How to Communicate With Someone Who Has an Addiction

It's never simple to start up a discussion with a loved one who appears to be abusing substances. You may be concerned about saying the incorrect thing, causing your relationship to suffer, or making your loved one upset. You can even convince yourself that it's best to ignore the situation and pretend it never happened. If a loved one is addicted to opioids or alcohol, though, it's critical to address the problem as quickly as possible. Starting a conversation with your loved one might be the trigger for them to seek treatment.

Navigating conversations with someone in your life who is living with an addiction can be challenging. How can you offer your love and support, avoid miscommunications, and protect your own boundaries all at the same time?

Though not all people living with addiction are the same, there are some communication strategies that can help you show support and compassion.

Be Kind

Show that you care by communicating in a polite and kind manner. People with addictions typically anticipate others to criticize, insult, degrade, and reject them since addiction is so stigmatized in our culture.

By accepting the person with an addiction—even if you don't accept their behavior—you can start to build bridges to forgiveness and their recovery.

Avoid Saying This

  • You should be ashamed of yourself for abusing drugs.

Try This Instead

  • Everyone needs help sometimes. You don't have to be ashamed of your addiction.

Thoughtfully Choose Your Words

Keep in mind that language is important, and communicate as politely as possible. Avoid using language that promotes harmful addiction stereotypes. Some words can have a negative impact on how addicted persons feel about themselves and their ability to recover.

For instance, people often use the word "clean" to describe someone who is drug-free. However, the use of the word clean implies that the person who is addicted is "dirty" when they are using drugs.

Avoid using terms like "addict" or "junkie" to describe them. Addiction should not define a person's identity. It may be humiliating to be labeled a "addict." Use language that is focused on the person, such as "person with an addiction."

Avoid Saying This

  • I can't believe you're a junkie. When are you getting clean?

Try This Instead

  • I'm sorry to hear you're having trouble with your addiction. I'm here to assist you in any way I can.

Educate Yourself on Addiction

Our society frequently holds people responsible for their own addictions, as if it were a moral failing on their own. Make sure you understand addiction as a problem before communicating with your loved one. The more addiction information you have, the better you'll be able to communicate.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) describes addiction as "an inability to stop using a drug; failure to meet work, social, or family obligations; and, sometimes (depending on the drug), tolerance and withdrawal." Currently, people in the medical community more often use "substance use disorder" to refer to addiction.

Addiction still has a lot of stigma associated to it. Addictions are still linked to negative ideas such as being selfish, lazy, and destructive. Keep an eye on your tone of speech and make sure you're not blaming or accusing your loved one.

Learn more about addiction from reliable medical sources, and try to understand your loved one's point of view.

At the same time, don't believe you know everything there is to know about their addiction because you did your homework. Each person suffering from an addiction is an individual with their own story to tell.

Avoid Saying This

  • Why don't you just stop from doing drugs? You're being self-centered.

Try This Instead

  • You are still my friend, and I will always look out for you. Is there anything I can do to help?

Listen More Than You Talk

Listening to what the other person has to say is an important component of communication. Try to listen without interrupting or judging when someone with an addiction confesses to you. Even if you disagree with what they're saying, it's critical to refrain from passing judgment.

You don't have to make their addiction the key focus of every conversation you have with them.

You don't want to give them the impression that you're checking up on them or that you're worried about their health.

Continue to inquire about their weekend plans or offer them to accompany you to a movie. Speak to them in the same manner you would if they weren't addicted. Remember that they are still a person with desires, likes, dislikes, and opinions.

Avoid Saying This

  • What exactly are you up to? Are you sure you're not going to use it again? Why aren't you returning my call?

Try This Instead

  • Hey, what are your plans for the weekend? If you're free, I'd like to grab dinner with you.

Set Boundaries

Use both your words and your actions to communicate. Keep your message consistent so your loved one doesn't get the wrong idea about what you want or expect from them.

If you inform your partner that their drinking has a bad impact on you, don't offer to share a bottle of wine with them during dinner. You want to be able to properly explain your limits with someone who is addicted.

It might be difficult to communicate with someone who has an addiction if you have a history of supporting the person's addictive behavior. They might be surprised that instead of aiding or ignoring their addiction, you are speaking up. Notifying them that their actions are hurtful to you may encourage them to seek assistance.

In general, try using "I feel" statements to communicate with them. Shift from putting the blame all on them to taking responsibility for your part in the relationship.

Avoid Saying This

  • When you drink, you're really annoying. When you're like this, I can't even talk to you.

Try This Instead

  • When we talk after you've had a few drinks, I feel disrespected. From now on, I think it's better if we're both sober when we interact.

Believe Them

Don't argue with what your friend or loved one is saying if they want to talk to you about their addiction. Don't answer by stating, "Come on, you don't have a drinking issue," if they claim they think they have alcohol use disorder.

The truth of another person's addiction is not the same as your impression of it. Trust that they are aware of their own abilities. Believe them when they swear they're addicted. Someone confiding in you about their addiction is an indication that they have faith in you. Recognize how tough it is for them to discuss their addiction.

You don't want to make any excuses for them, either. Telling them that one drink "doesn't count," for example, would just encourage them to continue their bad habits. They are ultimately to blame for their addiction. However, as their friend or loved one, you should do your best to convey that you care about them and their recovery.

Avoid Saying This

  • When you drink, you're really annoying. Come on, you can have one drink. It's fine.

Try This Instead

  • I admire you for not drinking, and I respect you for looking after yourself.

Don't Tell Them What to Do

You want to assist your loved one in any way you can, but you don't have control over how they go about it. They could have a unique perspective on their addiction, or they might be exploring with alternative therapies or treatments.

You may show them that you appreciate their approach of making beneficial adjustments as long as they aren't inflicting additional harm to themselves or others in the process. Instead of telling them what they must do, ask them how you can assist them.

"Why haven't you received assistance yet?" or telling them what they "should" and "shouldn't" do, for example, can seem as condescending. You should avoid adding to their stress by acting as a trustworthy friend with whom they feel protected.

Avoid Saying This

  • You should simply give up cold turkey. It worked for another person I know.

Try This Instead

  • I want you to be as happy as possible. If you'd like, I may assist you in finding treatment centers or therapists.

A Word From Addiction Help

Start by educating yourself, becoming conscious of the language you use, and establishing appropriate boundaries when communicating with a loved one who is struggling with addiction. You may help them while simultaneously looking after your own health. Finally, you want to show them that you care about them and will help them in any way you can.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact Addiction Help at 877 241 3596 | 301 686 2760 | 703 361 4357 for information on support and treatment facilities.

how to talk to an person who has an addiction