The hooks to drug and alcohol users getting help


Last week, I wrote about the barriers to drug and alcohol users getting help  so, it is also relevant to talk about the hooks to treatment too.


As a family member who wants to influence change in their loved one’s substance use, it is really useful to figure out when a loved one is going to be open to that change. It would be fabulous if I could advise when this is, but, as we are dealing with human beings who are all unique, every person will be motivated at different times and by different things.


Motivation is personal


I have worked with families where parents have problems with substance use and who have been referred by services for support. Most of these families have been involved with Children’s Services which means they have been on child protection plans or similar. This does not mean that a) they are not good parents or b) that their children will be taken off them. There is, however, a risk that children could be removed if parents do not get support to reduce or abstain from substance use, accept help and improve their parenting capacity.


That risk, for me personally, would be the ultimate sacrifice and I would do anything to change so that I could keep my children. For some families I have worked with, children have been removed because they could not change. It is crucial to note here, however, that I have not had problems with alcohol or drug use, I have not had mental health issues and I have not been involved with Children’s Services. This means that my motivation now could be different if I the same problems. This also means that my motivation could change.


When I think about what has triggered my motivation for healthy eating for example, in my 20’s and early 30’s, it was because I wanted to look good. As a 40’s newbie, the priority is so that I can feel my absolute best for my family, my work and my life and because I want to teach my children good habits.

Think about this for a moment, what has motivated you in the past? What motivates you now?


Finding the hooks


With substance users then, we need to think about what is motivating them now. You will see signs of this when they have a break from drug or alcohol use or when they talk about changing or stopping using. Even if they are dissatisfied with their use, something has happened that has made them feel that way. We need to know what this something is.


A brilliant exercise is to review the times in the past when a loved one has shown these signs of dissatisfaction as we can then think about what their hooks are. I have spoken about shifting the balance so that the negative consequences of drug use outweigh the positives. When this occurs, this will be the time we have to look out for to discuss getting help. Planning for these times is a really good way of getting ready to step in and offer support.


Some typical hooks


Hooks then, are events that we can predict are when drug and alcohol use is disturbed. Some typical categories of hooks into treatment are:

  • Health- any health scares or risks to health
  • Relationships- conflict, reactions or violence or having good times
  • Activities- losing friends, work or missing enjoyable activities
  • Self-image- what other people think of us and what we think of ourselves
  • Formal coercion- requirements from courts, police, safeguarding


An example


A friend of mine was very concerned about his brother’s drinking. I gave him some advice. When I followed the situation up with him, he said that an ambulance had been called because his sister wouldn’t wake up. He had overdosed on alcohol. Since then, despite problematic drinking for many years, He has not touched alcohol for five months. Why? Because he is a professional man and he did not want anyone at work to know he had a problem. He also lived in the area in which he works. This is his hook. His hook was his self-image and possibly also his health.


We can then explore what the signs and symptoms of a loved one’s reaction to particular hooks are. Some situations may not create any reaction, because all our hooks are different, some will create a great deal of reaction. If we can get really clear on previous reactions, then this will help families to quickly spot the signs in the future and be ready for discussing what help is out there. The next step is to take action and get support in place.


To summarise:


  1. Think about the times your loved one has stopped using drugs or alcohol or has spoken about stopping.
  2. Note down what happened before this change occurred.
  3. How long did it last?
  4. What type of hook was this?
  5. You can then summarise your loved one’s hooks.
  6. This will then give you an idea of what area you can focus on to tip the balance of your loved one’s use.

I can help


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.

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Take Care.

See you next week,