How to Talk About Addiction

Trying to help someone with an addiction can be a long, challenging, and painful process. Unlike someone with a physical health condition, such as cancer, a person with an addiction might not recognize the true danger of their illness or understand the risks of not treating it. If someone you care about is showing signs of substance abuse, it’s important to face it right away. But how do you talk about addiction without crossing the line? So what do you do when it is glaringly obvious to everyone else that there is a problem? How do you confront the elephant in the room? How do you get someone to see that there is a problem when they are completely in denial? One of the most important things you can do first is to ask the right questions — both to yourself and your loved one.

Here’s some way to guide the conversation into something productive:


How to Talk About Addiction

Talk About Addiction: How to Help

Keep your message positive and research beforehand.

People who are addicted to drugs or alcohol may think they’ll never recover or that they’re unworthy of help, so they need someone in their lives who can constantly remind them that things can and will get better. If you’ve never struggled with addiction, you may not have a very good idea of what they’re going through. Before you talk about addiction, you can read and research their addiction to see what they may be feeling or explain why they’re acting a certain way. While they’re bound to tell you more along the way, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared and have a basic understanding of their struggles.

Emphasize that it’s not their fault, but they need help.

Drug addicts and alcoholics already know that what they are doing is wrong. They don’t have to be told this. When communicating with someone who is addicted to drugs and alcohol, it’s very important not to be accusative or demanding or to make them wrong or feel bad. Rather than saying things like “You are (blank)” or, “You did (blank)”,” instead say things like, “I feel” or, “I think” or “I have noticed that.” 

Find a time to talk when you can be one-on-one.

Start by trying to talk to the person about their addiction. Having a one-on-one conversation may be less intimidating than staging an intervention with several people. Find a time when you can be alone together and free of distractions or interruptions. Tell them that you’re concerned about their behavior and ask if they’re open to hearing your thoughts. When having a talk about addiction, try to use non-blaming language and avoid raising your voice or getting angry. They will likely respond better if you communicate from a place of compassionate concern. It may also help to talk about specific behaviors or incidents related to their addiction that have directly affected you.

Listen More Than You Talk

A person with an addiction is more likely to confide in you about what is really going on for them if you listen without interrupting or criticizing. Even if you do not agree with their behavior, addictions happen for a reason. 

Most people tend to treat conversation like a competitive sport, in which the person who says the most or even speaks the longest and loudest is the winner. All of us fall into this trap. If you stop and think about it, though, this approach is the opposite of the one we should take. 

When providing addiction support it’s important to remember your purpose. Opening up the channels of communication may help your loved ones feel less alone and start working toward acknowledging that they have a problem.

Encourage treatment and recovery options for long-term sobriety.

People often feel ashamed of their addiction, and the fear of being reported to the police or another authority may be one of their biggest obstacles to seeking help. Offer to research ways to get help for the situation. Even if the person refuses, you can find help for yourself. Seeing you get help and improving your mood and functioning can be inspiring to them, as they see that change is possible. Offer to find and share information on where to get help. If the person with the addiction declines, focus instead on getting help for yourself.

Talk About Addiction: Things to Keep in Mind

> When is it considered alcoholism? 

Before you do anything, it’s important to know whether your friend or loved one has an alcohol addiction. Alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism, is more than just drinking too much from time to time. 

Sometimes alcohol as a coping mechanism or social habit may look like alcoholism, but it’s not the same. People with alcohol use disorder don’t drink in moderation, even if they say they’re only having one drink. 

> Practice what you’re going to say

Let the person you care for know that you’re available and that you care. When you talk about addiction, try to formulate statements that are positive and supportive. Avoid being negative, hurtful, or presumptuous.

Using “I” statements reduces accusation and lets you be an active participant in the discussion. It may be helpful to bring up a specific concern. You may mention when alcohol caused an unwanted effect, such as violent behavior or economic problems. 

Rather than saying, “You’re an alcoholic — you need to get help now,” you can say, “I love you and you’re very important to me. I’m concerned about how much you’re drinking, and it may be harming your health.”

Prepare yourself for every response. No matter the reaction, you should stay calm and assure your person that they have your respect and support. Remain in control of the conversation.

> Approach and listen with honesty and compassion when talk about addiction

If the person does have an alcohol problem, the best thing you can do is be open and honest with them about it. Hoping the person will get better on their own won’t change the situation.

Tell your loved one that you’re worried they’re drinking too much, and let them know you want to be supportive. Be prepared to face a negative reaction. 

Try to roll with any resistance to your suggestions. The person may be in denial, and they may even react angrily to your attempts. Do not take it personally. Give them time and space to make an honest decision, and listen to what they have to say.

> Take Care of Yourself

Focusing on your own life is the most important thing you can do to assist the addict. If you are stressed out due to their issues, in addition to your own, it creates resentment and strain. It makes it difficult to want to help someone who has created so much difficulty in your life. 

By taking care of yourself through exercising, getting plenty of sleep, socializing and getting support, you may be better able to help your loved one when they are ready to accept the help.

The most important thing to remember is that you aren’t alone. Many people battle with these issues every day and it is vital to get the resources and support you need.

> What to do if your friend isn’t ready for help

Don’t be surprised, and don’t take it personally. Denial is one of the unfortunate symptoms of addiction. So if you feel you’re not getting through to your friend, it’s not your fault or your friend’s fault. It’s okay to back off and let your friend know that whenever he or she is ready for help, you’ll be there. You could also give your friend the phone number of a local AA group.

By raising the issue with your friend, you’ve planted a seed of recovery that could grow when you least expect it. In the meantime, stay in touch and continue to show your concern and support.

Addiction Support: Resources 

Recovery is a process of change through which people improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential. There are four major dimensions that support recovery:

  • Health—overcoming or managing one’s disease(s) or symptoms and making informed, healthy choices that support physical and emotional well-being.
  • Home—having a stable and safe place to live.
  • Purpose—conducting meaningful daily activities and having the independence, income, and resources to participate in society.
  • Community—having relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope.

Talk About Addiction – Pennsylvania Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. We know that the journey can seem hard and the path can seem long. If you’ve made the decision to enter treatment, you have already taken that first step toward a life in recovery.

Little Creek Lodge is an alcohol and drug addiction treatment center, nestled in the woods of Lake Ariel, Pennsylvania. Our structured recovery program is proven to help adult men live a sober lifestyle. Residents develop the tools they need to become the men they want to be. Our holistic approach to treatment addresses the root causes of addiction while promoting overall spiritual, emotional, and physical growth.

At Little Creek Lodge, you have the time to discover who you are while learning how to love yourself and be loved by others. You learn how to form intimate relationships and have fun while engaging in a sober lifestyle.

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