If you have someone in your life who is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, you may feel an obligation to reach out and offer your support. Or, maybe you’ve already tried and were met with defensiveness and even downright anger.
In any case, talking to a friend or a family member who is clearly abusing chemical substances could be one of the most difficult conversations you’ll ever have. In this blog post, we’ll share our ideas for starting the conversation while minimizing the likelihood of a negative, adversarial reaction from your loved one.
Finding the Right Time and the Right Words to Talk About Addiction
Do: Learn about addiction
Friends and family members of addicted individuals often do not understand the complexities of addiction – the underlying causes, the chemical changes in the brain, the physical toll it takes on the body, the list goes on. Before you begin a conversation about your loved one’s addiction to alcohol or other drugs, take some time to educate yourself about the disease and its treatment. Coming soon, the Raleigh House will offer an online resource center for family members that can help you get started.
Do: Talk to addiction experts
Because of the way alcohol and other drugs can impair our ability to react appropriately to difficult situations, it can be helpful to seek additional support from professionals. After you’ve conducted your own research about addiction, consider attending an addiction support group meeting or speaking with an interventionist. This can help you avoid approaching the conversation from a fearful, frantic or panicked state of mind.
Do: Stay calm
Despite even your best attempts at remaining non-judgmental, it’s common for addicted individuals to respond with anger. Remember, it’s entirely possible that your loved one is already aware of the substance abuse problem, but this doesn’t mean the person is ready to talk about it with you. By bringing it up, you may be forcing them into a situation for which they aren’t emotionally prepared, which can lead to fear and angry outbursts.
Don’t: Be judgmental
This can be tricky. It’s surprisingly easy to come across as though you are criticizing or passing judgement on your loved one. Remember that there could be very real genetic or environmental factors that are contributing to your loved one’s addiction – factors beyond the person’s control. Even if this is not the case, once someone becomes addicted, getting better is not a simple matter of mind over matter. Think of it like this: If you trip and break your arm, can you simply decide to get better?
Don’t: Make the conversation about you
Unfortunately, people who are addicted to alcohol and other drugs can’t always see how their dependency impacts those around them. If your loved one’s behavior while under the influence of substances – or during periods of withdrawal – has caused you pain, anxiety or embarrassment it’s only natural to want to express your own emotions. However, you should absolutely avoid any temptation you may feel to shift the focus of the conversation to the impact of your loved one’s addiction on yourself or others.
The reason for this is actually quite simple. Active users are unable to prioritize empathy for the people close to them. Their top priority is to continue using their substance of choice. So, if you truly want your loved one to consider seeking addiction treatment, do not use this conversation as an opportunity to air your grievances.
Don’t: Expect a resolution today
If the last three decades of addiction research have taught us anything, it’s that chemical dependency is a disease that affects the entire individual, as well as the individual’s interpersonal relationships. As such, you shouldn’t expect your loved one to be able to resolve the addiction without professional help. In fact, recovering from addiction is an on-going, lifelong process that requires constant commitment and support from family members.
We Can Help You Start the Conversation
At The Raleigh House, we know that in the recovery process. That’s why we encourage family members to attend our weekly educational and support groups to better understand addiction and how to help their loved ones get better.
We can also work with you by offering ideas and recommendations for interventionists or others who are trained to professionally address substance use and treatment options. Call us today for more information.