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How to get someone to stop using drugs or alcohol?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

As the world continues to become more and more fond of drug-induced happiness/escape, the number of people consuming psychoactive substances such as alcohol has been on the rise. As more people begin to consume alcohol, there is a consequent increase in the number of people in whom it becomes problematic.  When alcohol consumption or drug use begins to lead to impairments in physical, social or occupational functioning it usually indicates that one is dependent on alcohol.  

All of us have dealt with friends or relatives who just cannot seem to understand the problematic nature of their drinking or drug use.

Here we learn the basic principles of Motivation enhancement therapy or MET. Though a professional may be more thorough in administering MET, a simplified form can be utilized by anyone in helping their loved ones develop an insight into their drinking problems. This can be a significant first step in developing the motivation to quit and to seek help. These principles, if applied in a consistent manner, over a few weeks, even if one continues to drink alcohol can help develop awareness over one’s habits and their consequences.

The most important rule – No advice, no threats, no punishment and no humiliation. You may just end up screwing up your relationship. Even if this has been your story till now, you can start over!

Before you can help anyone, you need to take care of yourself.

You might feel angry, resentful and burnt out. There is often a sense of helplessness that descends upon people who love and care for those addicted to alcohol and other substances. Sometimes we end up directing our anger toward those who are stuck with substance use. You have to remember that you need to take a step back, make sure that at least some of your needs are met before you try to help someone who is addicted. Make sure you are eating right, make sure you have enough sleep and try to get in touch with supportive friends and family. If you are unable to manage the distress, take help from a professional.

Here is what you can do to help your loved one.

The basic principles of motivation enhancement are as follows. Motivation enhancement can be considered a method to elicit “change talk”. Change talk refers to communication that implies an innate wish to “change” rather than remain the same. Try to stick to these principles during any conversation that involves substance abuse, the intention is to build motivation for them to quit, the intention isn’t to prove to them that they are wrong.

Try to be empathetic – Be respectful of the person you wish to help, try putting yourself in their shoes. Be patient and be ready to listen without interrupting. Do not give directive statements or commands.

Positive regard – Make sure your loved one knows you hold them in high regard. Do not insult or belittle them. Do not define them by what they do when intoxicated. Make sure your feelings are expressed, but also make sure you do not end up sounding accusatory.

Avoid argumentation – Argumentation leads to resistance, your aim is not to prove that one has an illness. Avoid argumentation and forced confrontation.

Roll with resistance – Try to attack problems from the side, not head-on. Solutions are usually evoked from the person you want to change. If you see your loved one getting defensive, back off. Try that conversation later.

For example, if your partner is in denial regarding his problems, rather than confronting this head on. Try to step back, and see if you can find a non confrontational way to put this forward. “I dont have a problem” says the husband, rather than”you definitely have a problem”, the wife may say something like “why do you think you don’t have a problem?”, this builds conversation and trust.

Develop discrepancy-  It may be necessary to sometimes raise someone’s awareness so that they find their own beliefs and actions contradictory. Gently remind them of the better times.

Support Self-efficacy – Whilst keeping a watchful eye, try suggesting that one has control over their drinking. Provide hope and optimism. By Supporting self-efficacy we prevent defensive coping styles such as denial and rationalization. It also promotes responsibility.

Build motivation for change.

Learn to work with the concept of cognitive dissonance. That is, if one’s beliefs and acts are contradictory, either the belief or the act will change to be in accord with the other. For e.g, I am a responsible father, but I spent my son’s school fee on alcohol. For many, the realization of such discrepant thoughts and acts is the first step in change.

Create discrepant thoughts by talking about the common effects of alcohol abuse, such as an increase in the amount of time and money, memory problems, relationship issues, medical issues and work problems in an empathetic, understanding, non-accusatory manner. Try eliciting self-motivational statements, use questions like “what has it cost you ?” “

Maintaining a drink diary, wherein costs, effects, and losses in terms of health, occupation or social issues can be noted down is a great way to create a discrepancy. Share it with your loved one in a non-accusatory manner. Offer to set up an appointment with a mental health professional.

taking care
taking care

If the above principles are applied consistently, the chances of one obtaining help for alcohol and drug use problems increase exponentially. This process will take time, sometimes weeks to months on end. Seek help from friends, family or a therapist, you aren’t in this alone. There is nothing wrong with seeking help for yourself as you try to help others.

Quitting some drugs and alcohol abruptly may lead to untoward reactions, please consult a health care professional to smoothly taper off.