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What to Do if a Loved One Refuses Treatment

It can be stressful and difficult when a loved one who needs help for an addiction refuses to get treatment. People who are at the hands of a mental health disorder or addiction are often not able to see the big picture and do not always think they need help. Sometimes, they know they need help, but they just are not ready to change.

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If a loved one refuses treatment, the best thing you can do is listen to their concerns and attempt to understand their behaviors. In fact, people rarely get treatment the first time they are approached about it. It can take patience, but if you continue to love and support your loved one, while maintaining boundaries, they may eventually seek help. 

What Are the Main Reasons That a Loved One Refuses Treatment?

There are usually certain reasons why a loved one initially refuses treatment. Bluntly asking a loved one for their reasoning risks more setbacks and estrangement. Instead, engaging in calm conversations with them and trying to comprehend their anxieties and fears associated with going to treatment might lead to specific reasons why they are apprehensive of getting help. 

Common reasons for opposing treatment typically include the following:

Fear of Change

When a loved one is set in their ways, the fear of change can be overwhelmingly daunting. Anxiety and fear can be colossal barriers in the way of getting addiction treatment. 

Your loved one will be subject to changes during treatment, but they are changes for the better. However, when a person is stuck in their ways and not able to see that their overall health and actions are taking a toll on their daily lives, change can be difficult to deal with.


A loved one might not want to admit that they need help and do not want others to know that they are going to treatment for addiction or another mental health disorder. In the past, society has unfortunately looked down on mental illness and addiction. Because of this, people often felt ashamed that they needed help. 

Today, a great amount of apprehension and contempt regarding addiction treatment have been erased. It is okay to take care of your mental health and to get treatment when needed. While work still needs to be done, stigma about addiction has greatly reduced in recent years.

Not Wanting Help

Whether it is being offended by needing assistance or just denial, many people refuse treatment because they do not want to be helped. There can be a lot of embarrassment associated with mental illness that leads to people denying that they have any issues. Admitting to oneself that help is needed is arguably the most important step in the road to recovery. 

Feeling Unworthy of Help

A person struggling with mental health issues or addiction often has a low sense of self-worth. Low self-esteem can make a loved one feel as if they are not important enough to receive help. This unworthiness completely masks the importance of help and treatment. 

Reaffirming that your loved one is important and valued should be done on a regular basis to remind them that they are worthy of getting help. Your commitment to their overall well-being may go a long way to affirming their sense of self-worth. 

Top Ways to Help Your Loved One Get the Help They Need

Getting your loved one the help they need can be difficult, but it is far from impossible. There are several things that may help them decide to go to treatment. Here are a few of them:

  • Show compassion. Compassion is key to understanding the behavior of a loved one who is suffering from a mental illness or addiction. As an outsider to your loved one’s predicament, you can easily see all of the reasons why they should go to treatment. However, they are lost in their own struggle and are not always able to see it that way.

    This is why being compassionate toward your loved one and trying to understand their reasonings and feelings is so important. Don’t assume that you know how they feel, but express that you want to understand where they are coming from.
  • Listen. It can be easy to write off what a loved one says when they are struggling with addiction, but you should always listen. Listening to a loved one and trying to make sense of what they are going through can further help you understand them. This understanding goes a long way when getting a person to go to treatment. If they don’t feel heard, they are unlikely to accept help.
  • Respect their journey. Showing respect for a loved one and treating them as an equal helps form trust. Talking down to a person and making them feel less valued will make them more hesitant to get help. When respect is present, a loved one will be more likely to get the treatment they need.
  • Communicate clearly. Communicating how you feel in a respectful manner to a loved one can help them understand your perspective. In turn, this can also help them communicate their thoughts and feelings with you.

    Communicating how treatment works and being honest with them about the process might help a loved one visualize the journey they are about to go on. If they don’t have specifics about the process, fear of the unknown might keep them from getting help.

The Importance of Taking Care of Yourself During This Time

When trying to get a loved one to go to treatment, people often forget to take care of themselves. The emotional strain of dealing with a loved one who is struggling with addiction and other mental health issues can be overwhelming. 

You can’t neglect self-care during this time. Putting all of your focus on your loved one and not taking care of yourself can also potentially jeopardize your own mental well-being. You must first take care of yourself in order to continue supporting them.

Support Groups for Loved Ones 

There are many different support groups available for both loved ones struggling with mental illness or addiction and for friends and family members who are coping with it. Support groups may meet in person or online, and many people participate in a hybrid of both approaches. 

Support Groups for Loved Ones With Addiction & Mental Health Issues

These groups can be good sources of support and encouragement for your loved one:

Support Groups for Friends & Family Members of a Loved One Refusing Treatment

If your loved one is refusing treatment, it puts a lot of stress on you. Seek out support from these groups:

Updated June 8, 2023
  1. The Biology of Fear and Anxiety-related Behaviors. (September 2002). Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience.
  2. A Call for Kindness, Connection, and Science. (October 2022). Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.
  3. Compassion Toward Others and Self-compassion Predict Mental and Physical Well-being: A 5-Year Longitudinal Study of 1090 Community-dwelling Adults Across the Lifespan. (July 2021). Translational Psychiatry.
  4. Evidence-based Psychological Treatments for Mental Disorders: Modifiable Barriers to Access and Possible Solutions. (May 2016). Behaviour Research and Therapy.
  5. Some Thoughts on Denial of Mental Illness. (September 2009). The American Journal of Psychiatry.
  6. Statistics: Mental Illness. (January 2022). National Institute of Mental Health.
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