How to help someone who is on a downward spiral?
August 11, 2014 9:48 AM   Subscribe

My brother has been on a downward spiral for many months now. I would like to help him, but don't know how.

He has always had difficulty controlling his emotions (quick to anger, sad at one moment, very cheerful the next) and shows signs of ADHD. He got fired from his job due to constant lateness and poor work ethic. He spends money quickly, but always finds someone to lend him a few bucks and is thousands of dollars in debt to both financial institutions and friends/acquaintances/family. I'm not sure what exactly his housing situation is - he was recently evicted and has a tendency to move in with one woman after another. He parties hard even though he has liver damage and is now doing drugs of a caliber that worry me. He doesn't self-harm and I don't think he's suicidal now, but he has been at least once in the past. He's in a weird situation in terms of health coverage, and it's very difficult to convince him to ever see a doctor, anyway.

I know I cannot force an adult to do anything they don't want to do. I've read previous threads and searched online for help on this. Most advice boils down to: support him. How exactly can I do this? Difficulty level: He lives in another city and doesn't have a cellphone.
posted by rebooter to Human Relations (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You are going to get all sorts of advice here but what it really boils down to is: whatever you feel is the right thing to do, that's what you should do. You aren't going to feel comfortable in your own skin if you talk yourself into (or out of) doing something you don't feel is right. And you can also change your mind; whatever you decide to do now may not be what you end up wanting to continue doing, and that's okay.

I have addicts in my life and it is really hard not to want to take control and do everything you can to make life easier for them. I learned over many years that with a person like this, if you try to make their life easier you're really just making it easier for them to keep doing what they're doing. If his situation is still working for him - he can still find ways to get money from people he knows, still find people willing to give him a place to live, etc. - he has no incentive to change. From his perspective, everything is going along just fine. So if I were in your shoes, I would try hard not to enable this lifestyle. People don't change until they suffer consequences, and apparently the ones he is suffering are not great enough to provide him with motivation to try something else.

If you can tolerate it, you can support him by keeping an open line of communication, letting him know you're there for him, but making it clear you aren't going to give him any money or a place to stay until he's committed to getting his life on track. It's okay to reach a point where you can't do that anymore, though; I reached the point with my own father where it was more painful for me to stay in touch with him than to cut him off. It's hard, watching people you care about destroy themselves. But there truly is not one thing you can do to prevent it if they're determined to go down that path.
posted by something something at 10:07 AM on August 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

I have someone in my life who is similar and who I love very much. But at the end of the day, as you stated OP, this is an adult.

Some of those challenges sound like various types of mental health issues and monetary issues. So I have given the person in my life occasional offers for therapy, CBT, whatever it takes (as in, I will pay for treatment for this issue, just let me know how much it will be). I also try to encourage trying these things out. To be honest, I have never been taken up on this offer, so even with the available resource, the person decided not to do it.

I have also offered/paid for other small things that I think will make the person happy.

You mention the lack of being able to communicate (cell phone). I would probably offer to get a pay as you go phone if the person wanted it - if so, get it, if not, leave it at that.
posted by Wolfster at 10:18 AM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've gone through this too. I agree with something something, hard. Don't give him money and don't give him a place to stay. The only exceptions I would make is that if I wanted to see him, I'd offer to take him out to dinner, or if I wanted to do something with him I'd offer to make it my treat. I wouldn't want him to avoid spending time with me because of being broke, would want to have the opportunity to talk to him and show him I care without actually taking care of his life for him - I don't know if I would offer to do the PAYG phone, that might be over the line. You can ask him if he's interested in detox/rehab, and if he is, help him find resources - but if he's not, there's nothing you can do for him on the health front except encourage him not to share needles and to have emergency Narcan handy if he abuses opiate drugs (i.e. think harm reduction).
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:24 AM on August 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

You might find this book gives you some helpful ideas on how to talk to your brother: I'm Not Sick, I Don't Need Help
posted by metahawk at 12:34 PM on August 11, 2014

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