Words That Would Have Made a Difference – Part Two
Part two of a two-part series
Recently, notMYkid featured a blog post entitled “Words That Would Have Made a Difference,” written by Shane, one of our substance abuse Peer Educators. To accompany that post and in order to provide the perspective of a behavioral health professional, we interviewed Dr. Mahsaw Elicia Nademin, Clinical Psychologist and member of notMYkid’s Professional Advisory Board. Below, you will find excerpts drawn from Dr. Nademin’s insights on the topic.
Q: What are the right things to say to a loved one who may be struggling with substance abuse?
A: While you’ve gone down a difficult road and made some mistakes, the reality is that there is hope. It’s going to take a lot of strength and a lot of courage, but you’ve absolutely taken the right step by asking for help. I’m here to listen, and together we will come up with a plan on how you move forward from here.
Q: What are the things that someone should avoid saying to a loved one who is struggling with substance abuse?
A: Focusing on the negatives and the loss would be discouraging: shaming them about the decisions they’ve made or about the mistakes that have been made; comments along the lines of, “You’ve ruined everything,” or “There’s nowhere to go from here.” Statements like these are really not helpful at a time when somebody’s feeling really down and dark already. I think what they need most is help finding the light—hope.
Q: What is important for those close to someone who is struggling with addiction to understand?
A: It’s crucial to be able to, in a very nurturing, caring, and compassionate sort of way, not only try to see what that person is going through, but to put yourself in their shoes. Being victim to substance abuse is something that few of us could even imagine in our worst nightmares having not been through that experience. It’s important to remember that this is not merely an addiction or choice to be ‘bad,’ it’s an illness. It’s a debilitating condition that robs you of your livelihood and goodness. it’s something horrible that this person probably would not have chosen once armed with hindsight. As someone who cares for someone with addictions, it’s so crucial to be brave and in a loving and caring way bring attention to your concerns. It’s a fine line between enabling and supporting though.
I think the worst thing you can do is pretend that nothing’s happening. Some people rationalize not confronting or challenging the person with addictions with thoughts that they are offering respect for the person’s privacy, unconditional love and support, or kindness. The reality of it is, however, that people with addictions need people in their corner who will set boundaries with them and help them to honor those boundaries. The only way to move up is to know which direction ‘up’ is and to have steps to get there.
Q: How do you suggest that parents approach a child who they believe is struggling with addiction?
A: I think it’s essential to set aside time to speak to your child distraction-free: someplace that will offer no interruptions, cell phones turned off, facing the child, direct eye contact. Perhaps use a light touch, depending on the relationship between the parent and the child, but in a way that is not condescending or controlling. Sit down at eye level with your child and tell him/her, “I love you. I care so much about you. I don’t want to lose you, and I’ve noticed some changes in you. I want you to feel like you can talk to me and come to me for help, and if there’s something I’m doing to get in the way of that, please tell me. I’m not going to judge you. I’m not here to discipline you. I’m here to try to help you get out of whatever’s going on right now.” I think that’s perhaps the most important message: that your child isn’t going to be punished for sharing with you and trusting you to help, but rather supported in moving forward toward resolution and recovery.
Q: What if those who are trying to help are met with resistance?
A: First and foremost, it’s important for helpers to avoid appearing defensive. It’s not uncommon for individuals struggling with addictions to blame you for their downfall and to accuse you of not being there for them. It’s far too easy to feel defensive or reactive in those moments and to personalize the reaction you’re getting rather than to see how terrified the individual is in trying to explain what’s happened. Remember, the person with addictions is probably terrified of the aftermath and repercussions of the decisions and choices they’ve made or behaviors they’ve engaged in. Second, be consistent. Do what you say you will do. If you violate your own boundaries, so will they. Third, it is strongly recommended that parent/guardian consult a mental health/substance use professional. Even if the child won’t go with, consult with this professional about avenues for support and ways to communicate with your child given the circumstances present.
Q: What other things are important in a situation where individuals are struggling with addictions?
A: They need a sense of hope. They need to know that they can and will move past this if they choose to. They may be in a dark enough place where they don’t believe this is the case. Sit them down and help them identify ways in which this can happen. Identify concrete, feasible goals they can begin to work toward on a daily basis. Remind them to put one foot in front of the other.
Above all, I think it’s crucial to highlight small, achievable, black and white goals rather than saying things like, “You need to graduate college,” when the person hasn’t even finished high school yet. Get them to the store to buy notebooks and binders, help them locate GED materials and register for a class, identify baby steps they can take every day to feel more productive. Specifically highlight things that can be done starting now, that they can quickly and easily start crossing off of a “to do” list. With each check mark, they’re one step closer to recovery and success. Be sure to focus on what THAT person feels will get them closer to their goal; your goals may not be theirs. It all begins with listening.
If you need help for a loved one who is currently struggling with substance abuse issues, notMYkid recommends using the following resources to locate appropriate professional treatment:
For more information on youth substance abuse prevention, visit the following links at notMYkid.org: