Dealing with a friend or family member who struggles with drug or alcohol addiction can be extremely difficult.
Your loved one may make excuses for bad behavior, promise he or she will change, and beg you for assistance fixing problems caused by substance abuse. It’s important to understand why saying “no” can often be the most compassionate response to the situation.
Reasons It Can Be Hard to Say “No”
Although every circumstance is different, it can be helpful to think about what might be behind your inability to say “no” to a loved one who is struggling with addiction. Some reasons that often drive this behavior include:
- You’re afraid of conflict. If your loved one has a temper, you may be afraid of provoking an angry reaction. Giving in, even when you’re know it’s not the best long-term solution, just seems easier.
You want to make your loved one feel better. The pain of addiction becomes more obvious over time and it’s hard to see someone you care about suffer. Temporarily fixing minor issues may make you feel better about the suffering you can’t control.
- You’re trying to protect your loved one. Offering money, a safe place to stay, or help smoothing over a conflict with a mutual friend keeps your loved one from experiencing the consequences of addiction.
- You feel guilty. When a loved one has an addiction to drugs or alcohol, you may fall into the trap of blaming yourself. You might think that he or she could get sober if only you were a better friend, spouse, parent, etc. However, you are not responsible for the actions of others. Nothing you did or didn’t do caused your loved one’s substance use disorder.
- You’re a people pleaser. Sometimes, saying “no” to a loved one with a substance abuse disorder is just difficult because you seldom turn down any request. If you’ve developed the habit of thinking of yourself as someone who can always fix other people’s problems, refusing to intervene can shake your self-image.
How to Break the Pattern
Identifying the cause of your fear of saying “no” is the first step towards creating a healthier relationship with your loved one. Other tips that may be helpful include:
- Remind yourself that enabling is not helping. When you give into requests that allow your loved one to avoid facing the consequences of his or her actions, you’re enabling substance abuse to continue. This reduces the motivation to seek treatment.
- Learn the difference between being mean and setting healthy limits. It’s easy to confuse the two, but it can be helpful to think about how parents deal with young children. A loving parent serves vegetables at dinner, makes sure homework is completed, and sets a reasonable bedtime even though most children would rather eat nothing but ice cream, watch TV, and stay up all night. Setting healthy limits is a form of love, even if it takes your friend or family member awhile to realize your intentions.
- Join a support group. Talking to others who love someone with a substance use disorder can help you better understand that your feelings are normal. Access to a support system can also help strengthen your resolve when you’re tempted to give into requests that you know aren’t in the best interest of your loved one’s recovery.
- Build a separate identity. People who love someone who struggles with addiction often suffer from codependency. They fear being alone and have their moods controlled by the people around them. This is an unhealthy behavior pattern, but one that can be remedied by pursuing independent interests and making a consistent effort to broaden your social circle.
- Practice with others people in your life. If your struggle to say “no” to a loved one is related to your tendency to be a people pleaser, make a conscious effort to start declining requests that don’t fit in with your personal priorities. This might mean turning down a request to organize the PTO bake sale, skipping out on a social engagement with people you’re no longer close to, or admitting that you’re too busy to take on yet another project at work.
Encouraging Your Loved One to Seek Addiction Treatment
Saying “no” to requests that promote unhealthy lifestyle choices is a great start, but the best way to help a loved one who is abusing drugs or alcohol is to encourage him or her to seek addiction treatment. You may be able to do this one-on-one, but getting together with other concerned individuals and planning a structured intervention is often a more effective approach.
Waypoint Recovery Center in South Carolina uses medically supervised detox followed by intensive individual and group counseling to help clients struggling with drug or alcohol addiction set the foundation for recovery. After residential treatment or intensive outpatient treatment is completed, continuing care/recovery management services help provide the individualized support necessary for long-term sobriety.