10 Steps to Take if an Addict or Alcoholic Refuses Treatment

You know your friend or family member needs help for addiction, but they won't go to therapy. Here are some steps you can take to encourage them to start rehab.

What Can You Do When Someone Refuses Treatment?

It can be very difficult when your loved one needs to stop using Alcohol or other drugs and refuses treatment. When someone refuses treatment, or refuses to acknowledge they have a problem, it is devastating to everyone who loves them and cares about them.  The friends and family of addicts often live in shame and silence. Addiction is a complex, vicious disease, but recovery is possible. Below is a list of ten steps you can take if your loved one with an addiction refuses treatment.

1. Educate Yourself About the Disease of Addiction

The first thing you need to do when a family member struggles with alcohol or drug addiction is to educate yourself about the disease of addiction. Addiction is classified as a mental illness. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors compulsively despite harmful consequences. Your loved one may not understand or deny that they have a problem with addiction. The more you understand addiction, the more you will be able to manage the situation. There is a vast array of information on addiction that you can consult to learn more. You can also join a support group which is designed to help loved one of people with addictions like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon.

2. Let Go of Expectations

Addiction is a powerful disease that affects various parts of the brain. Therefore, you should let go of the expectation that your loved one is going to enter treatment because there are many defense mechanisms which arise from addiction that make it difficult to determine if your loved one is willing, or even ready, to begin recovery. When you sit down and share your concerns with your loved one about their addiction to alcohol or drugs, be prepared for the fallout, but never give up hope. Common defense mechanisms people with addictions use include:

Denial

Your loved one may deny any problem exists and refuse to accept reality.

Blaming Others

Your loved one may shift focus away from themselves and make others responsible for their addiction.

Projection

Your loved one might attribute their own negative feelings or behaviors to others, possibly by blaming their own feelings, decisions, and behaviors on others.

Rationalization

Your loved one might excuse irrational or unacceptable behaviors, motives, and feelings in an attempt to justify them to themselves and others.

Distorted thinking is a significant issue when dealing with anyone with an active addiction. Although you may see the situation clearly, thought distortions can make communicating with such a person exceptionally difficult.

3. Protect Yourself with Healthy Boundaries

In all of your relationships, it is important to have healthy boundaries, especially in a relationship with a loved one with an addiction. This involves taking care of yourself, understanding and valuing your needs and desires, and communicating clearly.  By setting solid boundaries, you bring a measure of control and stability into a difficult situation when your loved one refuses to enter treatment for addiction. In this situations, it is very important to enforcing healthy boundaries to protect yourself and those you care about.

If you notice yourself doing any of these things, it may be time for you to set healthy boundaries, or strengthen the boundaries you already have:

  • Criticizing your loved one
  • Frequently telling your loved one what to do
  • Covering for your loved one to protect them from the consequences of their actions (for example, by lying for them, calling in sick for them at work, picking them up from the bar, etc.)
  • Walking on eggshells around a loved one in order to avoid conflict

Here are some examples of healthy boundaries you can set with a loved one who refuses to enter treatment:

“No drugs or alcohol are allowed in this house or around anyone in our family.”

Letting your loved one know that addictive substances are not allowed in your home is a healthy, firm boundary you can set right away.  Follow it up by letting your loved one know the consequences of crossing that boundary (or any other boundary you set) and be sure to follow through by enforcing those consequences.

“You must understand that if for any reason you are arrested, I will not bail you out of jail or pay for your lawyer.”

When your loved one refuses to enter treatment, they need to also understand that they are adults and must be prepared to take responsibility for their actions. Be clear with your loved one that they must conform to the standards of the law as well as the standards of your home.

“None of your drug-using friends are allowed in my home.”

It is also important to setting boundaries about who is allowed in your home, especially if your loved one who refuses treatment lives with you. If you don’t want certain people in your home, be specific about who those people are when you discuss this with your loved one. This boundary helps minimize the damaging effects of addiction on you and your family.

4. Follow Through on Consequences

Once you’ve set your boundaries, you must follow up with consequences if your loved one does not respect them. Many people who struggle with alcohol or drug addiction see consequences as empty threats. It is important to follow through with consequences so that they understand you are serious. You may have to take away internet privileges, financial assistance, evict them, or move out. Only you can determine which consequences will be effective in your situation.

5. Stop Enabling

You enable someone when you support their addiction, directly or indirectly. Do you financially support your loved one who refuses to enter treatment? Do you allow them to live with you? When addiction interferes with their ability to complete responsibilities on their own, do you buy them groceries or help them with their responsibilities? Covering up for a loved one’s addiction is also another form of enabling. Perhaps you make excuses for your loved one’s absences at work, school, or family events.

When you stop enabling someone with an addiction,  they have the opportunity to fully face their consequences of their behavior. You force them to have to work harder to sustain their habits, which might compel them to decide to start treatment. Without your help, your loved one may begin to realize how much power their addiction has over all aspects of their life.

6. Offer your Support

Even if your loved one initially resists treatment, it is important to let them know that when they are ready, you are available to give them support. Providing your loved one with educational materials on treatment centers is an excellent way to help them learn more about what addiction treatment entails. By showing support consistently and maintaining healthy boundaries, you allow your loved one to know that when they are ready, help is available.

7. Don’t Use Guilt

It may be easy to use lectures, ultimatums, and guilt against your loved one to try to face them quit using alcohol and drugs and start treatment. However, this is never advisable. While it may be easy to fall into this trap, under no circumstances should you attempt to guilt your loved one into getting help. Ultimately, it is up to them to make the decision to begin recovery. Providing support and resources for treatment is a better way to motivate your loved one to get help. By using guilt, such as by saying “How could you do this to me?,” you increase the guilt and shame your loved one already feels. This can be a trigger for more substance abuse and cause resentment.

8. Don’t Blame Yourself

Most importantly, you must understand that you are not to blame for this situation. By admitting and acknowledging that you are not to blame for your loved one’s refusal to enter treatment, you can reduce any resentment or frustration you may be holding on to. Addiction is a disease with various genetic and environmental factors. Do not allow your loved one to blame you. It is important to stay positive and not hold on to resentment and self-blame which may in fact hinder your desire and ability to help them.

9. Consider an Interventionist

After having a discussion with your loved one about their problem with alcohol or other drugs, if they continue to refuse to enter treatment, it may be a good time to consider staging an intervention. An intervention is a personal meeting involving loved ones, family members, colleagues, or other important people in someone’s life. Together with a professional substance abuse professional, everyone plans what they intend to say to the person. Interventions often come as a surprise to the addicted person, but sometimes they might know about them in advance. Interventions help force your loved one to confront the impact of their addiction on themselves and the people who care about them. If your loved one is unwilling to agree to treatment, an intervention can be an impactful way to encourage them to make the right decision.

10. Take Care of Yourself

Ultimately, you can only control your own actions. If your loved one is unwilling to start treatment even after an intervention, you have to  take care of your own needs. Perhaps you can join a support group to find hope. Support groups are beneficial because they provide the opportunity to meet with people who understand first-hand how difficult your situation can be. Additionally, take time to exercise, eat healthy, and get sleep to reduce stress. By seeking help for yourself, you might ultimately motivate your loved one to reach out for help too. As you gets healthier, your loved one might follow your lead. You can be an inspiration to someone struggling with addiction.

Help is Available

Helping someone decide to enter treatment and recover from alcohol or drug addiction when they don’t want help is challenging. However, these tips can be a great way to start. Please contact a dedicated treatment specialist today to learn more, we are always available to help.

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