Those in recovery from alcohol or substance abuse are often in a highly emotional state. They likely have many of the same doubts you have about their ability to get clean and stay that way. For this reason, there are some things that family and friends say to addicts that aren't helpful and may even hurt the person's recovery as they navigate the physical and emotional barriers of regaining their health.
When you're trying to help, be sure to listen to what the person tells you as well as the recommendations of medical professionals. Also, do your best to avoid common phrases that are more likely to hurt than help.
For many individuals, substance addiction is an intruder that affects every area of their lives. Those who have successfully recovered from addiction have undergone extensive therapy to understand the cause of their substance abuse and how they can stop addiction from overcoming their lives again.
Recovering from addiction is difficult, even after completing a treatment program. Some things to understand about recovering addicts are:
If you have a friend or family member struggling with drug addiction or alcohol abuse, it may be hard to know what to say. Their behavior may seem irrational, and their moods may be unpredictable. Finding the right words to help them can be challenging. Most importantly, you don't want to say the wrong thing. Below are 12 things you should never say to someone struggling with addiction:
Unless you've personally battled addiction, you can't possibly know what the addict is going through. And even if you have overcome your own substance dependence, you did not have the same experience as this other person. It's much better to say you are sorry they are going through the situation and just let them know you love them and are there for them.
The addict may have gone through recovery before and relapsed into addiction again. They likely already have a lot of self-doubt about whether this time is different. Instead of making negative statements that confirm their worst fears, try to uplift your family member or loved one. Say something along the lines of, "It's important for you to make progress. Keep trying."
Addiction costs people their jobs, family and other relationships, and sometimes even their lives. Addicts know this as well as anyone. If they knew how to stop the addiction in its tracks, they would choose clean living. Instead of asking why they haven't quit yet, ask them how you can help them in their recovery.
Issuing threats to an addict is rarely effective. For some, the addiction is as much mental as it is physical. They may have the best of intentions and plan to walk away from the substance they're abusing. However, when the craving hits, they can't control it. Supervised outpatient and inpatient treatment programs are the only things that will help them overcome the thirst to use again.
The addict is already unhappy with where fate has taken them. Telling the person you feel ashamed just heaps on emotional abuse and may even serve as a trigger that keeps them in the vicious cycle of drug use and abuse, self-hatred and more using. Instead, encourage the person to get into treatment so they can be the best version of themselves.
Telling your loved one to try using moderation is more harmful than helpful, regardless of where they are in the recovery journey. While this advice has good intent, once an individual starts, they can't stop. Try exploring treatment options that enable your loved one to slowly stop their drug and alcohol use instead.
People commonly believe addiction equals a lack of willpower or discipline. While we all have negative tendencies, we can control these and assume those with addiction can use the same self-control.
However, substance and alcohol abuse are entirely different and often arise from multiple risk factors, such as genetic predisposition or mental illness. Criticizing someone for their addiction causes them to feel worse about their situation and be more likely to use.
Addictive behavior can appear selfish, especially if your loved one makes you feel manipulated or exploited, but it's often more complex than simple selfishness. Addiction can make someone feel engulfed by substance use.
For example, if you are stuck in a room with dangerous people, your main concern will be your current situation, not what's occurring outside. The same is true with addiction, in which a person's primary focus is getting drugs or alcohol.
One of the biggest misconceptions about addiction is you need to hit some theoretical rock bottom. If you encourage someone to keep using drugs or drinking until they reach this point, you will cause serious harm. Instead of waiting for rock bottom, encourage your loved one to start their addiction recovery as soon as possible.
While quitting drugs or alcohol overnight may seem like a great solution, going cold turkey is one of the hardest and most dangerous ways to overcome addiction. Some drugs can cause seizures if you stop taking them, while others create severe withdrawal symptoms. The best way to quit is with a supervised treatment program.
Drug and alcohol addiction is complex and arises from multiple factors. While parents or friends may have some influence on an individual, they do not represent the entire story of why a person is struggling with their addiction.
While it is wise to encourage your loved one to get help for their substance abuse disorder, you shouldn't put the burden of seeking help entirely on them. Instead of simply telling them to get help, obtain the assistance they need.
Alcohol and substance abuse is a destructive illness that can prevent your loved ones from living their ideal lives. Fortunately, consistent treatment and support enable your friends and family members to recover from addiction and get back on track with their goals. Some ways to help loved ones with addiction are to:
Addiction can actually change the chemistry in your loved one's brain and make them think only of the next fix. An intervention may be necessary to help get through to them and make them realize how their actions affect their family and friends. Once you've initiated a successful intervention, encourage the person to get into a recovery program with incidental medical services and then seek further treatment.
Diamond House Detox offers a variety of recovery programs and supports families throughout the recovery process. Contact us for more information on how to best stage an intervention.
This content was medically reviewed by Vicky Magobet PMHNP-BC, on April 24, 2023.