There is a saying that you should never try to wake a sleepwalking person. The myth is that they might turn violent, panic, or have a heart attack. The exact nature of the myth varies in the telling, but as you might have guessed from us calling it a “myth”, it is not true in any case.
You should try to wake someone from a delusion. It will keep them safe, and they will likely be able to rest better afterwards. In a similar way, you should try to help a friend or family member if you believe they have developed an addiction problem, even if it is unpleasant.
There are three sides to getting someone to acknowledge their addiction problem: The first is your side of the battle, which involves getting emotionally and intellectually ready.
The second is their side of it, which will oftentimes involve a degree of resistance.
And the third is the doctor’s side of it. Because, since you are dealing with the medical issue called addiction, you should have the expectation that you will involve a doctor.
We are going to go over each of these, with more info about how to handle addiction on our website.
Your Side of Getting Someone to Acknowledge Addiction
Before you talk to anyone about their addiction, you need to be both ready for the emotional turmoil that will follow and educated in how addiction works.
Getting ready for the emotions involved in talking with someone about their addiction means preparing to show empathy rather than judgment. One of the big obstacles you will run into is the fact that so many addicts have internalized judgment towards themselves that they might presume you to be judging them just by bringing the topic up at all.
Avoiding this is all about being straightforward. If you beat around the bush, your approach will look weak and underhanded, like it’s hiding something. But if you’re direct and honest about what you are trying to communicate, you can cut through a lot of pretense and presumption.
Part of this process is getting educated on what this person is addicted to, how the addiction happened, and what it means for them physically. Addiction either ends in the addict getting clean or dying from the addiction. That needs to be acknowledged as true by both of you.
Their Side of the Story
You can prepare all you want, but you will eventually have to deal with how the person in question responds to their addiction being noticed and talked about. The problem is that the potential reactions they might have are infinite. But that doesn’t mean preparing is impossible.
What is means is that you need to break down their possible reactions into three different categories and have a plan for how to deal with each. These categories are:
The least common, but scariest of the three, the best way to respond to anger is by lowering your voice and reminding the person of your fundamental reasons for engaging them. Whether they are angry at themselves for becoming addicted or at you for engaging them about it, you need to remind them that you are there to help and not to judge them.
Apathy is when the person does not treat their addiction seriously. They might even deny that it is an addiction. In some ways, apathy is more dangerous than anger, as it poses the greatest risk of making the addiction worse. The obstacle here is the other person’s denial.
The best way to deal with denial is to challenge the premises it is built upon. They might assert that they are not an addict and that they just use drugs or alcohol recreationally. Challenge that by pointing out how that sort of behavior is a gateway to addiction.
This is when the person knows that their addiction is about to come up and tries to end the conversation before it begins. They might also try to placate you to get out of the conversation without making any real internal commitment to change.
In an inverse of how to respond to anger, avoidance is actually a good time to raise your voice. The obstacle you are dealing with here is shame. It is easy for shame to start a downward spiral, where the only escape from shame is indulging in the addiction.
Just like how the activity of anger needs to be cooled with the stasis of calm, the stasis of calm needs to be upset by the activity of righteous indignation.
The Doctor’s Part to Play
Whatever your specific plan of approaching the person with the addiction, the ultimate goal should be getting them to see a doctor about their health. It doesn’t need to be an addiction doctor, and it doesn’t need to be an examination of their addiction’s impact on their health.
If they go and visit a doctor, the doctor will notice that they are addict. The tests they run will prove that it is the case. Then, the conversation is forced to be a lot more honest.
This will also allow the person to more easily access the help that they need to overcome their addiction. Lots of addicts think that they are alone in the world and have to fight their addiction in solitude. But the medical community recognizes how that is an impossible task.
No one can handle addiction completely on their own. But at the same time, no one is ever beyond helping. There are practically no cases of addiction that could not be overcome with the right effort, the right help, and the right medical attention.
And not all treatments work the same. If the person you are trying to talk to doesn’t want to go to rehab or a detox center, then they don’t have to. The amount of freedom might surprise you, so be sure to let them know that they are not going to prison or anything.