Having to deal with an addict in the family is incredibly hard work. Whether it is your best friend, your partner, your child or your parent, you will have to carry a huge burden because of this. Our natural instinct, for a long time at least, is to care for the addict as long as possible. However, it often seems as if no matter what we are doing, the addict will continue to engage in their destructive behavior. According to a renowned behavioral psychologist, this is mainly because we don’t know how to deal with addicts, and in that, we end up doing things that don’t help or even make things worse.
Very often, once we reach the point that we cannot go any further, we start to nag. We threaten the addict in the family or we give them an ultimatum. However, this doesn’t work. Seeking help with an addiction has to be a choice that they make themselves, and they will not do this just because you nag at them on and on. Similarly, threats and ultimatums are often empty and hollow and there is actually no follow through on this. For instance, if you threaten to leave and then stay, you are not just not making any positive change, you are actually enabling the addict to continue in their behavior. So what do you do? Sober Freedom’s behavioral psychologist explains that there are three main things to do.
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The Cost-Benefit Analysis
An addict always weighs up the pros and cons of their own behavior, something you should do as their carer as well. However, we often don’t realize that we actually enable those who have a chemical dependency by turning something that would be a cost for them into a benefit. For instance, you may have found yourself making excuses to your loved one’s friends, work or school, feigning sickness, when they are actually recovering from a bad night of substance abuse. A hangover is generally a drawback, but for your family member, it means they can stay in bed and recover, since you have provided them with an excuse. They will never appreciate the real impact of their behavior if you protect them from the natural consequences of their actions. It is essential, therefore, that you no longer do this. If you relative or friend chooses to engage in destructive behavior, they have to face the consequences of this themselves as well.
Rewarding Positive Behavior
Rewarding positive behavior and giving positive reinforcement is hugely important. We almost natural ignore positive behavior and reward negative behavior instead. The nagging, threatening and giving ultimatums is, in effect, a type of positive reinforcement, because it is attention. This is something that we tend to do with our children as well. We are quick to tell them off when they do something wrong, but we ignore them greatly when they do something right. Take, as an example, the class clown in a school. Yes, they may get sent to the principal’s office regularly, but they know fine well nothing really devastating is going to happen there. Plus, in the meantime, they will have received many laughs and smiles from their classmates. All of this reinforces their behavior. The problem, as well, is that the child in that same classroom who sits down, puts their head down and gets their work done generally doesn’t get any positive reinforcement. When you do things the right way, it seems we expect that to simply continue.
This is why, if you are dealing with an addict in the family, you must make consistent efforts to reward positive behavior. These rewards can come in many different ways. Praise lies at the basis of it, of course, but it can even be affection or even a monetary reward. However, with monetary rewards, you must be very careful, because having money also enables an addict to purchase substances again. Monetary rewards are often used at a later stage, for instance, when the addict has been consistently passing weekly drugs tests.
The Time-Out Method
The time-out method is also very important. It is here that we completely stop enabling the addict in their behavior. This is also one of the hardest things, because it means you will have to hold your guns and do what you said you would. For instance, if your friend or family member is found to be intoxicated or refuses treatment, then you will have to remove yourself from the situation. If this is truly impossible, you must remove your affection and completely ignore the addict, as if you weren’t there. This is incredibly difficult, but also truly essential. The addict must understand that their actions have severe consequences (going back to cost-benefit analysis) and that they will only receive reinforcement and reward if they behave positively. Time-out means that you remove anything that the addict finds pleasurable. If this is a child, for instance, it would be impossible for you to remove yourself from the situation. You can, however, remove their electronic equipment and any affection that you send their way.
To recap, the only way you can personally help a friend or member of your family who engages in substance abuse is by no longer enabling them, rewarding positive behavior and removing positive things, including yourself, if they continue to abuse. Your overall goal should always be to seek real help for the addict, but as you can see, there are many things that you can do at home to help steer towards seeking help. Remember at all times that nagging and threatening doesn’t work, particularly because the threats and ultimatums are often empty.
Dealing with someone who is abusing various substances is incredibly difficult and has a huge impact on your own life. However, help is out there, both for you and for the addict in the family. Do make sure you seek this help out, even if it is only to get tips on what you can do to help yourself.