Will Wooton: What if someone doesn’t want to be helped?
By Will Wooton
Can you help someone who doesn’t want to be helped?
After 15 years of running groups, counseling individuals, speaking engagements, lectures, and book signings, I’m asked — almost challenged — with the idea that, “You can’t help someone who doesn’t want help, so why try?”
We’ve all heard this in different forms, whether it’s “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” or “each person must reach their own bottom before they are ready.”
I hear this from kids and parents alike. Often as a reason for taking no action to stop the enablement or drug abuse that the family is hooked into. It’s used as a defensive tool to redirect the conversation or as a justification to continue a dysfunctional cycle.
Push them to decide they want to quit
The simple answer is, no you can’t. No person can make someone who wants to get high stop. I only wish it was that easy. Perhaps a magic pill or a good stern, rational talking-to and everything will get better. This is not reality. Addiction is far more complicated and devious than that.
The important question is not “Can you make someone stop” but “Can you make someone decide they want to stop.” The answer to the second question is yes and it’s the key point of adolescent treatment.
Treatment providers can’t wait for teens to call and say, “Hello, I’m Johnny and I smoke way too much pot. Can you please help me get off it?” If we did, there would be a very small amount of treatment needed. It can happen but, believe me, it’s rare.
Challenge, change a harmful belief system
What effective treatment does is challenge the belief system that allows someone to think that his or her behavior is healthy. To force an honest look at what’s going on around them. To point out the realities of what’s happening to them and the potential problems that lay ahead. And cognitively restructure how they see things. By shifting their awareness of how their abuse is affecting their lives, then and only then will they want to stop. That’s the goal.
Who would want to stop something that they view as harmless or not a big deal? What motivation do they have to rethink why drugs are used? As a parent you must instigate the change through first educating yourself.
How much do you know about drugs? What drugs are commonly abused in your community? What is the paraphernalia associated with drugs? Do you hear or read terms or slang from your teen that make no sense? Music, movies, gossip at school, social media and the Internet are all places your teen is gathering information about drugs.
Educate yourself to get it done
Parents are at a disadvantage. Generations change, new trends become fashionable and, with that, so does the drug culture.
There are many ways to educate yourself as a parent. Most important is to be aggressive. From educational seminars, books, support group, counselors, therapists, doctors, support blogs, and credible websites, education and help is out there. Be open with your friends and neighbors about your efforts too.
Through education and aggressive actions you can force someone to change what they believe. When the discomfort of using outweighs the benefit, change happens.
So “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” may be true enough. But by educating yourself, you can wear your teen out on that walk to the water, so that when he gets there, you can be sure he’ll be very thirsty.
Wooton is director of Pacific Treatment Services and co-author of “Bring Your Teen Back From The Brink”. PTS is a substance abuse company working with teens and young adults. Website: www.PacificTreatmentServices.com.
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