closeup - looking down barrel of revolverFor a parent, a spouse, or a friend, it is incredibly hard to watch someone you care about sink into addiction without taking action.  The destructive behavior must stop.  They must get help now.  Any leverage seems fair, and appropriate, if it gets the addicted person into treatment.

Unfortunately, while you may be able to force someone into rehab, the effort is often wasted, and the good intentions frequently backfire.

I remember the young man whose father promised him a truck if he agreed to seek treatment.  He had a smile on his face for 30 days of rehab, and then picked up his new wheels and headed off to meet friends and get some drugs. A young woman who had been forced into treatment by her family made no effort to change, and relapsed soon after discharge.  The stories could continue for pages, but the message is clear.  Addiction treatment only works if you want it to.

Motivation is an essential ingredient to a successful recovery.  If there is no internal desire, no passion to live life differently, the best efforts are usually futile.  External motivation may force someone into treatment, but it won’t keep them there, and it rarely sparks the “awakening” that is necessary to change the way an addicted person thinks and acts.  Sobriety comes from within; rehab at gunpoint is not the way to go.

So what do you do if you are frantically worried that someone you care about will soon end up in jail or the morgue?  If you can’t kidnap them, and take them to rehab, what can you do?

The starting place is to make addiction a very uncomfortable place to live.  Every action that enables the addicted person to continue to keep using their drug of choice needs to be withdrawn.  Free rent, covering for them at work, offering to help solve their problems, must come to an end.  When friends and family make it difficult to be an addict, thinking often begins to shift.  When there is no support for someone in addiction, they see more clearly the cost of their behavior, and the desire to change takes root.  Many people have come willingly to St. Joseph Institute after a heavy dose of “tough love” made them rethink their lifestyle.  Addiction loves a sucker and hates a scrooge.

The hard part about allowing the addicted person to take ownership for their problems is that they are often great manipulators — with the skill to make others feel guilt.  Mothers will hear the line “its cold outside and I have nowhere to live.”  Spouses will hear the explanation of how their marriage vows require that they “don’t give up” on the drunken partner.  Friends may hear the statement “if no one cares about me I might as well kill myself.”  Addicted people are good at finding and taking hostages.

It is important to realize that addiction craves enabling just as a fire needs oxygen.  Remove the supports that allow an addiction to continue, and the best possible conditions for recovery are created.  It doesn’t always work, but often when the addicted person feels the pain of their situation they willingly reach out for help.  In that act of surrender, the potential for success changes dramatically, because the desire to be sober has started to burn from within. And by the way, while you are practicing tough love, don’t forget to say a few prayers.  They help too.