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Will Sending a Letter to a Family Member Struggling With Addiction Help Them?

If you have a family member who is struggling with addiction, sending them a letter that outlines your concerns can help. A letter can clearly describe what you see happening and why it matters to you.

It should be supportive, full of love, and straightforward. It should not blame the person but instead guide them toward help.

Family Relationships Are Close and Complex

Family systems are complex, as expectations, expression of feelings, management of conflict, and communication about the family unit to the outside world can vary between every group. A change in one part of the system leads to changes in everything else.

For example, if one member develops an addiction to a drug or alcohol, changes in their needs and behavior will lead to systemic changes in the rest of the family. Members may attempt to keep the problem quiet or hidden from others; try to find ways to keep the struggling family member on track at school or work; make excuses for behavior; or try to argue the family member into quitting the drug, getting treatment, or admitting they have a problem.

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What Can You Do to Help?

If a member of your family, like a spouse, parent, child, or other close relative, struggles with addiction, you may wonder how to help them without causing more strife. You probably feel emotionally stressed, exhausted, angry, hopeless, or deeply concerned. You want this loved one to get help but attempts to talk to them before or manage their behavior have failed. What can you do?

  • Learn about addiction and how it affects behavior.
  • Express love and concern, and offer support for the person to get help.
  • Express how your loved one’s addiction has hurt you, but do so without blame or guilt.
  • Research treatment options so that your loved one knows how to get started.
  • Know that recovery is an ongoing process, and social support from family members is a big part of it.
  • Set boundaries, and hold yourself accountable to stick to them.
  • Get help for yourself.

These steps are often looped into a larger intervention plan, which is designed to encourage the person to seek treatment.

What Is a Family Intervention?

Interventions must be carefully planned. Although the stereotype of an intervention is a group of concerned friends and family crying and shouting, this is not an effective approach. A plan includes creating a guest list; picking a time when the person struggling with addiction will be sober; deciding what to say; and deciding who will lead the meeting.

It should be a formal process expressing concern and love, but not blame, scolding, guilt, or anger. These feelings can cause someone struggling with addiction to retreat further into substance abuse to cope.

Below are recommendations for a successful intervention:

  • Create a core team to manage the intervention plan.
  • Gather information and resources on the best treatment options in the area and their costs.
  • Decide what you, as an individual, want to say. Keep it simple and stick to it.
  • Decide how you can help and support the person, like driving them to outpatient rehabilitation meetings.
  • Decide on consequences if the person does not accept help for their addiction.
  • Follow up after the meeting and stick to the boundaries you have set, including options for support.
  • Consider having a professional interventionist, counselor, or spiritual leader to lead the group.

Man standing, oening up at group therapy

If you have a close relationship with someone who struggles with addiction, you want to help and support them, but you may have experienced deep hurt, fear, sadness, and worry — about the person and for yourself.

You may not be able to avoid tears or blame if you see your loved one in person and try to talk to them.

In this case, you may consider writing an intervention letter rather than being at the meeting in person.

IS SENDING AN INTERVENTION LETTER EFFECTIVE?

There are several reasons to send a letter to an intervention or send an intervention letter on its own. These include being:

Unable to manage intense emotions when discussing your loved one’s addiction

Geographically far away

Unsure if the person will stay at the meeting or if they will wander away before the intervention is complete

A more distant member of the family

Afraid to confront the person because you cannot stick to your boundaries

Afraid you cannot stick to a clear statement or stay focused at the intervention

Writing an intervention letter can be just as effective as what is said at an in-person intervention. In fact, writing an intervention letter can be healthy for anyone. In many cases, those who attend an intervention write a letter beforehand, which they then read at the intervention. You can edit the letter until it expresses love and concern without pointing the finger or expressing anger.

A good intervention letter has several parts, including:

  1. Collection of when your family member was kind and loving toward you or a time when you have been especially proud of the person
  2. A short, clear statement about your understanding of your loved one’s addiction — for example, how cocaine may affect brain chemistry
  3. A brief, clear statement about your loved one’s negative behaviors and how they have caused stress
  4. A clear offer to help that is within your capabilities
  5. A repeated statement of love and concern

Keep to this formula, and your intention will be clear — you love this family member, and you want them to get better. Writing a letter can work well both for yourself and for your loved one. You can send it to the intervention team, you can read it in person yourself, or you can mail it, email it, or find another way to communicate it privately.

Sample Intervention Letter

A sample intervention letter may read like this:

Dear Mom,

When we talk in person or on the phone, I always sign off with “I love you,” but I want you to know it is true. I am not reflexively saying it; I do love you, very much. I would not be here without you — not just because you are my mom, but because your actions over the years have shown me what hard work and determination really mean.

For example, I remember when you fought with your boss to get a raise. I remember how stressed you were and how much you talked to us about standing up for what is right. You got that raise, and we celebrated — with pizza and movies! Rewarding us both for your hard work — me for listening and loving you — was amazing.

It is time for me to listen to and love you again. Stress has been part of our lives forever, and I know that you relieve stress with alcohol. But sometimes, you don’t remember what happened the night before. Sometimes, you fall asleep in the living room. But getting a call from the hospital recently was very scary. I’m worried for your safety, and I want you to enjoy many more years at the job you love so much.

I’ve done some research on alcohol use disorder, and I know it is not your fault. It is a condition that makes a lot of sense, but it can also be overcome. I’ve done some research on local treatment programs that might work for you since they are non-religious. I know I’m far away, but I want to help you overcome alcohol abuse — not just because you’re my mom, but because you’re amazing.

I love you very much. Please let me know if you’ll accept my help through this process.

Love,
Anne

Sources

(May 2, 2016). Addiction as a Family Affliction. Psychology Today. Retrieved March 2019 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/some-assembly-required/201605/addiction-family-affliction

(July 25, 2015). Helping a Family Member or Friend. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD). Retrieved March 2019 from https://www.ncadd.org/index.php/family-friends/there-is-help/helping-a-family-member-or-friend

(July 20, 2017). Intervention: Help a Loved One Overcome Addiction. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved March 2019 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/in-depth/intervention/art-20047451

(August 21, 2013). A Letter to My Brother. Psychology Today. Retrieved March 2019 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/after-party-chat/201308/letter-my-brother

(n.d.) Love First. 6 Articles on Intervention. 4. How To Write an Intervention Letter. Jay, J. Retrieved from https://lovefirst.net/books-and-media/6-articles-on-intervention/4-how-to-write-an-intervention-letter/

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