Are we setting unrealistic expectations when we confront a drug/alcohol user

Updated: Aug 8

How do you get someone to admit that they're using drugs or alcohol?

On my last day using, my mom asked me a simple question. What I didn’t know then, but I know now was how much my answer changed my life.


She had come into town for a work trip and hoped I would be able to go to dinner with her the night before. We were scheduled to meet up, but I was too high to go. So, I came up with some asinine story to get out of it. Her gut told her something was wrong. The next day, she tried to contact me, but she had no way of getting a hold of me.


My home phone was off that morning, which I didn't know about. It was working the night before because that is what I used to call her to tell her the sob story. My cell phone was left in a tow truck. Alarms were ringing in her head.


I was at my in-law's house that day; my ex-husband and father had left to go swing by our apartment to grab a couple of things and get my cell phone from the tow truck company. When they pulled into the apartment complex, my mom was coming out of our apartment…Oh, Shit…what had she seen in that apartment?


She walked over to my ex-husband and his dad and asked where I was and if I was okay. They both said I was okay and that I was at their house. She then looked at my ex-husband and asked if we were on drugs. He said no, she asked again; he said no. She reminded him that she had just come out of the apartment. He continued to say no. At this, she demanded they give her the phone number she needed to get in touch with me.


When my mother in law handed me the phone to tell me it was my mom, I was scared. I didn't know she was looking for me at this point. I thought I had gotten away with everything, and life was continuing. I took the phone from my mother-in-law's hand, a little shaky, a bit concerned because I had been smoking pot that morning and was a bit stoned…ok…a lot stoned. And I heard that voice, you know the voice I'm talking about, the mom voice. The voice that tells you that you are in trouble. She said, "Jennifer," …O SHIT, went through my head. I already knew what was coming.


“Jennifer, I just came out of your apartment…” O SHIT O SHIT O SHIT…”Jennifer, are you on drugs again?" There was a long pause. I was deciding. I already knew she knew the answer, but I was deciding on which way I was going to go. You see, the night before, I had accepted that I was going to die. I was okay with that. I was broken, beaten, I had nowhere to go, and I couldn't stop using drugs. I had accepted that no one was at fault for my using except for myself. So, I thought I was going to keep going until my body gave out.


When she asked me if I was back on drugs, it took a minute to decide how to respond. I had lied a thousand times before; I could get away with it somehow. I could convince her I wasn't using. I didn't want to get in trouble, and I didn't want to tell her the truth. I was ashamed, and I was disappointed in myself, I didn't want her to be disappointed in me. If I said yes, I would have to own all the lies before. It was too much. And then I said something unexpected, and I am not even sure how or why I said it, but I said, "Yes." And let me tell you, once I confirmed and was honest about that one thing, all the other lies I had told started pouring out with honesty. I didn't even care how much trouble I was in. I was relieved in a way I had never been in my life. I was so tired of hiding, of manipulating, of having to steal shit, of the shame, the guilt, the fear. I was broken, and that yes changed my life.


The next day I was back in rehab, and I was so grateful to be there. Nothing else mattered, I remembered thinking how much I had to do to put things back together, and I was just happy I was going to be alive to do it. It was more of an I GET to put things back together.


You are probably asking yourself at this point, what does this have to do with knowing how to confront your own loved one.


Here's the thing, you can ask them a thousand times. And a thousand times they may lie to your face. And you will get upset and take things personally because you know they are lying. They are going through the same thing in their head about all of the shame, and they don't want to disappoint you, they don't want you yelling at them. They certainly aren't ready to change anything yet.


The answer to the question is the same one you've read or heard more times than you can count. You can't. You can't force someone to admit it, really admit it till they are ready. "Well, geez Jen, I didn't need to read all of that to tell me the same damn thing everyone else tells me."


Here's what I am going to tell you that puts a slight twist on things. You can change your perspective. Instead of getting upset at them lying to you, realize they are saying it because they aren't ready. This is important because if you get mad every time they lie, your resentments will build. Your frustration, your anger, it's going to turn you into someone you don't want to be.


When they say no when you ask because I know you are going to keep asking, translate that in your brain to them telling you they aren't ready. In the long term, you need them to admit because they want help.


Let me tell you how it plays out when you go out of your way to confirm it and force them into a corner. My ex-husband repeatedly denied it until I told everyone the truth. Then he had no choice but to own it too. And we got clean together…but we didn’t stay clean together. After a few months, he went back to using. I stayed clean.


He was lying to me, over and over whenever I confronted him, he lied. I threatened drug testing him, and I did all the things we do when searching for answers. And one night, he finally admitted it to me, but he admitted it to me because he needed money to pay off a drug dealer he claimed was going to beat his ass. He didn’t admit it to me because he was ready to change. He admitted to me because he needed something.


That story is another story in itself, and I will tell you I didn't give him the money. The point is, keep asking the question, but it may be unrealistic to expect they will be honest until they are ready to do something about it. Change your expectations.

I hope this was helpful, it may not be the answer you wanted to hear, but I hope it was helpful anyway in at least allowing you the freedom to respond a little bit differently and have a little bit of a different set of expectations that makes you feel a little bit better without the anger and the resentment. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at Jennifer@maneelyconsulting.com

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Jennifer Maneely

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