Helping a loved one or friend get help for their addiction often begins with a difficult but necessary conversation. But if you’re like most people, you probably don’t instinctively know how to talk about addiction. Substance abuse can be a sensitive and painful topic to discuss and may make you feel ill-equipped and unsure. Luckily, individuals who have lived and worked with people grappling with substance abuse have discovered effective ways to communicate about addiction. Positive interactions combined with an honest yet supportive conversation can help encourage your loved one to seek professional addiction treatment which can ultimately save their life.
Knowing what to say and do can help your loved one get the treatment they need, but addiction can be confusing. That’s why you need to be able to recognize signs and symptoms of substance abuse. Alcohol and drugs can affect people in many different ways, but some of the most common signs of addiction include:
If you notice any combination of these signs, you should probably talk to your loved one about addiction even if they don’t appear to drink often or use drugs a lot. Even a “little” bit of drugs and alcohol here and there can trigger addictive behaviors that can weaken your loved one’s health and impact their quality of life.
Talking about addiction can be difficult. But think of it this way: if your loved one developed an illness, you wouldn’t hesitate to offer your help and support. You need to offer that same kind of support to your loved one grappling with addiction. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Ask your loved one to meet you in a quiet place. Make sure that you and your loved one are sober and calm. Your conversation will likely be much more effective if you and your loved one are well-rested, have an even temperament, and talk about the issue in a private, stress-free environment.
Make sure that your tone is supportive and kind. No matter how “bad” or “terrible” your loved one’s behavior has been, you need to remind yourself that they aren’t a bad person. You are having this discussion because you care, not to help your loved one “get their act together.” So adopt a kind tone and show that you care through your behavior. You can do this by:
Often, people grappling with addiction expect others to criticize, insult, judge, belittle, or reject them. Surprise them by being kind instead.
When you do talk to your loved one, be specific and provide details about what you’ve noticed. Use examples such as “I noticed you’ve missed a few days of work lately,” instead of a general statement such as “You stopped caring about your responsibilities.” Using “I” statements can be especially helpful as you talk about changes in your loved one’s behavior. Phrases such as “I noticed,” “I’m worried,” or “I’m concerned” express your perceptions and feelings which can be harder for your loved one to dispute than personal attacks against them.
As difficult as this conversation can be, do not attack your loved one’s identity as a person. Stick to particular events and situations that have happened. Don’t slip into blame or accusations. Instead, remind your loved one that you are on their side. You can do this by shifting the conversation to topics your loved one cares about.
Talk about the effect your loved one’s drinking or drug use can have on the people and things they care about the most. This could be their career, children, sports, or social activity they love. Your loved one may not be concerned about their own situation, but knowing that their substance use can affect what or whom they love may help inspire them to change their behavior.
Your loved one will likely confide in you about what’s really going on if you listen to them. Don’t interrupt them when they’re talking. Don’t criticize what they say. Simply listen. Even if you don’t agree with their behavior, listen to understand, not to respond. Addiction happens for a reason. Listen for the reasons and show unconditional love and concern.
Let your loved one know that you will support their efforts to change. Offer to come with them to the doctor or to a counseling session. Share different types of treatment options with them. Offer to visit recovery centers with them or on their behalf. Let them know that treatment can help rebuild their family, restore their physical health, and help them live the life they dream about.
If your loved one remains unwilling to change, set boundaries. Tell them what you will and won’t put up with. Set limits on what you will and won’t allow. Those boundaries can help push them toward the treatment they need.
Here at Genesis Recovery, we help restore lives negatively affected by addiction. Our community-oriented, 12-step recovery program can help your loved one overcome addiction. Let us help you help your loved one. Contact a member of our team today to learn more.