How to Be Your Own Advocate while Recovering from Addiction

How to Be Your Own Advocate while Recovering from Addiction

People in general are much more aware of addiction than they used to be. Journalists and editors are more careful about how they cover stories about substance use, parents and teachers pay more attention to children and adolescents who may need help, and doctors and other medical professionals are more wary of prescribing addictive medication. While it’s great that that better information about addiction is reaching professionals and the general public, no amount of public awareness can eliminate the need to be your own best advocate. While others may mean well and want to help you out, it’s your own life that’s at stake. You know better than anyone else what you need and what you need to avoid. However, being your own advocate is not always easy. It may require you to be stubborn or to challenge someone with more expertise or authority. If you are recovering from a substance use disorder, here are some tips for being your own advocate.

Know your priorities.

The first requirement for being your own advocate is to know your own priorities. You can’t insist on getting what you want unless you know what you want. Broadly speaking, your goal is probably to remain sober but you may have more specific goals depending on context. For example, if you are dealing with your boss, your goal might be to work less overtime so you can spend more time with your family. If you’re dealing with your doctor, your goal might be to convince her that you need a course of treatment that won’t require you to take addictive medications. Keep in mind that the other person’s priorities may be directly opposed to yours, or they may be orthogonal, or they may be totally unrelated. Knowing what you want and know what the other person wants can help you reach a mutually agreeable solution. 

Ask questions.

Many people assume that the best way to advocate for themselves is to be assertive or even stubborn. While there may be a place for that, asking questions is often a better way to start. Asking questions serves two crucial functions. First, it helps you learn about the other person’s point of view and the facts of the matter in general. As noted above, understanding both your own priorities and the other person’s helps you arrive at an agreement. If you want to know about the other person’s priorities, just ask. As an added benefit, you may learn quite a lot. This is especially true if you are dealing with an expert such as a doctor or lawyer. They can often tell you things that are difficult to learn in any other way. 

The second way asking questions helps you advocate for yourself is that it typically makes the other person more agreeable. If you start out by staking a claim and insisting on getting your way, the other person will often respond by digging in. If you start by asking questions, the other person becomes more open minded. Being a source of information puts you on the same side of the table, looking for a solution to your problem. 

Educate yourself

If you are going to advocate for yourself, it’s crucial to stay informed. Whatever situation you’re going into that might require you to be your own advocate, it’s important to at least know the basics before you show up. If you’re asking your boss for shorter working hours, for example, it might be helpful to know your company’s policies as well as state and federal laws regarding workers’ rights. For example, many people don’t know that the Family Medical Leave Act protects their job for up to 12 weeks if they need to get addiction treatment. It’s always good to know your rights. 

If you’re going to the doctor, see what you can learn ahead of time. You don’t always know what’s wrong ahead of time–which is why you go to the doctor–but a little searching online should alert you to a few possibilities. It’s never a good idea to take an online self-diagnosis too seriously, but having some frame of reference will allow you to at least ask intelligent questions about your issue. This is especially important if it’s something that may relate to past substance use, such as liver or heart problems, or issues that may require the use of addictive medications like opioids or benzodiazepines. 

Ask for what you want.

Most of the time, it won’t matter to someone else one way or the other what you want, so you might as well just ask. For example, your doctor probably won’t be too fussed if you would prefer to try SSRIs instead of benzodiazepines to control your anxiety. This is typically the case for anyone who works for you and often for people who don’t. If you need time off from work, ask for time off. Other people can’t read your mind and won’t know what you need unless you ask. The worst that can typically happen is that the other person might say no.

Practice being assertive.

The biggest problem many people have in being their own advocates is when they have to be assertive. Either someone denies a request, ignores or downplays their concerns, or forgets about their concerns. Maybe you haven’t “found the right moment” to raise your concerns in the first place. It can be hard to go from going with the flow to challenging your boss or the medical establishment in one stroke. Practice advocating for yourself when the stakes are smaller. Ask the waiter if the sauce has wine in it and if so, ask if you can substitute something else. Ask your spouse to pick up the kids from school so you can go to your 12-step meeting. If you get in the habit of standing up for your recovery in small ways, it will feel easier when there’s more at stake.

Build social support.

Finally, it’s hard to stand up for yourself when you feel like a lone warrior. Having strong social support is important for recovery in general but it also makes you feel more comfortable standing up for yourself. Social support helps to reinforce your priorities and make you feel like standing up for your recovery is the normal thing to do because you know others who have stood up for their own recovery.

At Patrick Hart Consultants, we provide a number of different services to fit the needs of each individual client. Among these, are helping you choose a treatment provider, helping you develop a treatment plan, helping you establish post-treatment support, and ensuring continuity among the different elements of treatment. Contact us today at 844-262-7970 or or explore our website for more information.

AUTHOR: Hart Consultants