12 Things Not to Say to Someone Struggling With Addiction

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.

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A Look Into What Recovering Addicts Are Going Through

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:

  • They didn't choose their addiction.
  • Addiction can happen at any time.
  • Mental health disorders may be an underlying cause of their substance use disorder.
  • They are still the person you know and love under their addiction.

12 Things Not to Say to Someone Struggling With Addiction

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:

1. I Know What You're Going Through

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.

2. You'll Never Change

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."

3. Why Can't You Just Stop?

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.

4. If You Don't Change, I'm Done

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, inpatient and partial hospitalization treatment programs are the only things that will help them overcome the thirst to use again.

5. I'm Ashamed of You

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.

6. Try Taking It Easy

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.

7. You Lack Discipline

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.

8. You're Selfish

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.

9. You Just Need to Hit Rock Bottom

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.

10. Going Cold Turkey Is the Only Answer

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.

11. Your Addiction Is Someone Else's Fault

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.

12. You Should Get Help

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.

How You Can Help

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:

  • Take care of your own emotional and physical health so you can care for others.
  • Remember addiction is a disease and can cause a distorted view of priorities.
  • Recognize there is much to learn, and resources such as addiction treatment centers and databases can help you understand the correct way to help your loved one.

Get Help for Your Family Member or Friend

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. Call (800) 205-6107 or contact us online to learn more about how best to stage an intervention for your loved one.

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This content was medically reviewed by Vicky Magobet PMHNP-BC, on April 24, 2023.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Diamond House Detox
Vicky is a board certified Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. She began her nursing career in healthcare by working in the intensive care unit, and then an inpatient psychiatric hospital. After realizing the mental health needs of both the patients and the families she served, she became a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Throughout her experience working with clients, she has developed a passion for those with dual diagnoses and specializes in helping individuals recognize the issues driving their substance use. This recognition has been crucial to the individual’s success in treatment. Vicky opened Diamond House Detox so that she can address these issues early on in a therapeutic environment to allow clients to transition to the next level in their recovery.
Vicky Magobet