If you're in a relationship with someone who has a substance abuse problem, then you're probably trying to figure out:
Are they EVER going to get better?
Should I put more energy into this relationship?
How long is this going to take to get them into recovery?
Ultimately, you just want to know, is there hope?
Sometimes, there are subtle signs that someone is thinking about changing. Even if they don't say it out loud, or verbalize to you exactly what it is that you wish they would say. You may be noticing that things are moving in the right direction. Maybe you haven't paid enough attention to it, or you didn't even realize these are signs that someone is thinking about making a big change.
Most of the time, change is a process people don't wake up and decide to start. We all go through this process of, "the bargaining phase." This is where we try to keep the addiction, but try different techniques to cut it back, or make it better for periods. We all do things like that, and I know when you're watching it from the outside, it can be frustrating because you know it's not going to work. However, these signs and stages are important for people to go through to get to the point of realization to let it go completely.
Here's the first sign:
1. Your loved one may be trying to cut back their use of the substance. A lot of times they may even verbalize it to you out loud. They may say "Hey, I haven't used this substance in this many days" or "I'm not doing nearly as much as I was doing before."
I know when you hear that, you're thinking, "okay yeah, cutting it back isn't going to work. You're going to have to let it go." Allowing people to figure this out is important and if you'll just allow it, it speeds up the process.
The second sign is:
2. The person may have periods of complete abstinence. It's not uncommon for people with substance abuse problems to say, "I'm gonna take a week off." or "I'm going to do a 30-day challenge where I'm not going to use anything at all."
There's a couple of things that could be going on, one they could be trying to prove to themselves that they're not an addict or an alcoholic. In their minds, if they could go days without it, they don't have a problem. They could be trying to reset their tolerance because they think eventually I'm going to be able to use this substance. I know this is frustrating, because you may have seen them do this a time or two before. You realize it's not going to work, but the point here is that the person who's going through this has to learn that time after time.
The third sign:
3. They're trying to stay away from certain people, places, and things.
Maybe they're not saying "I'm going to cut back." but they say, "I don't need to go to that particular bar" or "I need to stay away from that person because they're no good for me." This is a sign that they realize at some level there's a problem going on with their substance use or addictive behavior. They realize that something needs to change and they're working up the courage to make the really big change that needs to happen.
The fourth sign:
4. They may be trying to add positive things into their life. Their thinking is, if they get on balance, the substance abuse will stabilize itself.
For example, "I'm going to get a better job that I like" or "I'm going to start exercising several times a week." They feel like if they make themselves feel better that will fix their problem. This is likely a bargain and if you're in a full-fledged substance abuse addiction problem you can bring in these positive things, but until you get rid of the addictive behavior you're probably going to stay trapped.
Families always want the addictive person to go to 30, 60, 90 days of treatment. I get why and sometimes it is necessary, but for the most part, before people do that they try a lot of other things. For example, "Okay, I'll go talk to a counselor" or "I'll try one meeting." It may not be as big as you want, but it is still a step in the right direction. I don't want you to minimize this or ignore this. Anytime you see these positive steps it's a good idea to reinforce them and maybe even explore the issue further.
If you know what you're looking for, or listening for, you'll know how to nurture those things so that you're more likely to get more out of it.