by Mike Gillis, LCSW-C
Thanks for coming back! If you have missed any of the previous three blogs, do yourself a favor and go back and start from the beginning. For this fourth, and final blog of this series, we are going to wrap things up with talking about how to start the conversation about drug and alcohol use.
Generally, I have seen three scenarios where families find themselves having this conversation. The first being before any drinking or drug use has started. The second being when drug or alcohol use is suspected and the third when there are obvious signs of using and boundaries need to be set.
Let’s review all three!
Often times, families avoid talking about drugs and alcohol because they feel like bringing it up may put ideas into their heads. This couldn’t be further from the truth!
The vast majority of adolescents will be put into a situation where they will be exposed to stories of drug use OR be offered or pressured into using drugs or alcohol. Why not prepare them for these situations?
It has been shown that families that are open about their stance on drugs, non-judgmental and willing to listen to their loved ones greatly reduce chances of using in the first place. If you find it hard to start by talking about illegal substances, start with the drugs that are likely in your house currently, such as prescriptions and over the counter medications.
Ask your loved one questions like, is it OK to take medicines that aren’t prescribed to you? Or, ask whether they believe it’s safe and OK to take more than what the directions say.
Being non-judgmental and clear that you are willing to listen sets the stage for their likeliness to come and talk to you when they are faced with situations that may be confusing for them.
So, what happens when you think your loved one might be using, but are too worried to say something in case you’re wrong and blame them for something they didn’t do?
Many family members will find themselves looking through their loved one’s belongings when they aren’t home or checking their phone for evidence to explain behavior that is concerning before there is an actual conversation about it. It’s the most natural thing to do in these situations, find evidence for or against our concerns.
I’m not outright condoning this, sometimes it is necessary as a family member to make sure the home is a safe environment for everyone. However, trust will be broken one way or another with this situation. Either you find nothing and have just broken the trust of your loved one (even if you do find something, they will likely not trust you for breaking their privacy) or you find something concerning and lose trust in them.
The conversation needed in these situations is much easier if you have established the conversation of drugs and alcohol as safe from the last section. If you haven’t, it’s not too late to start.
Letting your loved one know your stance on drug use, why it’s important to you and why you are concerned are good starts at this stage. BE PREPARED…you likely won’t initially get the truth if something is being hidden, but if you are non-judgmental and open to listening you are in a much better position to be the supportive factor in that person’s life when they are ready.
It doesn’t matter if you are a parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, grandparent or friend, the feeling of being out of control of a situation cannot be better defined then trying to manage, control or help a loved one in active addiction.
At this point in the progression, there have likely been multiple people in their lives that have tried to have a conversation and reason with them. The problem is that they are out of control themselves and not able to simply make the obvious best decisions.
All of the previous suggestions also fall into this scenario. However, there needs to be a realization that nothing will change until you change your approach. Hands down, the most difficult thing for a loved one to do in this situation is establish firm boundaries and stick with them, knowing that it will cause significant consequences for them and their loved ones. There is no way to effectively say how to do this in a blog post.
The best advice I can give is that it’s time for you, the family member, to get your own help and support. The conversation that needs to happen at this stage is between family members, with your own therapist and with people who know what you are going through.
There are groups that are free to engage with and for families with loved ones struggling with addiction such as Al-Anon (alcohol), Nar-Anon (narcotics) and Alateen (for teenagers affected with addiction in the family). These are run by other family members who have been through similar situations.
Whichever step you find yourself in, it’s never too early or too late to reach out to a therapist or support group and start the process of how to have the conversation. You are worth getting your own help and your loved one will greatly benefit from you being the best support you can be!
If you have any questions or want to leave me a message or comment I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, if you know someone who would benefit from this post please feel free to share it with them, it could save a life.
Thank you everyone for sticking through this series and remember, I’m just an email or phone call away!