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Breaching the subject of substance use disorders (SUDs) with a loved one who is struggling can be a very delicate procedure that requires poise and understanding. Many people feel anxious about approaching their loved ones about this issue, even if it comes from a place of love and concern. While there is no one-size-fits-all method for successfully treading these waters, this article will outline recommended tips and strategies for handling this precarious issue and getting your loved one the help that they need.

How to Approach Your Loved One

If you recognize that someone you love may be exhibiting signs of a SUD, you could play a crucial role in getting them the help that they deserve. However, it’s important that you exercise caution in the situation for both of your well-being. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends the following six steps for helping a loved one with SUD:

  1. Talk to your loved one
  2. Be open
  3. Show compassion
  4. Be sure to care for yourself too
  5. Seek support
  6. Remember that mental health and substance use disorders are treatable

#1. Talk to Your Loved One

Perhaps the most dreaded and vague step of the process, talking to your loved one is the beginning of this journey. This step may be particularly challenging because an individual’s needs are specific to them. It’s important that you use your intimate knowledge about your loved one to create a space that feels safe and non-judgmental to begin this dialogue. 

There are several ways that you can increase the odds that this initial approach will result in an open and productive conversation. The first is to identify an appropriate time and place. Generally speaking, multiple people approaching the subject matter with your loved one could lead them to feel attacked or overwhelmed. Choosing a private, intimate setting such as your home or a secluded walk may mitigate their defensive reactions. 

Another way SAMHSA recommends approaching the subject is by being direct and expressing genuine concern. In this instance, beating around the bush won’t help anyone and may cause your loved one to grow irritated or frustrated. Expressing genuine concern — and your reasoning for it — will help them to understand your point of view. Likewise, be prepared to actively listen to what they have to say without judgment. Be sure to acknowledge and validate their feelings and make a genuine effort to understand what they’re going through.

After you feel that you have both properly communicated your feelings on the matter, offer to help them. Remind them that SUDs are treatable and, if applicable, you’ll be there to support them throughout their journey. If possible, begin searching for resources with them to initiate the process and begin thinking about the best path forward for your loved one. 

In addition to these steps, SAMHSA encourages modeling your dialogue after phrases like:

  • “I’ve been worried about you. Can we talk? If not, who are you comfortable talking to?”
  • “I see you’re going through something. How can I best support you?”
  • “I care about you, and I’m here to listen. Do you want to talk about what’s been going on?”
  • “I’ve noticed you haven’t seemed like yourself lately. How can I help?”

#2. Be Open

It’s important to enter this conversation without prejudices or barriers preventing you from engaging in a productive conversation. Being honest and transparent about your concerns, family history of substance use, or your own experience with SUDs may help your loved one feel less alone. Additionally, being able to openly and honestly communicate will foster feelings of trust and confidence in the relationship, which is important for both this conversation and the recovery process that lies ahead. 

#3. Show Compassion

Showing genuine concern for your loved one is essential to having a productive dialogue. Don’t make them feel belittled because of their SUD. Recognize that it is a serious and complicated issue that you likely don’t fully understand. Practicing patience and understanding is just as important to helping them as finding resources or treatment centers. 

#4. Care for Yourself Too

As you may already know, loving someone with SUD can be emotionally draining. You may spend countless hours worrying about your loved one or devoting energy to supporting them. While you should help them however you can, it’s important that you’re also paying attention to your own mental health and aren’t placing too much strain on yourself. Your loved one will need your support throughout the recovery process, so it’s important not to burn out too quickly. 

#5. Seek Support

Finding local or national resources for your loved one is a crucial step in getting them the help they deserve. If possible, ask if they will allow you to help them find treatment programs or facilities that may be best for them. This way, they can feel more secure and supported in this decision that will affect the rest of their lives. 

#6. Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders Are Treatable

At the end of the day, be sure to remember that help is available to your loved one. SUD is not a terminal diagnosis, and there is light at the end of the tunnel. People can recover. The road to recovery is not an easy or even straightforward one, and it will likely take effort from both your loved one and yourself. However, you are not alone in this journey,y and neither are they. 

Watching a loved one battle a substance use disorder can be a harrowing experience and can leave you feeling hopeless and scared to even approach the topic. Many people fear that if they bring the issue to light, their loved one may react negatively and refuse treatment. While this is always a possible outcome, there are resources available to you that can help you create a comfortable environment for a productive conversation. The most important thing is that you remain open, honest, compassionate, and patient with your loved one. To discuss treatment options available to your loved one at West Coast Recovery Centers or to discuss how to broach the subject with them, call us at (760) 492-6509.

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