WHEELING – For those who suspect a loved one may be abusing drugs or alcohol, it is best to broach the subject with an open mind and understanding, said psychiatrist Dr. Ryan Wakim.
But the first step is to try and educate yourself about addiction and what the person may be going through, said Wakim, who works at Recovery-based Outpatient Opioid Treatment Services in Wheeling. ROOTS’ patients include those addicted to opioids such as heroin and prescription pain pills.
Wakim said local Al-Anon groups can help families learn more before they approach their loved on the matter.
“Educate yourself about what they’re suffering with – not what they’re doing to you. It’s easy to look at someone with addiction and blame them for things. You may have angst because they’ve been stealing from you or they’ve been in legal trouble that’s complicating the future of the family system as a whole,” Wakim said.
But for those who suspect a person’s addiction has progressed to the point of being a danger to themselves or others, such as driving under the influence, they may want to get help right away.
“Keep in mind there are general safety concerns. If your loved one or wife or husband or child is involved in things or addiction to a point that there are immediate concerns, you can always get them into an emergency department or call 911 to have them seen by someone urgently,” Wakim said.
One may suspect their loved one is becoming an addict based on their latest behavior. For example, a teenager or college-aged person may be asking for money frequently and always have a story as to why they need more. At the same time, their grades – once mostly As and Bs – have slipped. Still others, who are typically outgoing, may be isolating themselves from their family and friends. They may also be having legal trouble, such as getting arrested for DUI or possession. Their overall well-being may be lacking. For example, they have stopped showering or have lost a lot of weight.
A combination of these signs may point to drug abuse.
Wakim said there are conflicting studies about whether forcing someone into treatment can help them. Some studies conclude the treatment doesn’t last if one is forced. Other studies show the more times a person gets into treatment, the more likely it will help – eventually.
“It’s a delicate dance – you don’t want to force someone, but at the same time if you can get them to agree to see a therapist or get them into some form of treatment, the higher the chances of them getting clean,” Wakim said.
Many people believe drug addicts are having fun getting high, but the opposite is true. For example, those hooked on opioids, such as pain pills and heroin, are just trying to stop from feeling severely ill while going through withdrawal.
“They’re not intentionally doing it to anyone – they are just trying to survive themselves,” Wakim said.
When first approaching someone, it is best to leave one’s anger at the door, he said.
“You can even start out by saying that we support you, and when you’re ready to talk about it you can come to us,” he said. “You can point out that you’ve noticed their grades have dropped or that money has been tight lately, that they’re not as outgoing as they used to be. Framed in the right way this can be powerful. … If you let them think about it and come to a conclusion, they may say they would like to get help with your support. Being supportive and not attacking them or being negative goes a long way, too.”