How to Deal with a Brainwashed Person


The concept of “brainwashing” sounds more like the realm of sci-fi and horror films than an issue related to substance and addiction, but it is actually much more prevalent than you might think. For loved ones bearing witness to a friend, partner, or family member going down this road, it can feel impossible to get through to them, especially once addiction has taken hold. Before we address how to deal with a brainwashed person, we must first start with the basics: What actually is brainwashing?

What Does “Brainwashing” Mean?

Modern vernacular typically uses the term to imply someone whose thoughts and beliefs have been manipulated by the media, however, its actual definition is much broader. Brainwashing is defined as “the process of pressuring someone into adopting radically different beliefs by using systematic and often forcible means”. As intense as this definition may sound, “brainwashing” is pretty commonplace in our society and even amongst our personal relationships.

This coercive behavior is closely related to (and likely more familiar to you as) ‘gaslighting’, which can take place on issues and ideals both big and small. If you’ve ever had a boss, friend, parent, or romantic partner that has made you second guess something you knew to be true, it makes it immediately clear how brainwashing can play a role in the adoption of frequent or dangerous drug use.


Examples of Brainwashing

Many of those who engage in some form of drug abuse have been made to believe that drugs are necessary to maintain their status, relationships, or membership to a certain population. Think of the many reports of the alcohol-involved hazing processes of some fraternities, the prevalence of meth and sex amongst the gay male community, or the seemingly inherent patterns of hard drug use by rock stars.

While you might initially just dismiss those examples as peer pressure, one big difference (and reason why brainwashing is far more dangerous) is that this kind of drug use involves some level of indoctrination to a group (“We all had to do it” ) whether official or unofficial. In turn, those same individuals end up adopting those drug use behaviors, which are often at odds with their initial instincts or beliefs and then force those views on others.


How to Deal with a Brainwashed Person

In all of the above instances, drugs played a key role in indoctrination to some sort of group membership. This membership becomes central to a person’s identity, which then makes the corresponding drug use habit incredibly difficult to break. While getting through to them will be challenging, here are a few suggestions that might help.

  1. Be compassionate

Whether you’re frustrated, angry, or scared for someone, your supercharged emotions have the potential to come through in the way you speak, causing them to become defensive and pushing them even further into the arms of the brainwashers. Telling someone that they’ve been brainwashed or applying other negative labels won’t get you anywhere. Before broaching the conversation, be sure to do so in as non-judgemental of a manner as possible.

  1. Reconnect over shared experiences (“Remember when…”)

Talking about old memories or conversations can help remind a person of their old identity and that they had a life beyond whatever their current interest. Additionally, it can put someone in a positive frame of mind that can make them more receptive to what you have to say.

  1. Expose them to facts—gently

Once again, in a non-judgmental manner, introduce facts that contradict what they’ve been brainwashed to believe. Present these as a gentle, non-invasive question (“What are your thoughts on this?”) or perhaps as an observational opinion (“Her family must be heartbroken by that decision”). This provides an opportunity for the brainwashed person to be exposed to rational lines of thinking without feeling attacked.

  1. Be patient

Whether it’s a cult or company culture, breaking out of group-think is going to take time. Beliefs aren’t changed overnight, nor will they be changed back. Ultimately, no one can force someone’s beliefs to change (especially if they’re strongly associated with some sort of ideology). The best you might be able to do is to slowly chip away at their harmful beliefs until they are able to come to a revelation on their own timing.


Worried About A Loved One?

When it comes to drug use and saving someone before it’s too late, time is of the essence. You might not have the time to wait for them to suddenly snap out of it. In such instances, it might be beneficial to stage an intervention with the help of a professional. They can help you convince your loved one that they need help and to go to rehab. There, they can receive professional behavioral therapy which can address the source of the drug use. Don’t wait, contact The Freedom Center today to see what options they offer to help your brainwashed loved one.

The History of Brainwashing