Admitting you have an addiction is tough. Asking for help can be even tougher.
Realizing that you might have a drinking problem or that the extra pills you are popping signify that you have become addicted to them is very uncomfortable. It can be a brutal awakening to finally admit that you have come to embody those four little words, “I am an addict.” And, once you arrive at this lightbulb moment, the next one is even scarier. Now you have to tell someone.
As shame and self-loathing wash over you, (because, let’s face it, many people in the world still view addiction as a sign of shameful weakness or immorality) it dawns on you that you have to share this unfortunate truth with other people, because that is the next step to getting help. Admission of addiction means no more denial and taking action to get professional treatment, right? Right!
But this step is easier said than done. Asking for help is overwhelming and fear-inducing. This is why many people who struggle with addiction never get to the asking-for-help step.
To help you find the courage to push through your fear and seek help, here are four ways people in recovery found it easier to tell someone about their addiction and get the assistance they needed:
#1 Tell someone who is in recovery. If you know a recovering addict or alcoholic who has been through rehab or attends Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings, this might be the best person to speak with first. Even if you don’t know this person well, that’s OK. They understand what it takes to get sober and can provide you with information from their own experience. They may even be able to help you steer clear of making some of the mistakes they made when they began their journey to recovery. For example, this person may be a good resource for practical tips on how to keep things confidential, navigate getting time off from work to enter treatment, find 12-step meetings that are open to newcomers and help you get in touch with a treatment facility, among other details. Most importantly, this person probably knows exactly how you feel right now.
#2 Tell the most trustworthy, sympathetic, accepting person you know. If you’re lucky, you have someone like this in your family or social circle. This might be the person in your life who has seen everything and is shocked by nothing — and is supportive of you no matter what. It’s even better if this person is also discrete and practical, and likely to help you take active steps to getting addiction treatment. You can ask them to do some confidential research to help you figure out how to enter a treatment program — what is involved, how to get insurance questions answered and other logistical details that are too overwhelming for you to consider right now. If helping you get into a treatment program is too much to ask, you might ask if they’ll accompany you to a local 12-step meeting or other sober recovery support group as an initial step. (One of the organizers or sponsors at the sober meeting will likely be happy to help you find a treatment program — you have only to ask.)
#3 Tell someone via telephone or email. If speaking to a friend or family member face-to-face is just too difficult, it might be easier to call them or write an email. For many of us, it is easier to unburden ourselves and share difficult truths over the phone or in writing than it is in person. Sometimes writing works best because literally spelling it out helps you choose your words more carefully, see your problem more clearly, and be more specific about the kind of help and support you are seeking. If you choose to write an email, read it over a few times to make sure it clearly expresses what you want to say … and then hit “send.” Once it has been sent, you can feel better knowing you have taken that important step to reach out for help.
#4 Tell a stranger, which can include calling a helpline or chatting online. Sometimes it is easier to talk to someone who doesn’t know you. If some anonymity makes you feel more comfortable, do a quick online search for “addiction help” to pull up a list of resources, such as free and confidential addiction helplines, sober recovery chat rooms, and toll-free numbers for rehab centers and addiction treatment programs. Your call will be answered by an addiction counselor or other support person who is knowledgeable about addiction and trained to listen and guide you through your next steps. An online search can also furnish you with links to educational information about addiction, which can help you understand the process of addiction and how you are not alone in this struggle.
If your first attempt to reach out for help doesn’t go well — either because the person doesn’t get back to you promptly or doesn’t respond in a helpful way — don’t be discouraged. Just move on to the next option for reaching out. Even if you stumble through the process of asking for help, the most important thing is to realize you need help and ask for it — any way you can.
National Helpline from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. Addiction Treatment Helplines in Canada. http://www.cclt.ca/Eng/Pages/Addictions-Treatment-Helplines-Canada.aspx: 1-877-327-4636
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Find a local meeting. http://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/find-local-aa
Narcotics Anonymous (NA) World Services. Find a meeting or helpline. https://www.na.org/meetingsearch/
In case of drug poisoning, call the Poison Control Helpline: 1-800-222-1222