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Drug addiction is complicated and confusing, not only for the addict but for the family as well. Learning how to effectively talk to an addict regarding their drug addiction will help everyone involved. There are many steps in this article to help you talk about drug addiction or substance use disorder.

Most addicts live in denial, and anything you say may be taken as criticism or belittling and could be taken as you are talking “down” to them. Beginning a conversation with an addict is hard. Some addicts are not ready to face reality. It will be very hard to convince them that they need help and they are struggling with an addiction.
Professionals who have worked one-on-one with those who have a drug addiction have found successful ways of communicating. Continue reading to learn how you can effectively talk to your loved one about their addiction.

What Most Addicts Want You to Know

We all know communication is important; however, as a family member or friend it seems like all our communication skills are lost once a loved one has developed substance use disorder. Many addicts feel ashamed of their lifestyle and often isolated from their family, while the family members are feeling confused and helpless when trying to help. It is difficult for addicts and loved ones to talk about addiction.

Some addicts may have a difficult time voicing their true feelings. Drugs and alcohol can mask emotions. Instead of dealing with their feelings, they turn to abusing drugs to self-medicate because it seems easier. Below is a list of what most addicts wish others knew when trying to talk to them about their addiction.

  • Loving an addict cannot save them. – No matter what anyone says or thinks, love does not cure addiction. The addict will need as much support as possible. It will still take more than a solid support system to completely remove any drug dependency.
  • Addicts are not choosing drugs over family. – It is easy for loved ones to feel as if an addict is choosing their substance of choice over their family and friends; however, that is not the case. Addiction affects the neurochemicals and receptors in the brain. It makes the brain believe it needs the drugs to function. Addicts do not choose drug abuse over their loved ones. Instead, they are fighting a demon that is relentless.
  • Addicts want to get sober. – It may seem like an addict does not want to quit, or they are comfortable with their life choices. However, stopping an addiction is not as easy as one may think. Instead, addiction affects your mental health and physical well-being. During withdrawal, the withdrawal symptoms can be painful and even life-threatening. During the withdrawal process, one may feel body aches, vomiting, diarrhea, and high and low temperate rates. It is a challenge to experience withdrawal symptoms while also having a voice in your head saying, “you can end this pain.” By ending the pain, it means continuing drug abuse and feeding the demon. So, addicts give in, turn to drug use again, and addiction continues. It is a vicious cycle. If they do not get professional help, they will keep living in addiction.

The Dos and Don’ts of Talking to an Addict

As mentioned above, talking to an addict can be difficult. We do not always know what to say or how to say it, or even how the addict will react. There are some dos and don’ts when talking to an addict.

Dos

  1. Stay Calm – Save your venting and frustrations for when talking to a friend. Instead, when speaking to an addict, you must stay calm. Having a plan for what you are going to talk about can help you stay calm and on track. The addict may become angry or defensive, trying to defend their reasoning on why they use or lie and say they do not have a drug problem. They may even pick a fight with you. You must resist enabling an argument. Only state what needs to be said and end the conversation.
  2. Voice your concerns about their behaviors – Instead of covering everything that you do not like about their behavior, only talk about how specific behaviors have affected you. When speaking use “I” instead of “you.” When using “you” statements, it may feel as if the addict is being attacked or blamed. Telling your loved one what you fear about their addiction needs to be done. They need to know that their actions are not only affecting them but affecting others around them.
  3. Talk first thing in the morning – Speaking to an addict first thing in the morning typically ensures they are clear-headed and sober. This may be the best chance at avoiding arguments and being able to lay all your feelings, as well as theirs, out on the table.

Don’ts

  1. Do not judge – It can be easy to judge one’s actions, especially if you have not walked the same path. However, responding to an addict with a harsh tone can only end the conversation in an argument or even worse, it can become physical. When talking to an addict remember addiction is not a choice, it is a disease. Abusing drugs and alcohol was their decision at first. However, once a dependency has developed, the freedom to “choose” whether they use does not exist. Now that the drugs have affected their rational thinking, it may be hard for them to quit and mental health illnesses may cloud their judgment.
  2. Do not talk while under the influence – It may be hard to wait until an addict’s sober part of their day to have a conversation which you deem as a priority. However, speaking to them while they are under the influence could cause an argument and may even put your life in danger. Be patient and allow your loved one to be sober before having a heart-to-heart.

How to Talk to Someone that Denies Addiction

When addiction has taken over someone’s life, they can change into a person which loved ones often do not recognize. Try to remember even though addiction is present; your loved one is not a bad person. Instead, they are dealing with demons and living in denial that can make them act like a different person. Being addicted to drugs can make someone act negative, or even cause harm to those around them. It can be difficult to refrain from blaming and criticizing an addict.

  • When talking be specific. Tell them exactly what sort of situations they have affected because of the substance use.
  • Instead of using terms like “you have done this” or “you caused this to happen” use “I” phrases such as “I noticed” or “I am worried.”
  • You can speak about the negative outcomes that have been affected because of substance use such as their career, family, or friends.
  • Often addicts will still deny their actions. Do not give up, and do not become discouraged. Talking to an addict will take time. Living in denial is a symptom of addiction.
  • Stay in contact with your loved one, even if they are not communicating with you as much as you would like. By staying in touch with an addict, when they have reached their breaking point or have “hit rock bottom,” they know you are still there to help lead them to recovery.

Helping Recovering Addicts

It could be possible that someone who is addicted to drugs has already thought about seeking help at treatment centers, or they have been waiting for someone to help them along the way. Provide your loved one with treatment options such as NA or AA meetings to attend when they are ready. Provide contact information for a substance abuse counselor or medical professional. Also, suggesting treatment centers that are available for inpatient or outpatient treatments such as Serenity Acres can help them choose recovery. When they are ready to seek treatment at a professional level, be sure to stress how important it is to have a strong support team, and that you will be there for them with every step of their process.