Talking About Addiction: Opening Up Takes Some Time

July 7, 2021 | addiction treatment

How do you talk to a loved one when you’re concerned for their well-being? Even if you have their best interest in mind, it can be difficult to prevent your feelings from getting involved and interfering with your word choice. 

What starts as an honest, heartfelt conversation can spiral into a screaming match that does more harm than good if you aren’t mindful of what you say and how you say it.  

Unfortunately, because you’re so close to a person, the things you say can have a much more severe impact on them than if anyone else had told them. Even in a situation as harmless as talking about the people they spend time with, you may wind up causing damage to a relationship with a loved one that lasts for years if you’re not careful. 

But what if the situation is far more difficult? What if that person you’re concerned with is suffering from a substance abuse disorder?

There’s no question that substance abuse is dangerous, and your emotions are already hard to control because of it. Opening up the conversation can cause them to peak, cloud your mind, and worsen the situation. 

We have some pointers for talking about addiction to ensure you don’t wind up pushing away those who need you now more than ever.

What is addiction?

Before you assume that someone is suffering from addiction, you need to understand the situation better. First and foremost, addiction is not a choice. It’s a condition that’s out of a person’s control. Few people choose to live a life where drugs or alcohol rule their decisions and destroy their livelihood.

Unfortunately, that does mean there are mental, physical, and environmental factors at play. It’s not as simple as just stopping because someone else is concerned for you—even if that is a powerful motivator for many.

The second thing to understand is that not all substance use should be classified as an addiction. You need to make sure that substances are involved before you make any accusations. You can talk to someone about your concerns and ask them if they are using, but you need to be careful when doing so, as the insinuation alone can cause damage.

Not only that, but you can’t expect someone who is hiding their condition to speak openly or honestly about it. Signs to look out for are paraphernalia, weight loss, poor hygiene, mood swings, and overall deterioration of their character. 

Keep in mind that those signs in combination usually indicate someone is dealing with severe addiction, and you should approach them about it before it’s too late. 

Why is sharing a part of recovery? 

If someone is suffering from addiction, why should you talk? Why not take action and force them into a recovery program? Well, unfortunately, drug addiction and alcohol use disorders are often linked to emotional issues. 

Even if the person lives a relatively good life, the substances can interfere with their judgment creating a sense of sadness or loneliness in the user.

It’s not uncommon for users to blow minor setbacks out of proportion as an excuse to continue to use. In other words, they begin to build emotional barriers and weaken themselves emotionally as they continue to use.

Not only that but there may be genuine issues at large. Remember that addiction is out of the control of the victim. They may not feel strong enough to stop on their own. That, paired with the other potential issue we mentioned, creates an unforgiving situation. The victim can benefit greatly from being able to share their perspective and receive understanding and support from those who care about them.

How do you talk to someone about addiction?

As we said, the conversation is never easy. Not only is the person of concern suffering and unable to think rationally in many instances, but your emotions are high, meaning you’re just as likely to lose coherence. If you don’t keep yourself under control, the situation can derail, leading to a worsened addiction and damaged relationships.

That said, speaking with a friend or loved one about their addiction can be made simple if you keep these tips in mind.

  • Listen more than you speak 
  • Establish trust 
  • Be honest
  • Establish boundaries 
  • Support better lifestyle choices
  • Follow through with your promises/stay involved

As much as you care for a loved one, remember that people with addiction are the real point of concern, not you. That doesn’t mean you need to set yourself aside entirely, but you do need to put their well-being before your feelings.

Listen to their side of the story, let them know that you love them and want them to get better. Make sure they know that, but also make sure that they know there are consequences if they continue to use and follow through with the promises you make.

Don’t just follow through with consequential actions, though. Make sure you continue to stand by their side, even if it means picking up the phone or attending meetings with them. Believe it or not, these simple acts can profoundly affect someone’s road to recovery.

What if they won’t talk about it?

Of course, there are some things you definitely shouldn’t do when talking to someone about their addiction. To prevent worsening the situation, you should keep the following in mind:

  • Don’t make threats, but be stern in setting boundaries 
  • Don’t try to force your concerns 
  • Don’t throw their shortcomings in their face 
  • Don’t pass judgment 
  • Don’t encourage use but understand their situation

Something such as boundaries and establishing consequences shouldn’t be tough to convey without coming off as a threat. Keep in mind that telling someone that they’ll lose you if you continue to use it can come off more as a punishment rather than a step taken in an attempt to protect them. That’s why you need to be deliberate and speak from your heart when those promises are made.

Not only that, but you can’t attack someone’s character or pass judgment on them throughout the conversation. It’s best to remember that they are struggling with addiction, and even if they choose to live with it, they didn’t plan for it. Being understanding to that while making your concerns clear is key to your success here. 

Of course, it also helps to know that this conversation isn’t a one-time thing. If the situation continues after the discussion, it’s not your fault. It’s just because addiction is a tough thing to overcome. Because of that, you will need to make sure you stand by the person you care for and continue to be supportive on their journey. 

We want you to know that it’s ok to struggle with the reality that a loved one is suffering from addiction and that nobody expects you to have all of the answers. That’s why addiction treatment centers and specialists are happy to coach or even assist your conversation with the person and can even offer you counseling to help you cope with the matter.