7 factors to consider when discussing treatment with your addicted loved one

You really want your loved one to get into treatment, but you just don’t know how or when to ask. Maybe you’ve tried to talk about treatment with your loved one many times; or maybe you’ve avoided the topic of treatment because you “just know that they aren’t going to do it.” Or maybe you’ve had bad experiences with your loved one when the topic is raised and now feel worried about bringing it back up. There are no magic words or tricks that will make your loved one respond positively, but there are two basic tools you can learn and practice that will increase your chances of successfully discussing treatment with your loved one. The two tools are:

  1. Using effective communication skills (e.g., PIOUS skills which give us skills for what and how to communicate).

  2. Selecting good times to make your request (picking when you’ll talk).

In a previous post about how to speak to your loved one about the impact of his/her use, we discussed specific communication skills you can use:  PIOUS, which stands for:

  • Use Positive phrasing

  • Use I statements

  • Offer to help

  • Provide an Understanding statement

  • Refer to Specific actions.

If you’re having a little trouble remembering these skills, or if you’re about to ask your loved one to enter treatment, it’s a good idea to look over them over again . The communication skills are the HOW of bringing up treatment with your loved one and it is important to use them if you want to be successful. Then there is the WHEN of bringing up treatment. That's what this post is about.

7 factors to consider about WHEN to bring up treatment with your loved one

Timing matters a lot. Think about a time when you were feeling really stressed and someone asked you to do something (a task at work, picking up someone from the airport). Now think of a time when you were feeling rested and in a relatively good mood and someone asked you to do the same thing (or something similar). Most of us notice that when we are stressed, tired, or in a bad mood, that we are more likely to say no, while when we are in a relatively good mood or something positive has just happened, that we’re more likely to say yes. This same experience is true for asking your loved one to enter treatment. Picking the right time to talk can increase the chances that your loved one might be open to entering treatment.  Here are some ideas on when to bring up treatment:

  • When you are both in a good mood. Pick a time when both of you are in relatively good moods. Both of you don’t need to be happy, but pick a time when neither one of you is really stressed out, fatigued, or angry.

  • When you have been getting along. After a period of time (e.g., a couple of days) when both of you are getting along. Consider mentioning that you’d like your relationship to improve even further, and perhaps entering treatment will help you both do that.

  • When your loved one talks about negative consequences of their use. If your partner mentions that they wish they could accomplish more on the weekend and is tired of feeling so sluggish (because of the hangover), this is a golden opportunity to bring up the topic of treatment. However, this is also a time to pay attention to your communication skills so that you can present it in a positive light!

  • Hungover versus sober? Reflect on whether your loved one would be more open to talking about treatment if they are hungover vs. sober. For some the direct experience of feeling bad due to their use may make them more willing to consider treatment.

  • Consider the time of day. Time of day and what is happening during that time of day are important considerations. Try to pick a time when the addicted love one is more relaxed and there is enough time to have a discussion about treatment. 7 a.m. in the morning when you and your partner are rushing around to get to work is probably NOT the best time to discuss treatment.

  • If your loved one notices you’ve been acting differently because of learning CRAFT . If your loved one notes that you’ve been acting differently around their drug or alcohol use, seize this opportunity to talk a bit about what you’ve been learning, why you’re spending time learning new skills, and the positive effects of these skills. Feel free to share as much or as little as you feel comfortable disclosing. Your positive experiences in learning new ways to support your loved one’s sobriety may pique their interest in getting their own treatment.

  • Consider whether to do it one-on-one or with others. Having a private conversation vs. having trusted others involved in the conversation is another factor to consider. Is your loved more open to treatment if you bring it up in a 1 to 1 conversation just the two of you, or are they more open if you have trusted others (friends, family members) there when you bring up treatment?

Here are some additional things to think about when offering treatment to your loved one:

  • Stay safe. If there has been violence in your relationship, you will want to back off quickly and soothe your loved one if they become angry. In fact, we highly recommend that before you try any of the skills that have been discussed, that you evaluate your level of safety in your relationship. If there is any violence or risk for violence, it is not a good idea to try out the skills until your safety is established. Your safety is the top priority. There are several resources you may want to access if you are involved in an abusive relationship.

  • Think about your past attempts to get your loved one into treatment or to do something difficult. What worked? What didn’t work? You are the expert in what works best for you and your loved one. Identifying what has worked in the past and improving from there is a great place to start.

  • Think about your loved one’s motivators for sobriety. What do they love that has been let go of or negatively impacted by their use? If your loved one values their job, you may be able to include this in your discussion about treatment (e.g., sobriety may allow them to get that promotion they’ve been wanting).

  • Have treatment options ready. It is probably a good idea to have a few treatment options picked out before you talk about treatment with your loved one. If you have options available, this is one less barrier to them getting treatment. Remember to consider options that your loved one is more willing to do. For example, if your adult child hates groups, offering individual therapy may be something that they are more willing to try. Check out our previous post if you need help finding a good treatment center.

  • The best case scenario is if you can get them in to see a potential treatment provider within 48 hours of having the discussion, which might mean a little bit of coordinating with the provider before you open up the conversation with your loved one. This can be difficult to actually make happen many times but, if at all possible, it does increase the likelihood that your loved one will follow through.

Don’t be discouraged. You can make a difference!

A final tip; don’t be discouraged if you pick a good time and use your communication skills and your loved one still says no. There will be other good times to ask him/her to enter treatment. Just because this one attempt didn’t work does not mean that a future attempt won’t work. Don’t give up! Sometimes it takes multiple offers before someone accepts help. Use your social support network and self-care skills if you find yourself becoming frustrated or despairing about your loved one’s refusal to enter treatment. There will be additional opportunities, and if you keep practicing the communication skills and picking the right time, you can be there to help your loved one get the help he/she needs.

Here’s an exercise to help figure out where to start

To help you learn how to recognize better times to offer treatment, take a piece of paper and draw a vertical line in the middle (you’ll have 2 columns). One column represents your ideas about better times to talk to your loved one about treatment (e.g., when he/she will be more open to the idea); the other column represents times when you are tempted to talk to your loved one about treatment, but it isn’t a good of time to do so. In both columns you can include times in the past when your offers for treatment (or to do something difficult) were successful or rejected. Here’s an example of this table:

table exercise finding good times to talk