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How To Prepare To Confront A Substance Abuser

Dealing with a substance abuse problem can be very difficult and complicated both emotionally as well as physically. When faced with the thought of confronting a substance abuser it can be one of the most challenging things you’ll have to face. You want to make sure that you’re doing the right thing and you’ll have to make decisions that can be overwhelming for many people. According to CIGNA Behavioral Health,

Substance abuse can be hard to identify because it is easy – or perhaps just easier – to brush aside the signs and symptoms… many substance abusers still have a job. Some will use facts of responsibility as “proof of competence or as demonstration of how they do not have a problem.

It is therefore, essential that the one trying to provide help is not easily swayed in their efforts. The abuser’s life is in jeopardy from many hidden consequences that are not readily evident. Substance abusers are at a higher risk of heart attacks; respiratory concerns, strokes, seizures, and severe weight loss just to name a few. Recognizing the warning signs will be the first step in getting the abuser the help they need.

Warning Signs

Often addicts do not show obvious signs that they are using but there will be tell tale signs that you can look for. Some users will become loud and boisterous while under the influence while others may become withdrawn and isolate themselves. Only you who know the person well enough would be able to identify when his or her behavior has changed. Look for signs of severe mood swings, excessive fatigue, drastic weight loss, defensiveness, irritability, or agitation as early warning signs. You may also notice a few chronic but mild medical conditions begin to appear like watery eyes or a continuously runny nose.

What to Ask?

It’s important that you analyze what you are seeing, especially if their behavior has drifted from their norm. If you know for a certainty that they are using drugs then you need to determine just exactly how that drug is affecting their life. For example, is it causing them to lose time from work, or is it causing problems at home? Is the family experiencing financial strain because of the habit, or is it being used to hide from other problems they may be facing?

These are simple warning signs that can be used to give evidence that the person has become a substance abuser. If you suspect any of these issues to be a possibility don’t try to handle the problem on your own. It would be best for you to seek some professional help to you direct through the process.

Starting a Conversation

Your inclination may be to avoid the situation all together and hope that the problem will go away. However, this is rarely the case. Substance abuse problems will inevitably get worse if ignored. The University Health Center of the University of Maryland gives this advice,

Don’t try going it alone – it is usually too difficult. Always call the FSAP to get some support and input as to how to best address the problem with your employee/co-workers/family member.

Instead, they recommend that you deal directly with the person in a private and confidential face-to-face meeting and treat the individual with respect and try not to allow your emotions to come into the picture.

If you prepare ahead of time you can have a list of examples to refer to that will show how the drugs have impacted them in some way.

Possible Responses

Don’t be surprised if the individual does not openly embrace your counseling. They will be going through a number of different emotions themselves so be prepared.

First, you will likely see the denial phase. Rather than accept what you are outlining in your argument they may perceive it as a threat to them. They may accuse you of being “out to get them” or cite some personal differences that you may have had. If you are faced with this, just remember to stay calm and stick to the facts. Don’t allow the conversation to become a battle of personal attacks. You have detailed the ways that the drugs have impacted them and should stick with those facts.

Next, you’ll likely see the threatening phase. They may threaten you in some way, make a scene, quit their job or try some other way that they can cause you harm. In these situations, you can calmly remind them that you have a responsibility to those around you to find a solution that will be mutually beneficial to everyone involved including the user. If you feel that you cannot withstand this phase on your own you might want to enlist the aid of another individual who has also witnessed the abuser’s behavior so that both of you can handle the confrontation together.

At this point the user may want to cast blame on you or on someone else. Their rationalization is that they are only using because of the stresses that are put on them are out of their control. It’s someone else’s fault because they pushed them to do it. Rather than focus on defending the accusations focus on your facts. Let them know that they can get the relief they need if they choose to seek help.

Facing a family member or friend about a substance abuse problem is often ugly and difficult to deal with. The situation is already a sensitive one and you can fully expect to be disliked throughout the process. Always treat them with respect and afford them the dignity that any person deserves no matter what they say or do in response. The truth is that it is most likely you are the only person that can get them the help that they need. Understand the process before going in and be realistic about your expectations. As explained in,

Addicts can be manipulative and they have an uncanny way of turning an issue back on you. When you react and blow up, you take the focus off of them, and put it right back onto you. Now it is all about your anger and you’re the bad guy. This gives them even more reason to use.

Your role in the intervention process is just as important as the user’s. When you are ready to confront the individual so that he can get the help he needs, seek guidance and counseling yourself so that you’ll have a better chance of eventually reaching his heart.


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