How Do You Talk To A Loved One About Their Addiction?
Recovery from addiction is undoubtedly one of the hardest things a person can go through. Loving someone who is in active addiction is also one of the hardest things someone can go through. As a mother, father, sister, brother, daughter, son, friend, -you name it, watching from the sidelines can take an emotional and physical toll on anyone. Feelings of helplessness, endless questions of “what if’s” and “whys” …the constant turmoil of playing every decision over and over in your head can be exhausting. So, what do you do when you know someone you love has an addiction and you want to help them?
First, understanding that addiction literally “hijacks” the brain, so anything a person with this disease says or does under the pretext of their addiction, is essentially doing so blindly, because their addiction is what is driving them, not their sensibility. Now, what do you say to that person? Actually, listening is sometimes more important than speaking. A person with an addiction is more likely to confide in you about what is really going on in their lives if you listen without interrupting or criticizing. Addiction is already so stigmatized in our society that most people who are willing to confide in someone else about their addictive behaviors usually expect to be automatically judged, belittled, or even rejected. Compassion and kindness can go a long way, no matter how hard someone has hit “rock bottom”. Focus on building trust by being honest and transparent. By coming from a place of sincerity, it is easier to set boundaries and limits and identify what you will and will not support in their active addiction. For example, you will not expect them to enter treatment by the end of the week, but you will expect them to start researching treatment options.
Keep in mind that as long as a person with an addiction does not know how much their behavior upsets you, they will continue to believe that they have no reason to change. People with addiction rarely change until there is some consequence to their behavior. Many people who want to confront their loved ones tend to frame well-intended conversations wrong, too. For example, when we say, “Why are you doing this?” we really mean, “Why are you doing this to me?” Using terms such as “junkie, crackhead, or addict” are highly discouraged as well. Taking a less punitive approach and identifying your loved one as a “person with an addiction” or a “person with a substance use disorder” instead of an “addict”, can go a long way. Along with negative labels, avoid using threatening statements and do not expect immediate change. Even if that person appears to have “become an addict overnight” – it is so much easier for someone to become addicted to drugs then it is to acknowledge they have an addiction and take the steps to help themselves. It is okay to let someone you love know that their actions are hurting you. Putting a relatively positive spin on statements can allow for open and honest dialogue. For example, “I can tell you are hurting too, and I don’t hold you personally responsible”. “What’s the best way for me to support you right now?”
It is important to remember that if you want someone to change, you might have to change as well. As hard as it may be, avoid engaging in addictive behaviors yourself, even in moderation. Showing that you are willing to try can perhaps be the motivation that your loved one needs. This change might be as minor as reading a self-help book or as intense as enrolling in online therapy. Remember, it is okay to be angry, but it is healthier to direct this anger towards the disease and not the person. It also helps to remember that while you might feel like someone in the throes of addiction is actively choosing the drug over you, it’s important to remember that addiction hijacks the brain, and that person is not making sensible decisions at this time.
Ultimately, communication and empathy are the two most important factors for helping someone with an addiction. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse, we encourage you to contact us today. Our friendly and caring recovery center staff answer the phones 24 hours a day. 1-833-510-HELP (4357).
Written by BrightView staff.