional counselors can be a very helpful resource to both you and your loved one with SUD. Don’t lose hope—recovery is always possible.

SUD healthcare support

Good intentions, education, patience, and empathy can help you navigate tough conversations with someone struggling with SUD. Premera provides access to professionals on-demand to help them with their condition. Boulder and Workit Health are two behavioral health providers that are accessible to group members. They’re completely virtual. That means they can be contacted anywhere, anytime directly from a smart phone. Each program specializes in SUD and features different approaches to treatment and support. They also provide resources for 100% remote rehabilitation, counseling, and medication-based treatment. Premera also offers in-person access to high quality, top-rated professionals at brick-and-mortar locations. Learn more about our mental health offerings here.

Recommend Premera

If a dependent or fellow Premera member has approached you about their substance use disorder, find out about what treatment benefits are included in your plan.

Getting help is only a few clicks away.

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