Talking to someone in your life who is dealing with addiction can be hard to navigate. You may not know what to say or how to show your support, making the situation even more challenging. Though not all addiction is the same, experts have found some common strategies on ways to talk about addiction that can help you show support even when you don’t know exactly what to say.
Show compassion when talking about addiction
Showing compassion and understanding is key because of the stigmatization of addiction. In fact, addiction is so stigmatized in our society that people who have addictions often expect others to criticize, insult, belittle, and reject them. Choose to use positive statements (“don’t be ashamed, we can get through this together”) instead of negative ones (“you’re an addict and you need help”).
Remember your words matter when talking about addiction
Remember the words you choose matter. Refrain from using words that further stereotypes surrounding addictions. A few of these words include but are not limited to: addict, druggie, alcoholic, etc. These words, while used frequently in our society, can negatively influence how people with addictions feel about themselves and about their ability to recover.
Educate yourself about addiction
Before speaking to your loved one about addiction, make sure you understand what addiction is. It is not a flaw; it is not a habit. Addiction is a disorder. The more you know and understand addiction, the better. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) describes addiction as an inability to stop using a drug; failure to meet work, social, or family obligations; and, sometimes (depending on the drug), tolerance and withdrawal. More recently, the medical community has opted to use “substance use disorder” to refer to addiction. There is still a lot of stigma surrounding addiction. Many people mislabel people with addictions as selfish, lazy, and destructive.
An important part of communicating is listening to hear your loved one, not listening to respond. When someone with an addiction confides in you, try to listen. This is not the place for criticizing or pointing the finger. Even if you don’t agree with them, being judgmental isn’t going to solve the problem. As a supportive person you do not want to make your loved one feel like they are nothing more than a person with an addiction. Speak to them in the same way you would if they didn’t have an addiction.
Do not give unsolicited advice
We know you want to help your loved one but you cannot control their behavior. Perhaps they do not think they have a problem or perhaps they are working through the addiction in a way you cannot see. As long as your loved one is not harming you or anyone else, show them respect and ask them how you can support them. This goes back to being positive vs. negative. For example, instead of saying “Why haven’t you gotten help for your addiction?,” try asking how you can better support their wellness journey. Make a choice to not add pressure on them and instead be a trusted friend that they feel safe with.
Want to find more resources on how you can support your loved ones in their healing process? Click here to learn more.