Why You Can't Force a Loved One to Get Sober

When someone you love suffers from substance use disorder (SUD) you may ask yourself, “Why can't they just stop?” The consequences of SUD can be so destructive you may not know why your loved one continues to engage with substances. Addiction is complicated, and recovering from it is equally complicated, so you cannot just force them to stop.

What Is Substance Use Disorder

SUD is a dysfunction in the brain, specifically in the prefrontal cortex where the reward system operates. Someone with an addiction has a problem with things like self-control, awareness, and other functions due to the disorder. This is something that they have little control over. The pleasurable rewards of substance use are what drive their brain.

That is what makes treatment so difficult—those in recovery literally have to rewire their brain. Depending on how strong the neuropathways that encourage substance use have become, this can be a very difficult task. 

Why You Can't Force Someone to Stop Using Substances

The reason you cannot force someone to get sober is that the task of getting sober requires an incredible amount of willpower. Confronting someone about their substance use can cause anxiety or shame which, rather than motivating them, may drive them to take solace in their substance of choice. 

This may seem a little backward in logic but you have to remember that their brain's reward system is damaged. It is not likely that the person does not realize that they have a problem with substances. Most people who suffer from SUD know that they have a problem, they just do not know how to fix it. 

The effects of substances bring them to what they feel is a safe place. Once that safety has been established, it can be hard to want to leave that. When someone is pulled outside of their comfort zone, like being confronted about their substance use, they will want to get back to a safe place.

Your Loved One Has to Want to Change

To make this difficult mental shift, they must want it for themselves. That is not always simple. Motivation can fluctuate, and your loved one could really want to change one day and be ambivalent about it the next. 

Admitting that their life is out of control and that they need to change can be scary. There is a lot of guilt and shame tied up in recovering from addiction. Facing those things as well as the issues that drove them to substances in the first place can be incredibly difficult. 

What You Can Do

With all that being said, there are things you can do to help. While you may not have control over your loved one's decisions, you are not powerless over the situation. Doing these things does not guarantee that your loved one will seek treatment, but they are necessary steps in the process if recovery is ever to be achieved.

Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries means drawing a line in the sand that your loved one cannot cross without consequences. This is because, while you want to help your loved one, you must also protect yourself.

This can look different depending on the situation, but usually, they are hard stops that you set for yourself. For example, if the person suffering is your partner and they get violent while under the influence, enforce that violence of any kind crosses your boundaries and you will leave the situation. Again, this is to protect you as much as it is to help them.

Sometimes drastic changes are needed to motivate someone to enter recovery. The fear of losing a loved one may override the need to use substances. This may seem harsh, but it is best for both parties involved in the long run.

Don't Enable

Enabling can be an easy pitfall. Enabling relates to the boundaries that are mentioned above. Enabling can not only be counterproductive to what you are trying to accomplish, but it can even make things worse. Whenever you are doing something for your loved one, ask yourself whether this is helping them get better or whether it further perpetuates their addiction.

If you frequently bail your loved one out of risky situations, spot them money to cover bills, lie for them, or do anything else that “rescues” them from circumstances they got themselves into because of substance use, you might be enabling them. In the moment, these things can feel like you are being loving and helpful. Yet, knowing they have someone to come to their aid does not allow them to feel the consequences of their actions, which might be what gets them to seek treatment.

It's Not up to You

Unfortunately, your loved one getting help is not your decision to make. They have to decide for themselves. All you can do is try to help and encourage better behavior in the small ways you can while protecting yourself in the process. Getting into recovery can be difficult, but with patience and hope, you will find that you and your loved one can make it through this. 

Although you cannot force a loved one to heal from addiction and make the changes you want, there may come a time when they are ready for recovery. Now, what do you do? You have someone who needs help and is willing to get it, but where do you go? Luckily, there are professionals who are here for you at NorthStar Transitions in Boulder, CO. Our experienced staff can help you and the ones you care about find treatment and maintain sobriety. We offer support to those who are having issues with substance abuse whether it is your first time in treatment or if you're recovering from a relapse. If you or someone you know needs treatment, you want to do all that you can to help. You can take the first steps by calling us today at (303) 558-6400.

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