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How to Talk to an Addicted Loved One

a woman trying to have a courage to talk to her addicted loved-one

If your loved one is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, you probably already know that it’s important to confront them. However, if your loved one is addicted, they might be difficult to talk to. They might not listen to reason, they might deny having an addiction, and they might not be ready to seek out treatment. Most importantly, because addiction is an extremely personal thing and addiction recovery requires years of work, they need their own, personal motivation for help to work.

This means there are no guarantees that anything you can say or do will help. However, you can take steps to ensure that you say the right things, that you work towards getting them into treatment, and that you offer support without enabling their addiction. Read on for our top tips. 

Learn About Addiction First

The first step to talking to your loved one about addiction should almost always be learning how addiction works. Often, popular knowledge about addiction is misleading at best and dangerous at worst. Today, we know that addiction is a complex mental health disorder which can be treated using behavioral therapy. Yet, socially, addiction is often treated as a personal and a moral failing. That’s distinctly at odds with an epidemic of mental health problems that get worse when people are stressed and in bad economic or social conditions – which over 40.3 million Americans are.

Taking time to learn about addiction will give you a better basis to talk to your loved one because you understand what they are struggling with. You should never use that research to expect that you understand what they are going through, but instead to offer empathy, to better understand possible solutions, and to make better decisions. Here, resources like Al-Anon and reading material distributed by drug recovery and emergency centers is a very good place to start and very accessible, even if you don’t have a lot of medical knowledge.

How To Tell If Your Loved One Has an Addiction Problem

Recognizing the signs of a substance abuse problem in a loved one is the first step toward helping them. Here are a few signs to watch for as you make plans for how to help an addict who you love.

Behavioral Changes: Major shifts in behavior, such as keeping secrets, withdrawal from social life, or unexplained aggression

Physical Symptoms: Noticeable changes in appearance, including weight loss or gain, unexplained bruises or injuries, or a dip in personal hygiene

Mood Swings: Extreme and rapid changes in mood, from euphoria to depression, often without a clear cause

Financial Issues: Unexplained money problems, borrowing money frequently, or missing valuables or money from your home

Neglecting Responsibilities: Dropping the ball on work, school, or family responsibilities, showing a lack of interest in important aspects of life

Substance Presence: Finding drugs, alcohol, or paraphernalia in their belongings, or the smell of substances on their clothes or breath

If you see any of these signs, make sure you approach the situation with empathy and compassion. Be ready to offer support and encourage your loved one to seek professional help. 

Avoid Tough Love

Tough love is the idea that you have to cut your loved ones off and force them to hit rock bottom for them to recover. This is untrue and it’s extremely harmful. People often find motivation to recover in their loved ones and taking that away from them makes it more difficult to recover. Instead, cut off from people who make life worth living, people who are cut off tend to spiral deeper, to put themselves into more dangerous situations, to contract diseases, and to get caught up in crime. Tough love doesn’t work and avoiding it will allow you to make sure that your relationship is built on trust and on building a future.

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Avoid Judgment

Whether you’re talking to your loved one about their addiction, they already know you know, or you’re trying to get them into treatment, it’s important to attempt to avoid judgment. That’s true even if you believe the stigma around addiction. If you make your loved one think that their addiction is their fault, that they are a failure, or that you’re more concerned about what other people think than about their health, you’ll alienate your loved one.

Addiction is a behavioral health disorder and it’s no one’s fault. However, it is treatable, and you can get help for it. Focusing on reinforcing your discussions around addiction from that viewpoint is important.

E.g., “What if they see you drunk like this”, “Let’s clean up all these bottles before your parents get here” or lying to friends and family. Instead, you should express concern for their health, for their wellbeing, and for their future.

talking a loved-one about their addiction without judgement

Avoid Conflict

People with a substance use disorder can be temperamental, judgmental, and quick to start fights. They might try to use blame or avoidance to get out of discussions about substance abuse. It’s important for you to try to avoid these conflicts. If your loved one isn’t being reasonable in the moment, restart the conversation after giving them time to cool off. If they bait you, try to avoid falling into the argument. That can be extremely difficult. Your loved one probably knows you more than well enough to be able to hurt you and they may do so deliberately just to avoid a discussion about substance abuse. At the same time, if you do fall into conflict, you’re letting yourself be manipulated by someone who’s primarily being controlled by an addiction. Avoiding that can allow you to maintain a reasonable conversation and actually talk to your loved one about things that matter.

What To Say to an Addict You Love

When you’re trying to figure out what to say to an addict you love, remember that it’s not just about what you say — it’s how you say it. Miscommunication, using the wrong tone, and even your body language, can lead to defensiveness. On the other hand,  effective communication can change your loved one’s life and get them on the path to recovery. Use these strategies for how to talk with an addict in your life when it’s time for a tough conversation.

Practice Active Listening: Focus on truly understanding your loved one’s perspective on their addiction as you determine what to say to an addict you love. Listening is often more important than talking. Give them your full attention, acknowledge their feelings, and reflect back what you’ve heard to show you are listening attentively.

Use “I” Statements: Communicate your concerns and feelings without putting the blame on your loved one. For instance, say “I feel worried when I don’t know where you are” instead of “You’re always out late.” This approach is still honest, but it minimizes defensiveness and opens up space for dialogue.

Ask Open-Ended Questions: Helping an addict in your life starts with understanding their situation. Encourage deeper conversation with questions that require more than yes or no answers. Ask, “What can I do to support you?” to understand their needs better.

Show Empathy: Show understanding and empathy towards their situation in what you say and how you say it. Acknowledge the struggle without coddling or enabling.

Support Without Solving: Offer your support while recognizing that the journey to recovery is theirs alone. Encourage them to take the right steps and get help, showing your belief in their ability to do what needs to be done.

Be Careful With Trigger Topics: Be aware of topics that may bring out a defensive or negative reaction from your loved one. Keeping conversations away from sensitive topics can stop tensions from rising too much.

Focus on Hope: You know your loved one can recover — let them know that you have hope for them. Celebrate small victories and express your belief in a brighter future.

Be Patient: Acknowledge that recovery is a process that takes time and patience. You don’t have to push for immediate and total change to make a lasting and positive impact.

Get Professional Advice: Consider talking with a therapist or counselor for guidance on how to communicate effectively with your loved one. A professional can help you assess your situation with wisdom and compassion.

Focus on Getting Help

Your loved one might not be ready to go to rehab or to an outpatient treatment center. However, it’s important that you make it clear that you’re willing to help them get there, when they’re ready. That might involve significant planning and picking out a rehab facility in advance, figuring out transportation, and staging an intervention. It might also include simply letting your loved one know that you’ll plan something with them when they’re ready. In either case, ensuring that your loved one knows it’s your priority for them is important.

Starting discussions around addiction and treatment can be difficult. It’s never as simple as “I see you’ve been struggling and I’d like to help”. People are always going to let their addiction get in the way of getting treatment. The timeline between reaching out and actually getting them into treatment may be longer than you’d like. Unfortunately, people have to go to treatment in their own time. Hopefully, you can put the focus on their health, share how seeing them hurting themselves makes you feel bad, and share concerns for their health, future, and relationships if they continue to allow a substance to control them – with a focus on helping them get better.

If your loved one is struggling with substance abuse, therapy, counseling, and long-term aftercare will help them to get clean or sober and to stay that way. Recovery is a long-term process that may take years, you’ll never have your loved one back exactly as you knew them, but you can help them to get better and to get their life back.

If you or a loved one would like more information about drug rehab, alcohol rehab, detox please contact us to speak in complete confidence with one of our experienced treatment advisors today.

Help a Loved One With Addiction

Professional help for addiction is just a call away. Contact our team at Ocean Ridge to learn about our inpatient and outpatient programs for addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions. We provide life-changing treatment in the form of rehab and support for family members. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.

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