If you have a loved one struggling with a substance use disorder, you may feel incredibly frustrated that they won’t get help. Can they not see what drugs and alcohol are doing to them? Don’t they want to be happy? What’s important to understand is that your loved one may be miserable but they’re also afraid. That may not be obvious since many people cope with their fear by becoming aggressive or disengaged but the fear is there. If you understand their fear, it can help you be more patient and supportive and you may ultimately have more success getting them into treatment. Here are some of the reasons people are afraid to enter addiction treatment.
They’re Afraid to Admit Having a Problem
It may be obvious to you and everyone else that your loved one has a problem with drugs and alcohol and you may believe it’s obvious to them, but denial can be powerful. Keep in mind that there’s no clear line when addiction begins. It’s a gradual process with a lot of gray area. That is to say, it looks very different from their perspective. There is still a lot of stigma attached to addiction and when you admit to having a problem, you feel like you’re accepting membership in a rather dubious club. When you admit to having a problem, you also have to confront the possibility that you might need help, which leads to a bunch of new anxieties.
They’re Afraid to Give Up Control
One of those anxieties is giving up control. Often, people with substance use issues will accept that they have a problem but then insist on dealing with it on their own. They insist they are still in control, even though the most common symptoms of addiction include trying to quit but being unable to and not being able to drink or use drugs in moderation. When you insist on doing it your own way, that’s usually an attempt to avoid the hard but inevitable aspects of recovery. They want things to change but they don’t want to be uncomfortable, which is really true of everyone. And in addiction recovery, there are plenty of opportunities to be uncomfortable.
They’re Afraid to Be Alone
When people imagine entering an addiction treatment program, they often picture some remote facility, not unlike a prison, where they’ll have to spend 30 to 90 days among strangers. In other words, they feel like they’re going to have to endure this ordeal alone.
While it’s typically true that people entering treatment don’t know anyone there, the loneliness will only last a few days at the most. The staff wants you to feel welcome and you may have a roommate. Most importantly, good treatment programs know how important it is for clients to feel connected and supported and they facilitate that connection through group activities and group therapy. People often say they met their best friends in addiction treatment because it is a place where most of the people have experienced similar struggles.
They’re Afraid to Open up
Most people know that if they enter addiction treatment, they’ll have to talk to a therapist and participate in group therapy. This can be a frightening prospect. Men appear to be especially reluctant to seek help for mental health issues and talk about their feelings, but it can be hard for anyone. Not only does it entail revisiting painful memories and emotions, but many of these experiences have been buried deep down for years or decades. Feelings of shame or a general reluctance to open up and be vulnerable can make someone want to avoid therapy entirely.
However, a good therapist won’t push a client to talk about anything before they’re ready. That often ends up being counterproductive. Eventually, most people discover that keeping things bottled up is more trouble than it’s worth. It’s often a tremendous relief for people to discover that their deepest, darkest secrets are not that uncommon and they no longer have to feel ashamed.
They’re Afraid of Living Without a Coping Mechanism
One of the most important things to understand about substance use disorders is that people typically start using drugs and alcohol for a reason and they continue to use them because they get something out of it. For example, at least half of people with substance use disorders have a co-occurring mental health issue, although they may not know it. Childhood trauma, abuse, and neglect are very common among people with substance use issues. Although drugs and alcohol are a bad way to cope with emotional pain, they are the only coping mechanism many people have. When you say to someone, “You need to get sober,” they may be hearing you say that you want to deprive them of the one thing that makes life tolerable, even if it does cause other problems.
However, one of the primary aims of addiction treatment is to replace unhealthy coping mechanisms with healthy--and more effective--ones. One reason therapy is such a central component of treatment is that it helps resolve many of the issues that drive substance use and teaches clients skills to cope with challenging emotions.
They’re Afraid to Disappoint You
Finally, many people resist entering treatment for addiction because they’re afraid of failure. Recovery can seem like an overwhelming challenge. They may have failed at it before, perhaps even several times. Failure is bad enough in itself but it’s even worse when other people are depending on us. What’s more, a lot of time, money, and effort goes into quality addiction treatment. That adds up to a lot of pressure to succeed at a time when most people don’t feel equal to even the most mundane challenges. It’s important for them to know that sobriety is worth the risk of failure--even repeated failure, if necessary. Recovery never goes perfectly for anyone. There are always challenges and setbacks but you don’t fail until you quit trying.
There is plenty to fear when embarking on addiction recovery, but there’s even more to fear from not trying at all. People lose their money, their jobs, their families, and their lives to addiction, but they don’t have to. Some fears--such as the fear of being uncomfortable--are valid, but also an inevitable part of the process. The key to overcoming those is to realize the payoff is worth the price. Other fears, like being alone or having to live without a reliable coping mechanism are largely illusory. At The Foundry, we understand that getting help for addiction is a hard decision but we also know that quality addiction treatment changes lives. To learn more about our programs, call us at 1-844-955-1066.