Confronting an Addict

In countless cases of substance abuse, family and friends of addicts will ignore the problem or persuade themselves to believe it will fix itself. Nobody wants to risk the possible backlash of an intervention, but as the majority of recovered addicts will tell you, a loved one’s confrontation often marks the turning point in their recovery story, saving them from a life of self-harm.

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Prepare Yourself

Confronting an addict can be daunting. People struggling with substance abuse are typically in a fragile state and a poorly planned intervention can make an addict feel alienated or attacked by his or her family and friends. If you are considering stepping in and confronting your loved one about their substance problem, prepare yourself as best as you can.

Understanding your loved one’s addiction is the first step toward helping them overcome an addiction.

Observe Their Behavior

Before you intervene, keep an eye on their behaviors for a few weeks. This will help you determine if there is a problem and better understand how it affects them. Share your observations with close family and friends, so you can bring attention to the issue and ensure you are not alone in your concerns.

Explore the Addiction

Soon after you notice a problem, do your research on the substances that might be involved. If you observe them actually using, study any resources you can find on that particular substance. Learn more about the commonly used substances, what an addiction to each substance might look like and where to get started in regard to finding help.

What to Look for

While the symptoms of substance abuse vary from person to person, there are telltale signs. Look for changes in their appearance, their health and hygiene, their work or school performance, their social routine, and their overall attitude. All of these can signal a problem.

Gather Supplementary Materials

Gather printed information, such as brochures on the topic or website pages, and set them aside for your conversation. It is better to be over-prepared when confronting an addict.

Maintain Your Composure

Prior to confronting your loved one, make sure you are calm, level-headed and emotionally sound. Try to be as emotionally stable as best you can so that you can be a voice of reason during the conversation with your loved one. This will help you deflect arguments, avoid a potential crisis and responsibly make the best recommendations to your loved one as they begin the road to recovery.

Plan a Script

It is easy for emotions to run high during an intervention. You do not want to stumble over your words or say the wrong thing that could lead to unpredictable reactions by your loved one. Determine in advance what you want to say. Write out a script that hits on the major points and details how you will respond to any objections to treatment.

Research Recovery Options

Investigate local treatment facilities, recovery options and community support organizations. Reach out to several clinics and record as much information as possible about what treatment options are available. In the event your intervention is successful, knowing what direction to point your loved one is the important next step.

Consult a Professional

Speaking with a therapist or substance abuse counselor gives you an opportunity to ask any questions you may have and provides a professional opinion on the best way to handle the situation. Making a personal connection with an addiction professional can help relieve your concerns and gives you someone to refer your loved one to after the intervention.

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Create a Support Network

When confronting an addict, it is important that your loved one know they are not alone in facing their substance abuse problem. A loving support network can make the difference between a successful intervention and a disaster. Go out of your way to create and unite this support network ahead of time, helping your loved one feel safe and accepted during this process.
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    Build an Intervention Team

    While planning your intervention, reach out to the friends and family members who mean the most to your loved one and who can have an impact on moving toward addressing their substance abuse. Build an intervention team that will work together for a common goal while also providing support to your loved one.
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    Assign Tasks

    Once you have gathered your team, discuss and assign roles ahead of time before staging the intervention. While one person may lead the discussion during the intervention, everyone can contribute before, during and after to help your loved one move toward recovery. Monitoring the addict’s activities, being on call for emergencies and providing for the addict’s needs are all tasks that need to be done during your loved one’s recovery. Having a wide support network can make things easier for not only your loved one, but also the people caring for that individual.
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    Create a Safety Plan

    Not every intervention goes smoothly. Many addicts react negatively upon being confronted about their problem. Create a safety plan in case your loved one reacts aggressively and be ready to contact their school or employer if they need to take time off or be given special attention due to their fragile state. Your loved one should be allowed to leave the room only after they have calmed down or under the close supervision of someone you can trust to take care of them. Letting them storm out after an emotionally charged situation is not an ideal option.
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    Gather Support for the Initiator

    The person on your team who initiates the conversation, and does the bulk of the talking, needs the team’s moral support. Confronting a loved one under such difficult circumstances can be just as emotionally troubling for the initiator as it is for the addict. Gather support for this person and make sure you back them up. Working together, even as things get rough, offers the best odds of a successful intervention.
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Have the Conversation

When it is time to have the conversation with your loved one, stay in control of the situation. No intervention goes exactly the way it is planned. It is impossible to know how an addict will respond to being confronted. You can mitigate the risks by keeping the following tips in mind.
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Select the Ideal Setting

Do not attempt to stage the intervention in a public or uncomfortable setting. Think of the ideal time and place, where the person you are approaching will be most at ease. Providing a safe space for this individual can be the difference in a successful intervention and a negative confrontation.
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Avoid Confrontation if They’re High

If you notice your loved one is under the influence, plan a different time to confront them. Cornering an addict while they are high creates a recipe for disaster.
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List the Behaviors You’ve Observed

It is common for people being confronted to deny allegations or brush off the topic. Describe the worrisome behaviors you have seen in them. Be persistent in helping them realize the dangers of their habit. It is important to stand your ground and be firm in your belief that your loved one needs to get help.
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Keep a Proper Tone

In the heat of a confrontation, it is easy for the script to go out the window and emotions to get the best of everyone. You have a responsibility, as the initiator of an intervention, to keep a level head and control the flow of the conversation. Present the facts in an objective manner. Avoid attacking the person or coming off as judgmental and maintain a tone of love and understanding. Make your loved one understand that you are trying to help them because you care about them.
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Use Open-Ended Questions

Try to use open-ended questions and make it a two-way conversation. Nobody responds well to being lectured, badgered or ridiculed, especially if your loved one does not believe they need help in the first place. Ask them questions and give them time to answer. Oftentimes an addict simply needs someone to listen to what they have to say. How they feel about their substance use is just as important to handling the situation as the people confronting the addict.
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Talk About Your Feelings

Shine the light on yourself rather than directly on your loved one for the entirety of the conversation. This will take pressure off of your loved one and help them see how their actions have affected the people they love. Instead of saying, “You shouldn’t do drugs,” say “When you do drugs, I feel ________.” This may help your loved one put the situation into a perspective that their substance use hurts more than just them.
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Keep a Phone Handy

Make sure you have a phone on you for the duration of the conversation. Have in mind who you would call in the event you need help or the clinics you may want to set appointments with. It is likely you will need to reach out to someone once the intervention is over. Moving forward immediately after the intervention is critical, as leaving time after the intervention and between treatment may allow your loved one time to fall back into the same substance habits that brought you to this point in the first place.
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Talking to Children About Substances

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    Lay Out Consequences

    As long as kids are living under your roof, you have a certain level of authority over their actions. When you confront your child about their substance use or abuse, lay out severe consequences for their choice to continue their destructive habit. At the same time, make sure your child knows you are concerned about their wellbeing. It’s important to strike a balance between authority and support.
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    Make a Real-World Application

    For many children who delve into substance use, the results can be their first brush with the real world. During your confrontation, make your son or daughter realize that their actions have consequences. Present the situation as a real-life wake-up call. And let them know that, should they get in trouble later in life, the police and the judge will not be as forgiving as you are.
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Supporting Adults with Addiction

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    Help Them to Take Action

    Unlike kids living in your house, you can’t simply punish adults struggling with addiction. When confronting an adult loved one about their problem, help them understand that they need to take action to get better. You can’t force them to do anything. But, just as with kids, help them to realize the extreme risks of continuing to use.
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    Reassure Them with Love

    Encourage and support them during the conversation and reassure them that they have an emotional support system ready to help. Instill a feeling of love, rather than judgment. Humans have a natural tendency to respond to encouragement. Alienating your loved one and condemning their behavior could make the situation worse. Gentle guidance and support can give them the strength to face their problem.
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    They Are Not Alone

    In these troubling and unpredictable times, the addict in your life needs to know they are not alone. At the end of a confrontation, be sure to remind your loved one that you are there for them, and will continue to support them no matter what happens. This will leave them with a positive feeling as they determine their next steps.
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Offer Continued Support

Confronting an addict is often only the beginning in a long journey to recovery. Addiction can take months, even years, to overcome and can take a lifetime of dedication to stay clean. After an intervention, it is vital that you remain a presence in your loved one’s life. Offer continued support as they move forward with their lives.
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Don’t Expect Immediate Results

Addicts cannot get clean overnight. Even if they wanted to, the roots of substance abuse grow deep. After a successful intervention, practice patience and understanding as they start down the path to recovery. The more you and your loved one’s support system add pressure and stress to the situation, the more likely they are to relapse.
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Establish Follow-Up Meetings

After the initial intervention, plan out a schedule for checking in and catching up on your loved one’s progress throughout their recovery. Casual follow-up meetings can help them stay on the ball and remind them how much you are rooting for them as they get better. This shared accountability will relieve some of their stress during this very difficult time. As you notice results, reduce the frequency and length of these meetings until they eventually taper off as a life of sobriety becomes the new normal for your loved one.
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Continue to Show Your Support

Even in their darkest hour, remind your loved one that you care and are there for them. Sometimes the only thing keeping an addict hanging on is the knowledge that they are loved. Continue to show your support and together you can win the battle. For more information on approaching an addict, or to locate treatment clinics nearest to you, call 1-800-662-HELP(4357).
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What if your loved one refuses to get help?

Sometimes it is possible to do all the right things needed for an intervention but the addict can say no to receiving help. It is important to stay strong in your belief that your loved one needs to get help during this time. Do not compromise or bargain with your loved one about their substance use. If you made any promises or agreements during the first intervention, keep those promises. This shows your loved one that you are dedicated to making sure they get help. After following these steps, staging a second intervention, using what went right or wrong during the first intervention to help with the second, is the next step. In the end, it is up to your loved one to decide they need help.

Medical Disclaimer: aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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