What if your loved one refuses treatment?


English: An American Lady butterfly against a ...

By David Joel Miller.

What do you do when they get mad at you for suggesting they get help?

It is not unusual for people with a serious mental illness to refuse treatment. They don’t want to admit they need help, they are embarrassed or they don’t think that anything can help them. Sometimes people don’t want to give up their problem even when others around them see the need for them to change.

People with Bipolar Disorder may be especially resistant to getting treatment. They like the way the mania or hypomania makes them feel. When they slip into depression they may be more receptive but the second the depression lifts and the mania returns they are prone to stop taking their meds. This is very difficult for those around them.

People with a drug or alcohol problem are also resistant to change. They like the mood change their chemical friend creates and are unlikely to think the problem is the drug. They will blame others, make excuses and offer plenty of reasons why they don’t have a problem. The harder you press them to change the angrier they will get.

Other additions, gambling, sex, and pornography are also more likely to be seen as a problem by those around the addict. So what does the family member do?

Unless the person with the addiction or the mental illness wants to change there is little those around them can do to make them change. The ill person needs to decide that this issue is causing them a problem and for a very long time they will insist that the problem is all those other people around them who don’t understand them.

If the person with the problem does not want help I highly recommend that the family member who wants them to change needs to get counseling for themselves. Continuing to insist that someone change to make you happy make us wonder who the mentally ill person is.  Ask yourself a few questions.

If this person never changes one bit will I be happy in this relationship?

Most people who have a mental illness or an addiction will not change until they find that they can no longer go on acting the way they have been. As long as a family member or friend stays in their life, helping them out and caring for them, they are unlikely to admit they have a problem. If you love them you may have to let them go, only to find when they have lost everything and finally get into recovery they may want to be with someone new who has not been through all the pain with them.

Staying with them means you will need to be prepared for whatever ride you end up taking. They may get arrested, become violent; leave you for their addiction or another person. They may think, at least for a while, that you are the reason they drink, do drugs or are “stressed out.”

Can I accept that this is just the way things are?

Some family members conclude that they would rather put up with an ill family member and stay in the relationship even if the ill person never goes for treatment. Others will conclude they can’t take living with an alcoholic, drug addict or bipolar person who is unwilling to get help. The choice is not a black or white one; these life choices are very personal. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking that if you stay around long enough and try hard enough your love will change them.

Consider also how far into this relationship are you?

If you have several children together that is one situation. If you have no children do you want to raise a child or children while the impaired person continues to act this way? Is it fair to put a child through this?

Too many people think they can change the partner, that a child will make the relationship better and that the other person will suddenly snap out of it and assume responsibilities when they have to. Occasionally that happens but not very often.

When the ill person will not come for therapy then the rest of the family needs to come to talk through their options and for help in coping with an ill family member.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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4 thoughts on “What if your loved one refuses treatment?

  1. Hi David! *waving* your right,taking the meds changes how we feel and I hate that. Tis true that we enjoy the hypo mania etc, I would be lying to say it doesn’t. I take Seroquel because I know deep down its better for everyone around me:) I pretty much do it for them and not me! Great post! Enjoy your weekend! …..Paula xx

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  2. Oh, this was a really great thing for me to read tonight. I’m currently going through something like this with a family member, and this really put things in perspective for me. Thanks!

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  3. Pingback: 5 Rules for Helping and Being Helped | counselorssoapbox

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