When someone you care about is dealing with addiction, it can be emotionally taxing, no matter the season. But when combined with holiday chaos and the stress of visiting family, having a loved one with a substance use disorder can feel almost unbearable. What if you say the wrong thing and offend your loved one or make them want to flee? What if your concern backfires, and your loved one goes on a life-threatening bender in retaliation?
- Nearly 10 percent of Americans 12 years of age and over have used an illicit drug in the past month.
- That number is more than double for 18-20 year-olds.
- Nearly 23 Million Americans need treatment for a problem related to drugs or alcohol, but less than 10% receive it.
- With a substance use disorder, the brain’s set points for reward and pleasure are changed and the brain craves the drug over all else, including food and family.
Dependence on alcohol and drugs is our most serious national public health problem. It is prevalent among rich and poor, in all regions of the country, and all ethnic and social groups. These individuals who misuse or are dependent on alcohol or drugs inevitably have families who suffer great consequences as well.
So how do we get a child or other loved one into treatment? One of the most critical aspects is family support. Here are some tips if you are faced with such a situation this holiday season:
1. Don’t be afraid to say something
Bring up your concerns, but don’t be confrontational. One way to ease into the conversation is by saying something to the effect of, “I noticed you’re having trouble with things that would usually come easy to you. Is there something going on?”
The more you can err on the side of not seeming like you’re making a judgment, but that you’re concerned, the better. If they deny there’s a problem, come back with the facts you’ve noticed, whether they’ve missed work recently or they’ve been nodding off during dinner, for example.
2. Be aware of the signs of addiction
Many people struggling with addiction use in secret. But there are some telling signs that someone might be abusing drugs or alcohol. Typically, you’re seeing a behavior you didn’t use to see that’s worrisome. It could be that the person stops showing up to work or social engagements, or you might find that they’re being more secretive. Especially in the case of teenagers, they might start spending time with a different set of friends. Specifically:
Someone struggling with heroin/opioid addiction might often “nod off” — drop their head and start to fall asleep as they’re sitting there. Their pupils will appear smaller. Frequent scratching is common. They might lose a lot of weight.
- Alcohol abuse
A person with alcohol use disorder might have puffy skin from retaining water, and a red nose from enlarged blood vessels. You might see them stumble or smell alcohol on the breath. They might be irritable or experience tremors or shaky hands if they’ve gone too long without a drink.
Cocaine and amphetamines cause people to appear hyperactive, talk rapidly and express ideas of grandeur. They will have a decreased need for sleep and might experience a major loss of weight.
3. Stage an intervention with a medical professional
If you feel like you need some extra help, you can have a medical professional intervene. At RCA, it’s free to hire an interventionist to help you plan an intervention with close friends or family and the person you’re worried about. There’s strength in numbers: if one person thinks they have a problem, that’s one thing; but if say, three do and a doctor, it’s harder for them to deny it.
An interventionist will not only serve as a mediator to make sure you calmly and effectively communicate your support and concern for your loved one, but also help you come up with a treatment plan. Be aware that there’s a window where people see it as a problem, and that window closes pretty quickly. For example, if you stage the intervention on a Thursday, and a person agrees at that time to check into rehab on Monday, there’s a good chance they’ll change their mind by then. Ideally, the goal is to enter them into a rehab program immediately after the intervention.
It’s arguably easier to stage an intervention or convince someone they have a problem after a catastrophic event — say, they lost their job because of using, or, god forbid, got into an accident. But what about high-functioning users, who still excel at work and meet their responsibilities, despite their dependence on drugs or alcohol? Try focusing on how the addiction is impacting their physical or mental health or social or family obligations. Focus on the problems caused by the drugs or alcohol and have that discussion with the person.
The bottom line is that the holidays can be a great time to let your loved one know you care about them and are there to help them quit their addiction. I hear families say they are afraid to ask their loved ones if they’re using drugs or have an alcohol problem. What I say is, think of what could happen if you don’t ask.
By: Deni Carise