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What Not to Say to Someone in Recovery

Everyone wants to support a friend or family member recovering from addiction. You may have spent years watching a friend’s addiction get worse and worse and now that she’s gotten treatment you want to be supportive. Despite your best intentions, it’s not always easy to know what to say. Addiction is often misunderstood by people who have not experienced it. The best approach is to listen and be supportive. Here are some things you should definitely not say.

Do you want to get a drink?

Whether or not alcohol was your friend’s main problem, it’s almost always a bad idea to drink in recovery. Alcohol is often strongly associated with other drugs and may cause cravings. Alcohol also lowers your inhibitions, making it more difficult to avoid using, or avoid situations that might lead to using. People who are recovering from alcohol addiction typically do best when they don’t drink at all. It’s not the case they can get treatment, then drink moderately. Most people in recovery find abstinence is much easier than moderation. Tempting your friend with a drink, even if you are just trying to be nice, is not helpful.

I know how you feel; I’m addicted to Facebook.

Most of us have bad habits–too much junk food, too much phone time, and so on. Many people are dependent on caffeine or cigarettes. Quitting these can be difficult, but using them doesn’t tend to ruin your life. You can smoke and drink coffee all day and still be productive and responsible. The same isn’t true for alcohol, opioids, benzos, and stimulants. Not only are they hard to quit, but they gradually eat up more of your life. They may also be linked to trauma or mental health issues. Unless you have really struggled with addiction, don’t presume to know what it’s like. It’s ok to say, ‘I don’t quite understand but I support you anyway’.

You don’t seem like an addict.

Addiction affects all sorts of people. Although addiction to most drugs tends to skew young and male, no one is immune to it. What’s more, people are usually very good at hiding their addictions, even from close friends and family. It may have to get pretty bad before anyone starts to notice. Also, saying ‘You don’t seem like an addict’ is a bit backhanded, like saying ‘Addicts are dodgy people, and you don’t seem dodgy, but apparently you are’.

How long have you been sober?

Recovery is a bumpy road. Sometimes people go a month without using, then stumble but manage to get back on the road. Keeping up a streak might be motivating for some people, but for others it’s a lot of pressure. It’s usually best to focus on taking one day at a time. A more open question like, ‘How is it going?’ might be better.

Are you sure you’re an addict?

This question implies maybe her problem isn’t as serious as she’s making out. It’s actually very difficult to admit having a problem and getting treatment, so asking this question sort of undermines the courage it probably took to own the problem.

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