By Heather Bland, Fellowship Hall

What if my loved one doesn’t want to change?

Often times we can see problems in our family member’s or friend’s lives before they can. It can feel as if we’re watching a freight train speeding toward them but they can’t hear us yelling to get off the tracks! Sometimes we offer suggestions or warn them of what we see happening, but nothing changes. It is hard to know what to do and how to continue on without being absorbed in their problem or obsessed with fixing it. Unfortunately, we can’t make another person stop drinking, drugging, or participating in any other problem behavior. However, there things we CAN do.

Be honest. It is easy to convince ourselves that the substance use problems we are seeing will resolve themselves in time. We may also start lying or covering up for our beloved alcoholic or addict to try to “help” them. If we stop our own denial and become honest about the situation, then we can begin to find help. Being honest with medical professionals, family members, and ourselves is an important step.

Set boundaries and stick to them. It is important to figure out the behaviors we are willing to live with and the one’s we aren’t. Then, it is crucial to communicate those with our loved one. These are not threats or ultimatums. This is not about begging, bargaining, or yelling. These are NOT attempts to change their behavior. Boundaries are about taking care of ourselves and refusing to live in situations where we feel hopeless, helpless, or afraid. With practice, we learn to detach from addictive behaviors and allow natural consequences.

Get a support system. We cannot do this alone. Alcoholism and addiction are isolating illnesses and we may feel embarrassed or ashamed sharing with others what we are living with. Friends or family may want to help, but not know how to. There are safe people and safe places to turn to. Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are 12-step groups open to anyone who has a loved one whose drinking or drugging is problematic. They are confidential and anonymous. There are no fees or memberships and meeting times can be found on-line.

Take care of yourself. We are no help to others if we are stretched to our limit and have nothing left to give. It is not just alright for us to take time for ourselves, it is imperative. Focusing on exercise, healthy eating, good sleep patterns, hygiene, and our spirituality can help us get perspective on our loved one’s situation. Self-care can curb some of our obsessive thinking and worrying. Ultimately, the more we take care of ourselves, the more we can help our loved one when they are ready and asking for our help.

It can be terrifying to see someone we care about drinking excessively or using drugs. As we allow other people to experience the consequences of their addiction, they can begin to see the harm it is causing them and the people they love. It is then that the healing can begin.


Heather M. Bland has a Masters of Education in Counseling from Wake Forest University. She is a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist Associate and a Nationally Certified Counselor. Heather has been a counselor working with the substance abuse population for ten years. For the past two years she has been a family counselor at Fellowship Hall Alcohol and Drug Treatment Center. When not working with families, she enjoys spending time with her husband, sons, rescue dog, and geriatric cat.

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