How can you offer addiction help?

The question that seems to be on everybody’s mind (except perhaps that of the addict), is:


– One of the first things you must do if you want to help someone with an addiction is to educate yourself. Obviously, you are already beginning the process by reading blogs like this along with, hopefully, finding other resources online. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) have some great information that will no doubt be useful!

– While you’ll learn a lot throughout this process, don’t expect that the addict will be as excited about your learning as you may be. You are learning so that you understand what addiction entails. Remember that addiction is a disease of the brain and that the drugs, or alcohol, have a grip on your loved one that is more than simply moral. There are actual changes in neurological (brain) circuits that are caused by heavy drug use and that affect the user’s ability to quit (look for my educational posts on drug addiction).

Behavior is guided by rewards and punishments. This is something that we’ve learned over and over in psychological research. While it may seem difficult, decide on what you’re willing to accept and what you aren’t, and stick by those rules. I don’t necessarily believe in the punishment idea in this context because it can seriously strain relationships. However, if you go the the mostly-reward-route, make sure that you only reward behavior that is healthy, like decisions not to use. If “using behavior” is sometimes rewarded (like when you feel really bad for the user), the mixed message will make it much harder to change the behavior later.

– I also don’t necessarily believe in the al-anon method of detachment. My own story would have turned out very differently had my family not been there to catch me when I had my last, huge, fall. If you choose to detach though, decide for yourself if this is a temporary solution or if you want to do so permanently. Drug users are great manipulators and if you think that a night of “I’m not talking to you,” may be enough, you are sorely mistaken…

Intervention Hell

– When it comes to interventions, everyone always thinks of the stereotypical kind now immortalized in the A&E television show. That sort of intervention is known as th Johnson Institute method. Nevertheless, it’s far from the only one and has actually been shown to be marginally effective. Remember that any attempt to alter behavior is considered an intervention. The act of rewarding positive decisions I’d mentioned above would alter behavior in ways that are slower, but most likely more long lasting, all while introducing less strain on the relationship, at least in the short run. Another type of technique that I prefer when it comes to getting resistant addicts into treatment is called Motivational Interviewing. Make sure to ask anyone you approach for treatment whether they use this technique. It’s been shown to greatly improve addicts’ own motivation to enter treatment and when they want it themselves they’re more likely to benefit from it.

As always, if you have specific questions, please feel free to contact me.

Be strong, and most importantly, don’t blame yourself for what’s going on, but be aware of your role in the relationship and know what you can change about your part.

Good Luck!

3 responses to “How can you offer addiction help?”

  1. My daughter is coming out of an inpatient 12-step treatment program soon. She will probably be leaving rather than completing. She has received a DUI and her car was totaled in an accident. She will be living with us again at 22. I would like to see some positive steps and direction in her life before we assist her in getting just a car to go back and forth to work in since that will probably be part of her sentence for the DUI. Is that rewarding or punishing. For me, I don’t see that there is another option. I don’t want to get her a car without some change in thinking, choices and behavior.

  2. Samson,
    I applaud you for trying to figure this out before it becomes an issue. To my mind, the distinction here between rewarding and punishing will be in the results. That being said, I think that your notion about not simply buying your daughter a car to get back and forth to work is correct. Not knowing the reality of her situation and the transportation requirements, it’s hard for me to speak to this in more detail.

    Overall, you’re going to want to make it clear and unambiguous when good behavior gets rewarded and when bad behavior does not. So, when your daughter makes responsible decisions regarding her drinking, they should be rewarded (not necessarily with money or a car), but when she acts irresponsibly, there should be no question about the consequences. If she is sometimes gets rewarded for behavior that is inappropriate, the whole equation is thrown off.

    If you’d like to get into this more in depth, feel free to contact me directly via the form and we can speak about this more.

  3. Thanks for the posting. I think you’ve laid out the reward and ‘punishment’ system wonderfully. I am not a huge supporter of detaching, but what I will say to the Samson is that his heart is in the right place.
    His daughter, now 22 is an adult and should be considering this transportation situation on her own. I also don’t know all the ins and out of the case but I do know that the more YOU take care of things like this for THEM the more YOU enable them to continue.

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