It is not uncommon for people to desperately want their friend or family member to stop using alcohol or other drugs. After watching their loved one struggle for what feels like an eternity, they may even want to force that person into treatment. Is it possible to commit a loved one to addiction treatment without their consent? Is it advisable? What should you do when your loved one refuses to get help for their addiction?
Can Versus Should
States vary on whether it is possible to force someone to get substance abuse treatment and the steps required to accomplish this. While an involuntary commitment can force a person to enter treatment, that person’s long-term recovery will depend on their commitment to staying sober. Treatment will be more effective when the person understands that they have a problem and willingly agrees to participate.
The Myth of Rock Bottom
Many people believe that a person struggling with substance abuse has to get as low as they can possibly go before they will be willing to make the changes needed to get sober. But this belief in “hitting rock bottom” as motivation for treatment is not supported by substance abuse research. Experts agree that it is best to intervene sooner, rather than later, when trying to help someone recover from addiction. Addiction, like diabetes or asthma, is a chronic illness. You wouldn’t wait until “rock bottom” to get treatment for diabetes, so why would you wait that long to get treatment for addiction? The sooner the intervention, the more likely it will be that any damage caused by the substance use can be reversed.
How to Gain Cooperation: Considering an Interventionist
It’s often not as simple as just telling a person struggling with addiction that they need to go to treatment. There may be resistance, denial, bargaining and even obstinate refusal. In these cases, an intervention may be effective. An intervention requires the following steps:
- Finding an interventionist – While it is not always possible to hire an interventionist to facilitate the discussion, it is highly recommended. An interventionist is trained in the process and knows what to expect. They can be a voice of objectivity and reason in an emotionally volatile situation. They will also be able to recommend and arrange resources for treatment. Interventionists should be certified by the Association of Intervention Specialists, and you should check their online reviews and Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating. If they are a licensed social worker, hold a master’s degree in social work, or are a licensed substance abuse counselor, those are also good signs.
- Assembling a team – You may find that not everyone who would be willing to participate in the intervention has the ability to do so constructively. The people who should not be included on the team are other people with active addiction, people who tend to butt heads with the person you’re trying to help, and children.
- Planning what to say – An intervention isn’t the time to wing it. It is important that each member of the team think through what they would like to say before they are caught up in the emotions of the moment. What needs to be said will already be hard enough for the person struggling with addiction to hear, so it should come from a place of love, kindness, and concern. Take the time to rehearse what you want to say before the big day. Rather than pointing fingers at what the person has done wrong, focus on yourself with “I” statements. For example, “I feel terrified every time my phone rings because I am afraid someone will be calling to say something awful happened to you.”
This is also the time to determine the consequences the person will face if they don’t seek out treatment. Don’t make threats. Only state what will be done and then follow through if they don’t get help.
- Is the person going to lose their housing, if they live with you?
- Will they be cut off from your financial support?
- Will you call child protective services out of concern for their children?
- Are there family functions they won’t be invited to until they get sober?
- If they work for you, will you fire them if they don’t get help?
- Will you refuse to take on their responsibilities any longer?
- Will you stop covering for them to others?
- If you own or pay for their vehicle, will you prevent them from accessing it until they get help?
- Choosing a location and time – Depending on your loved one, it may be possible to make a reasonable guess at when they will most likely be sober. It is ideal to talk to them when they are not under the influence because this increases the odds of them agreeing to treatment. The location should be somewhere they will feel safe and comfortable, that can easily accommodate the number of people on the team and doesn’t offer a lot of distractions.
- Having a realistic expectation for what could happen – While it is possible that your friend or family member will hear what everyone on the team has to say and immediately agree to start treatment, it is also possible that they will push back. They could also:
- Refuse to do anything that is asked of them and be angry with everyone who participated in the meeting
- Have a small epiphany and make a bit of progress without doing everything that was requested
- Do nothing initially and require time to process the conversation before taking action.
We Will Intervene at Safe Harbor
Ultimately, even if you do everything right in planning the intervention, the intervention could fail to immediately get the person into treatment. This may still be the first step in planting a seed that they need help and that everyone they love wants them to get it as soon as possible. Listen to what they are saying about why they refuse to participate in treatment and try to ease their fears. If you need more information about talking to your loved one about getting help, the team at Safe Harbor is available to answer questions and provide the tools to get them started.