TV shows glamorize the concept of forced treatment for addicts, court systems mandate 12 Step programs, and worried loved ones often view coercion as a last resort. However, when you force someone to seek treatment against their will, it very rarely ends well. In fact, unless a substance user eventually changes their mind and undergoes treatment on their own terms; long-term progress is a pipe dream.
If you know and love someone who uses drugs or drinks excessively, you might believe they have a legitimate medical need for forced treatment. You might even feel responsible for saving their life; after all, someone has to step in before they overdose, get alcohol poisoning, or die because of a drunk driving accident. This is actually a selfish impulse, though. You don't want to feel guilty or complicit, and your assumptions about the severity of their behavior might not be accurate.
Intervention may be necessary when someone suffers a life-threatening mental health crisis, and sometimes substance use is associated with these. If your loved one experiences a prolonged state of paranoia, delusion, depression, or any other severe side effects of substance use, they might benefit from involuntary hospitalization. However, as soon as their clarity and competence return, they reserve the right to stop treatment at any time. Your fears about their future behavior are not enough proof to remove their free will.
It's always okay to share your feelings and concerns, especially if you feel worried about the consequences of someone else's substance use. However, that's where your contributions should stop. When you begin to integrate ultimatums into your conversations or assume control over your friend or family member, you're no longer treating them as an equal or acknowledging their right to make their own choicesâ€”even poor ones.
This is important to remember, because taking responsibility for one's own decisions is crucial for long-term progress. If a guest comes to Saint Jude Retreats simply to satisfy a family member's conditions, it doesn't matter how productive our program is; they won't change until they actually want to change. If they'll lose their home or personal relationships unless they go to treatment, that simply means they're working toward a specific reward. Once the conditions are met, they can return to whatever it is they actually want to do.
If you feel ignored, manipulated, or dismissed by a substance user, you probably have a very natural desire to regain control and change their behavior. Maybe you believe they'll "come around" and see their habits through your eyes, or you think they'd stop using if they really understood how much pain it causes you. You must learn to cope with your frustration without resorting to emotional blackmail, though.
Substance use depends on personal choices, not external influences. You can't stop or cause it; only they can make that decision. Instead of worrying about how to "reach" them, just make sure you're encouraging and supportive if they are willing to change and be available to help when they reach out.