How Do You Get People Into Treatment When They Don’t Want Help?

If you’ve never had a substance use disorder, it can be difficult to imagine what living with one must be like. People often wonder why those with addiction issues can’t just “stop using,” and chalk it up to selfishness and a lack of discipline. However, the truth is that substance use disorders are much more complicated than that and can’t be overcome with willpower alone. 

Drugs and alcohol hijack the body’s natural reward system, tricking the brain into thinking it needs them to survive. With time, it eliminates the power of choice because it feels like the substance is more important than one’s most basic needs, which helps explain why so many people get trapped in the cycle of addiction, even when it causes harm and doesn’t feel as good as it once did. 

At NorthStar Transitions, we’ve heard clients say that during active addiction, going without drugs or alcohol is like being deprived of air. And when you’re struggling to breathe, you’ll do anything to get oxygen into your lungs — you’ll kick, scream and fight for it. Because of this, untreated substance use disorders can lead to criminal behavior, impaired functioning and death. With overdoses in the United States at an all-time high, it’s more important than ever to get people the help they need, but how do you do that if they don’t seem to want it?

The Ideal vs. Reality

In an ideal world, people struggling with addiction would recognize they need help and voluntarily seek treatment on their own. However, this often isn't the reality. Substance use disorders can warp thinking and impair rational decision-making to the point where getting professional help may not feel like a choice. Desperate family members want to get their loved ones struggling with addiction into treatment, even if they aren't asking for it.

The rise of deadly street drugs laced with fentanyl, xylazine and other harmful substances has raised the stakes, making the issue of getting help a life-or-death situation. With overdoses at record highs, families are faced with an agonizing choice — do nothing and risk losing their loved ones, or take action and coerce treatment, even if it's a gamble that may not work.

Research shows that while voluntary treatment is preferable when possible, mandated or coerced treatment can still be effective. A 2005 study found that those who were legally ordered into treatment fared just as well as those who sought help of their own volition. 

The Importance of Quality Care

For mandated treatment programs to be successful, it's critical they provide comprehensive, evidence-based care that doesn't cut corners. Simply forcing someone into a substandard program is unlikely to create lasting positive change. True recovery requires treating the whole person — mind, body and spirit — through an individualized approach, utilizing proven therapies and treatment programs led by an experienced and compassionate team of professionals. 

At NorthStar Transitions, we ensure all clients receive highly individualized, therapeutic services according to best practices, including:

  • Medication-assisted treatment to ease withdrawal symptoms
  • Individual and group therapy utilizing proven modalities (CBT, DBT, etc.)
  • Dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring mental health concerns
  • Comprehensive wellness programming (nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, etc.)
  • Family therapy and education to repair relationships
  • Aftercare planning and alumni support for long-term recovery

While coerced treatment may not be ideal, it is possible to make the best of the situation by ensuring individuals receive the highest standard of compassionate, evidence-based care. This gives each person the best possible chance at achieving lasting recovery and a new lease on life, no matter what initially compelled them into treatment.

Strategies for Getting People Into Treatment

If someone is resistant to getting help, there are various approaches that encourage them to take that first step. One of the best interventions is the CRAFT (community reinforcement and family training) approach, an evidence-based model that emphasizes motivating through love, empathy and positive reinforcement rather than ultimatums or confrontations. Data suggests about two-thirds of CRAFT interventions succeed. When the CRAFT approach isn’t possible, other strategies for getting people into substance use treatment include the following:

  • Meeting Them Where They Are: In addiction recovery, meeting somewhere where they’re at means recognizing and acknowledging each person’s situation and readiness to change and providing them with individualized support. For example, if someone is adamant about not going into residential treatment, focusing on harm reduction strategies or outpatient programs might be a more realistic solution.
  • Emergency Departments: The crisis of an overdose or another emergency related to substance use can give healthcare professionals and loved ones the opportunity to get someone to accept treatment during a moment of greater vulnerability and willingness.
  • Legal Consequences: Sometimes, the possibility of jail, probation violations or other legal consequences becomes the tipping point that pushes someone to choose between treatment or incarceration. While not ideal, this external motivation can be enough of a "wake up call" to get individuals to engage with recovery.
  • Ultimatums: Family members sometimes make the difficult decision to end enabling behaviors by withholding financial assistance or ending a relationship unless treatment is accepted. However, this high-risk approach can backfire, deepening denial and alienating those not ready for change from their loved ones, so it's better to consult with professionals before taking this step.

No matter which approach is taken, the ultimate goal is to surround the person with love, compassion and empathy. It’s crucial to instill hope that recovery is possible and ensure they have access to quality treatment that addresses the whole person. While the path may be difficult, even a flicker of motivation can be fanned into the flames of transformative change. 

Get Help Today

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and reluctant to get help, the team at NorthStar Transitions can help. Our admissions specialists are experienced in having difficult conversations and connecting individuals to the life-changing care they need, even if they don't want it yet. Take the first step today by calling us at 866-407-2240 or completing our online contact form. Together, we can explore your treatment options and achieve lasting recovery.

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