Helping Someone Who Doesn’t Want Help


In mental health and addiction work, the person in trouble is not always the one asking for help. Family members often initiate the treatment process. They often expect that if a doctor or a counselor explains that there is a problem, the person in trouble will listen. They want me to persuade a sick person to get help, and it doesn’t usually work very well. Mental health and substance treatment providers end up working with families to move things forward. Sometimes the family has its own work to do first.

One of the most common, most pressing questions that people ask me is this: How can I help my loved one if s/he doesn’t want help? This question comes when a spouse has a drinking problem, when a teen’s behavior is out of control, and when a young adult is diagnosed with a mental illness, but refusing treatment.

In each of these situations, a family member takes the same steps.

1.     Focus Your Energy on Making Yourself Healthier First

No matter how much you love someone, and no matter how many serious problems he has, you can’t change others. The only person you can change is yourself. So, if you are worried about someone you love, begin with yourself.

·      Are you calm and rational? Or are you angry, highly emotional, or obviously overwhelmed?

·      Are you out of control?

·      Are you attempting to control others?

·      Do you run away when things get tough?

·      Are you lost, confused, or easy to manipulate?

Get control of your own mental health, and you’ll be more helpful.

2.     Make Some Rules, and Stick With Them Firmly

If you want to influence your loved one toward health, begin with a few straightforward rules, for example:

 “No drugs on the premises.”

“You can stay at my house, if you are in treatment.”

“I can’t give you cash, but I will buy you some groceries.”

“No yelling.”

“Answer my texts and calls.”

“I need to be allowed to speak with your counselor- not to ask questions, but to explain how things look at home.”

3.     Follow Through

No matter what you try to do to help your loved one get back on track, it won’t make a difference if she doesn’t take you seriously. Say exactly what you mean, and do what you say you’ll do. If you tell your daughter you’re going to take away her phone for failing to answer your texts, take the phone or don’t make the threat in the first place. If you say “no drugs,” don’t let it slide when you find a bag of weed.

Posted on February 26, 2018 .