Written by: James Dempsey, MSW, M.Ed., CRADC, IBHC

Being addicted to anything can be debilitating; being addicted to drugs or alcohol can be deadly.  Every family is affected by a family member, friend or someone they know with an addiction to alcohol/drugs.  This puts us in a difficult situation when people that we love are struggling with an addiction and we feel helpless and at wits end trying to figure out what we can do to save a loved one. We try to protect the addicted person, and we tend to make excuses for his/her behaviors but as you probably have figured out by now that does not work, it encourages/enables the very behaviors that you are trying to change in the addicted loved one. Don’t be an enabler to your addicted loved one; it does not work.

We become so frustrated when people we care about continue to engage in risky and unhealthy behaviors.  We tend to yell, confront and try to push the addicted person into a behavioral change.  However, this does not work, and in fact, it has the opposite effect of making the addicted person become more resistant and more likely to use more.

What can we do to help anyone addicted to alcohol or drugs?

The first thing is to realize that we can’t help anyone unless they want help.  This does not mean that we give up on those that don’t want it but we somehow have to convince the addicted person that they do want help through their own volition.  How do you convince a person to do something that they do not want to do?  By showing unconditional love in every verbal and physical interaction, which does not mean to enable the person, but to show a genuine concern for that person.


One effective way to try to reach an addicted person is through an “intervention” with a professionally trained, licensed clinical social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist, licensed professional counselor or certified reciprocal alcohol and drug counselor. A meeting is arranged (without the addicted person’s knowledge), with loved ones, family, and friends that have a significant positive impact on the addicted person.  Time is arranged to have the addicted person come before the group.  Upon arrival, he/she is excited, surprised and wondering what’s going.  The facilitator (therapist) explains why everyone is there and what is about to happen.  Then the family and loved ones begin to tell the addicted person how much he/she mean to them and how the addicted person’s unhealthy behaviors have been affecting them.  This can really be an emotional moment when the addicted person becomes overwhelmed with grief and usually agrees to go in for treatment of the addiction.   It is very important that you use a professionally trained, licensed or certified professional to facilitate the intervention.

This is the first and most difficult step; getting your family member into treatment.  Undoubtedly the addicted family member will have second thoughts and may realize that he/she made a decision based on the emotional impact of family members and loved ones and may be considering leaving the treatment.  The professionally trained addiction counselors will use a technique called “motivational interviewing” to help the addicted person come to the realization that they have a problem.

Motivational interviewing is a collaborative conversation to strengthen a person’s own motivation for and commitment to change. The guiding spirit of Motivational Interviewing is based on a foundation of:

  • Partnership – We work together.
  • Acceptance – I value you and am happy to talk with you.
  • Compassion – I want to understand and respect you and your experience.
  • Evocation – I am going to create a space for you to share yourself and your story with me.

Engagement with the addicted person is essential to the spirit of Motivational Interviewing and is used throughout. When resistance is encountered, the counselor will skillfully attend to engagement.

Basically, Motivational Interviewing helps an addicted person take ownership and responsibility for their self-identified problems and difficulties they need to work on. Thus they are more motivated to work seriously on their recovery. Resistance is very much welcomed because the counselor helps the client understand where the resistance is coming from and the client gets to decide how they want to handle the resistance and move in the direction of change that they decide.

Family walking arm in arm with the words addiction affects everyone


Addiction Recovery Group

If you are addicted to alcohol or drugs and want to stay abstinent, consider attending an Addiction Recovery Group at either Sunshine clinic location. The group provides a provide a safe, healing and supportive environment for individuals who wish to abstain from drugs or alcohol and willing to be honest and open to making life changes necessary for successful recovery. Group topics include:

  • Establishing recovery goals
  • Physical and mental symptoms
  • Early sobriety challenges
  • Relapse prevention
  • Interpersonal & family issues
  • Practicing self-care
  • Effects of personal changes & growth on loved ones
  • Forming healthy relationship boundaries
  • Relaxation & mindfulness

Contact a Behavioral Health staff member at Sunshine to discuss your interest in the group at (907) 733-9263.

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