If you’re trying to help a loved one to overcome a substance use problem, then there’s one extremely important question you should ask yourself: What are you selling to them? Let me explain.

I recently bought a gym membership. I should let you know I’ve always abhorred gyms; I saw them as a waste of time. But now, in my early thirties I haven’t been so active, I’ve been stuck at a computer editing videos and writing. I live in the city where it’s not so easy to do all the activities I engaged in when I was younger. So I checked out a few gyms, even though I found it odd to literally run in place on a treadmill – I was active as a child because it was fun, and this gym stuff just seemed like pointless work. The people at the gym, however, did not sell me on running on a treadmill, lifting weights, or using any other contraption. They convinced me to purchase an expensive membership by appealing to my true needs and desires.

Why should I join the gym? Because it will help me to become more energetic, I’ll be sexier when I lose those extra pounds I’ve put on in recent years, I’ll be healthier, I’ll meet new friends in the classes, It’s a good way to start the day. Also, normal activities like carrying groceries have led to major aches and pains lately because I’m out of shape – and I’ll be less prone to that as I ramp up my level of activity at the gym. When I was sold a gym membership, these were the issues that were focused on, because these are the things I want. I never wanted to run in place on a freaking treadmill. Never. But now I do that a few times a week, and I enjoy it, and I have begun to reap the benefits of doing it. If the salesperson at the gym had told me “you need to run on a treadmill a few times a week, get worn out, and deal with it because you’re an adult now”, then I wouldn’t have bought the gym membership, nor would I have taken on this beneficial new habit.

With this in mind, what are you selling to your loved one? If you were literally selling a sober lifestyle, how much commission would you make? Are you tapping into what makes your customer tick, or are you just telling them they need to change? Are you providing a vision of the better future they’ll gain by buying your product? It can be easy to get into the habit of chastising our loved ones, and indeed they may deserve it. Ultimatums and threats can become the normal topic of conversation when dealing with them. Demands and commands may fly out of our mouths as we reach higher levels of frustration with them. And although there may be appropriate times to cut ties with someone or throw them out of the house, these are extreme measures that are not guaranteed to work, and we don’t ultimately want to resort to them. We want our loved ones to get better, to have a good, happy, fulfilling, and successful life. They want that too. So get to work and sell it to them.

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