“They’re not ready”
“They haven’t hit rock bottom yet”
“They aren’t motivated”
“They are treatment resistant”
“They are hard to reach”
“They will get help when they’re good and ready”
Heard any of these phrases? They are used by many of us to describe people who appear to be or are refusing to change. When we apply this to our loved one’s who are using alcohol and drugs, what exactly are we talking about?
Let’s take the example of “rock bottom” how do we know what this means for an individual person? What it means to me might mean something else entirely to our loved one. Have we asked them what it would take for them to stop using? My rock bottom would be losing my relationship with my husband and my children because I value them so much. Somebody else’s might be losing their home or possessions, the next person might be on the streets and still not want to change.
I said that these phrases can be used to describe people who appear to be or are refusing to change. I have worked with clients where people have never even spoken to the individual about their drug or alcohol use, but everyone else is fully aware of it and is discussing it in vast detail. I get it, it’s tough, but we cannot then describe someone as ‘unmotivated’, ‘treatment resistant’ or ‘not ready’ when they might not even realise the extent of their problems and we haven’t even tried to talk to the about how we feel about it. The first thing we need to do is to find a way to speak to them. I teach this on my Vesta Programme, but we can cover that another day!
I have heard and used these terms in the past in drug and alcohol treatment services that I’ve worked in and now I think that most of the time, it’s a load of rubbish, an excuse or lazy practice because it’s easier not to work with someone who is ‘treatment resistant’ that it is to find a way. I’m not calling individual practitioners lazy- it’s usually to do with money (funding) and time constraints that prevent us from trying new techniques with potential clients. Sometimes, it’s true, an individual might be treatment resistant or not ready. Fine! We only truly know this if we have evidence. That evidence can come from assessing an individual in services, or from you.
So, maybe there is a way that we can influence change?
Here are 5 points we need to consider:
1.Recognising a change is needed
If you are living with a substance user, you might have been waiting for them to change and/or trying your hardest to get them to. They might have had attempts at abstaining from their substance use. False promises and lies will have occurred. Think about those attempts at changing them for a minute.
I discussed change today with a good friend of mine and she said that sometimes, we don’t even know the extent of our problems while we’re living in it. She has had some life changing experiences, and so have I. She said that whatever the situation is, when we’re in it, we sometimes don’t even realise we are. We normalise situations, especially within families. ‘Sweeping under the carpet’ becomes the norm! Waiting for people to change becomes a way of life and accepting situations we’re in just seems to happen as we are ground down by the toll it takes on us.
How can we recognise a change is needed? If we identify a problem with our lives, we know it’s there. The only thing we can do is act on it. Even just speaking to one trusted person about what’s going on in our lives can help. Talk about how your situation is making you feel. Ask for their opinion. Ask more than one person and look around and listen to what other people are telling you about themselves. Is what you are going through in comparison a, dare i say it ‘normal’ way of life? Everyone is different but trust your gut as those feelings won’t go away until some sort of action is taken.
Ask yourself ‘what am I going to accept?’, ‘what am I not going to accept?’ and ‘what needs to change?’
Going back to your attempts at getting your loved one to change- what if we could look at new ways to do this?
2. Waiting for change
‘Rock bottom’ doesn’t happen to every drug or alcohol user. Some will experience losing everything and some won’t. Rock bottom can be described, however, as the turning point for a substance user, rather than what we perceive. What are we waiting for then? Waiting for the day that they are going to change might mean we are waiting for eternity. What if there was a way that you could influence them to change? My advice is don’t wait! Taking action might not make them stop using or drinking, but what it will definitely do is show you a way to lead a less stressful and happier life yourself.
3. Motivated or not?
The cycle of change is a fantastic model for working out where your loved one is currently placed around their motivation to change. There has been loads of work around this and it shows us that someone is not either motivated or not. Levels of motivation can change, even day by day and there are techniques we can use to motivate them at each stage of the cycle. The key point to remember here, is that motivation is influenced by social interactions, among other things. Most people enter treatment for substance use because of their families. It is also influenced by the quality of the professional they end up working with (just so you know- I am top of the range!)
We need to really understand what our loved one is getting out of using their substance. Once we unpick this, we can start to understand their individual problem, their individual drivers and what individual help and support they need
4. Influencing change
Change occurs when the cost of something outweigh the benefits. So, if this is the case, I can tell you two things
a) that it is possible to tip the balance for your loved one so that the costs of their substance use outweighs the benefits and that stopping using or drinking can be more attractive to them than using.
b) If they wont change, you can! You can learn new skills and re-align your approach to your loved one when they use to influence the change. The best thing about this is that you can do that pretty quickly. Changing the environment that a substance user is living in can change their behaviour. What have you got to lose?
Just so you know, you are not to blame for your loved one’s substance use and you cannot change them, but you can change the environment to become a catalyst for them to accept help.
5. Change for you
I keep banging on about this, I know! You need to listen to me though. You need help too! I go to Slimming World because I know that without it, I will not sustain the changes I’ve made with my weight loss. Substance users in recovery might continue to attend meetings because they need ongoing support to stop them relapsing, or support them if they do. Poorly people take medication because they need it to recover from or stay well with their health problems. You are no different.
I can help!
If you are living with a loved one’s drug or alcohol use, I can help you.
My service, The Vesta Approach, supports families affected by a loved one’s substance use. You can access confidential support from me wherever you are in the world. I will help you to get your loved one into treatment and lead a better life. I offer face to face sessions in the Manchester (UK) area. You can also get help via Skype and an online group therapeutic programme.
I share lots of great information and advice on my Facebook page.
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See you next week,