Five Valuable Engagement Techniques to Help Screen and Treat Substance Abuse Candidates

If you suspect a friend or family member is struggling with substance abuse, talking to them about this issue can be challenging. These five techniques can help engage your loved one in a conversation about the issues they are facing and encourage them to seek treatment.

  1. Open the Dialogue on a Positive Note

Start the conversation by making a statement of love and support. It is helpful to draw a distinction between your feelings about the person and your feelings about the addiction and associated behaviors. You might say something like: “I love and care for you, but I’m worried about what happens when you drink.” Using “I” statements like “I feel dread when I suspect that you are using” can help make sure that your loved one does not enter the conversation feeling accused.

  1. Choose the Right Time

The National Council for Behavioral Health (NCBH) recommends speaking with your loved one in a quiet, private place when both of you are sober (https://drugfree.org/parent-blog/want-help-adult-family-member-friend-drug-alcohol-problem-7-suggestions/). Avoid a confrontational intervention, which can create feelings of embarrassment, persecution, or hostility. While there is no evidence that this approach is effective in encouraging individuals to seek treatment, it can help open a healthy dialogue to discuss the options.

  1. Ask Questions

While you shouldn’t force your loved one to admit they have a problem, you should ask questions to try to understand their perception of their drug and alcohol use. Without the readiness to change, your loved one may not be ready to admit to a problem or have the willingness to enter treatment.

  1. Pay Attention to Your Body Language

Tough conversations can be easier when both parties are comfortably seated and relaxed. Sitting up straight and leaning forward can show active engagement in the conversation. Using a calm, slow tone of voice and avoiding agitation can help set the tone. On the other hand, aggressive and accusatory body language like standing, pointing fingers, shaking fists, or raising your voice can be counterproductive.

  1. Be Clear About Your Boundaries

While you can’t force your loved one to seek treatment, you can control your own behavior and choices. If your family member refuses to admit that they have a problem or declines to seek treatment, you may need to decide how that will affect your relationship with them moving forward. You may need to set boundaries that will establish how you will interact with them as a result of their decision. You could consider withholding money, shelter, or overall support until they agree to seek treatment.

If your loved one agrees to treatment, they should seek an evaluation by a qualified healthcare provider. Tools like The American Society for Addiction Medicine provide resources to search for a physician on their website. Healthcare professionals will be able to recommend the appropriate course of treatment for your loved one depending on the extent of their addiction. This can include inpatient or outpatient treatment with options like medication and intensive therapy. Ongoing support from family and friends is critical for successful addiction treatment, but over involvement can be also be counterproductive as it may keep the person from taking responsibility from his or her own actions.

When your friend or family member has a substance abuse issue, you’re not alone. Narconon estimates that 64 percent of Americans have faced addiction in a close family member or friend (http://www.narconon.org/blog/drug-addiction/dos-donts-dealing-addict-life/). By addressing the issue honestly and expressing your willingness to offer non-judgmental support, you can help them take the brave first step in seeking treatment.