How Can I Help Someone if They Refuse Treatment?

It’s a scene that’s all too familiar. A spouse is desperate to get her husband help for a drinking problem. Parents who were supposed to be looking at colleges now look for rehab centers. Adult children address their growing concern for an aging parent who is depending more and more on prescription painkillers. What is the one thing they all have in common? The person they’re trying to help denies that a problem exists.

Not all addicts are willing to go to treatment. In fact, many start off denying that there’s a problem, and it takes repeated attempts from family and friends, an intervention or two and serious consequences to getting them to admit they need help. Even with all of these steps, the addict may agree to go to rehab but still be skeptical. Dealing with an addict is tough enough on its own. How in the world do you help someone who doesn’t want it?

According to government statistics, 23 million Americans have an addiction and require treatment, but only 3 million get help. There’s a variety of reasons for this, including that the addict doesn’t want the help or the family is too tired or in too much turmoil of its own to be persistent. So the addiction lingers, the drug use continues and the effects worsen.

When trying to help someone that refuses it, we recommend going through the following steps.

Present Treatment Options

Your loved one isn’t thinking for themselves, so keep this in mind when talking to them. They aren’t the person you used to know, and they aren’t thinking rationally. You can’t expect to reason with them or get them to see your side in one conversation. Sit down and present the available treatment options. They may be too overwhelmed to agree to get help. Be patient but firm. Present them with multiple options that break down the process and allow them to feel more in control.

Avoid Arguing

Addicts love to argue. They believe nothing is wrong; they believe you’re blowing things out of proportion. Plus, when you argue, it takes the focus away from the real problem: the addiction. When you present an addict with options for treatment, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll hear objections of every kind. Be prepared to respond to these objections and move forward. Avoid arguing or getting emotional. Be matter of fact so that the other person sees that you can’t be persuaded otherwise.

Try an Intervention

If you haven’t staged an intervention, give one a try. Just be sure to make the most of the opportunity as you can’t do repeated interventions. Read up on the basics of staging an intervention, get a strong but small support group involved and talk with a professional interventionist. If you tried an intervention before but did not have success with it, try again. A second intervention may be the push your loved one needs to get past denial.

Follow Through with Consequences

When an addict is refusing to get help and you can’t force them to see any other way, it’s time to start following through with consequences. Many families protect their loved ones because they are worried about them, but all they’re doing is allowing the addiction to continue.

Let’s face it. Just because you provide your loved one with a roof over their head doesn’t mean they’ll use drugs or alcohol any safer. And just because you give them money doesn’t mean they won’t sell their body or steal from others. Standing in the way of the natural consequences of addiction is putting you in the role of the enabler.

Work with a counselor who can help you set healthy boundaries. That may include not bailing your loved one out of jail, not paying their bills, not calling them into work, etc. Let them see that there are real consequences to using drugs and alcohol.

Walk Away

Walking away isn’t easy in the least bit, but sometimes it has to be done. Even parents have to walk away from their child when their behavior is tearing apart the family or creating turmoil for other siblings. Walking away does not mean turning your back, however. It means that when your loved one is ready for treatment, you’ll be there 110%. But as long as they continue to use, you can no longer have them live with you, call your home or contact their siblings.

Can’t I Force Someone into Treatment?

In some states, it is legal to force someone into rehab, but only under certain circumstances. While this isn’t an ideal situation, it can be effective. Studies show that rehabilitation does not have to be voluntary for it to work. This could be a good first step if you’ve exhausted all other options. Unfortunately, many states do not allow families to force someone into treatment. Get familiar with the laws in your state so that you know your options.

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