SUBSTANCE
USE 101

SUBSTANCES AND LOVED ONES
Hi there! At Crossover, we are committed to helping you or a loved one with substance use. In this guide, you’ll find information to help you navigate substance use concerns. If you want additional help, reach out to a Crossover health provider.
OVERVIEW

When you see someone you care about doing something to themselves that you believe is harmful, it’s natural to experience a range of emotions and reactions. You may find yourself questioning whether or not to bring it up, or how to cope with the circumstances. There are no hard and fast rules about how to handle these kinds of situations. The important thing is to make a decision that honors your needs and values and prioritizes your own health and wellness. 

TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF

One way to begin unpacking how this behavior has impacted you is to journal, meditate, pray, or self-reflect about what you’ve been going through. Some people find it helpful to clear their minds or get centered first by exercising, spending time in nature, or doing a familiar hobby. Take your time with it, find what works for you, and if possible, allow yourself some private space so that you can acknowledge emotions that arise in the process. Acknowledging your emotions without judgment will help you understand yourself better and guide you to the path that feels right for you.

ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED AND GET SUPPORT

Many people feel ashamed or afraid to open up about their loved one’s use because they don’t want to make them look bad or for others in their lives to hold this against the loved one later on. There are many approaches to the situation so it’s important to ask yourself what you need most, and how you might get those needs met.

If you do decide to open up to someone about how you’re feeling, remember that it’s okay to set boundaries around what you need from them, like, “It would really help me to talk through some things on my mind. Are you open to listening without giving me advice or opinions right now?” 

If you can’t think of anyone you know personally that you feel safe opening up to, you have other options like calling a hotline, or reaching out to a religious/spiritual figure, mental health professional, or an anonymous support group or online forum. 

If you decide to work through your feelings about the situation on your own, consider the potential consequences of keeping it to yourself. Do you feel compelled to hide how you feel? Do you feel it’s impacting your engagement in your own life? Has your loved one’s use become a heavy burden for you, or something you are ashamed of? These are all common feelings to have. While coping with your feelings, remember that you are not responsible for the actions of your loved one. Part of caring for yourself through this situation is understanding that no matter how much you care for this person, you cannot control their behavior or choices. 

Whether you talk to a friend or mentor about what you’re going through, or decide to work through it on your own, it’s important to acknowledge the stress of the situation and the toll it might be taking on your emotional and physical health. Remember to take good care of yourself. Your Crossover care team can help with this; connect with us if you want support. 

CLARIFY YOUR NEEDS AND INTENTIONS

Even when you come to a point where you understand your own thoughts and feelings clearly, it’s natural to question whether or not to directly express your concerns to your loved one about their substance use. Your current communication patterns and dynamics with your loved one might give you some clues about how they might respond, but there is no clear and definitive way to know how they will take it. That’s why if you do decide to talk with your loved one, it’s important to come to the conversation with a clear idea of your intention and expectations. For example, you can’t control whether or not your loved one will agree to decrease the substance use, quit, or seek help. But, you can control how you choose to respond to their reaction. What would you most like to convey in this conversation? Care, support, concern, or boundaries? Maybe all of those things? Know your objective at the start and allow that to guide your decision and responses, rather than the heat of the moment.

IF YOU DECIDE TO DIRECTLY ADDRESS THE ISSUE

If you decide to initiate a conversation with your loved one about your concerns regarding their substance use, here are some general guidelines to help you with the conversation. We know that coping with this issue can be a real challenge. Remember that you can always reach out to your Crossover care team for help at any point in the process for more tips, strategies, and support. 

  1. Take some notes for yourself beforehand. In doing so, you are prepared with objective examples to steer the conversation back to facts if it starts to get focused on blame and guilt, rather than on their use and the message you’re hoping to convey.  
  1. Focus your statements on the behavior as the problem, not the person. Instead of using labels like, “You’re just a drunk/addict/alcoholic/pothead,” try describing or addressing the problem behavior by saying things like, “Over the past few weeks you’ve said you were too drunk to attend our daughter’s soccer games.” 
  1. Consider using neutral and objective language to describe behavior. For example, try “drinking a six pack by 9am” rather than words like “getting wasted” that are subjective and can be argued with.
  1. Focus feedback on your own feelings and the facts of the situation to avoid getting caught in the blame game. Approaching your loved one with “I statements” that express how you feel rather than “You always…” language can help lessen defensive responses. For example, rather than saying, ”You never know when enough is enough,” you could say something like, “I’m worried that your drinking during the day is jeopardizing your job.”
  1. Prepare for potential defensiveness. It’s common for people who have issues with substance use to feel defensive when those behaviors are called out. Protecting, denying, or defending the behavior is part of what keeps the patterns active in their life.
  2. Remind yourself that you are not responsible for your loved one’s feelings or reactions to this conversation. If you are approaching them in a kind and loving manner, it is up to them how they want to take it. Negative reactions can be more a reflection of their own fear, shame, or guilt than it is about you and what you’re saying.
  1. Remember that you are not responsible for picking up the pieces of your loved one’s substance use. It is ok to set clear boundaries about things you are not willing to do such as, “If you lose this job, I will not loan you money.” Similarly, you can make statements about what you are willing to do, or ways you would like to be involved. For example, “If you want support going to your first AA meeting, I’d be happy to go with you.”
  1. Avoid using shame as a tactic to change your loved one’s behavior. Remember, you and your loved one are on the same team. You have a better chance of being heard if you approach the situation with as much compassion as possible (even though this may be easier said than done!).
  1. Plan to take a time out from the conversation if it gets too heated, and agree to revisit it when you both calm down. This can allow time for both parties to take a break, cool off, and digest what was discussed. 
  2. Remember that you are not alone. If you’re concerned that addressing the behavior directly may put you, the person, or others in danger, consider reaching out to a Crossover Mental Health provider about developing a personalized strategy that works for you.