When a loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, your emotions, from sadness to anger to frustration to in some cases, resignation, may cause you to be unsure of what to say. You want your words to encourage your loved one to get help and commit to staying sober.
While the right words from the right person can lead an addict to get his or her life back on track, the wrong words can have the opposite effect. Saying something cruel, embarrassing or dismissive could only exacerbate the problem. In fact, some of the most damaging things you can say to an addict are often disguised as “helpful” or “motivational.” You should never say these things, though, at the risk of worsening the problem.
“You Are Worthless.”
While you probably wouldn’t say anything this outwardly hurtful, any comments belittling your loved one’s value are the same as telling them they have no worth. Addicts already struggle with self-worth and often believe they aren’t worthy of love, support or a sober life. Degrading comments only confirm their suspicions. It might also prevent your loved one from seeking help; after all, if he or she is worthless, why bother putting the time and effort into sobriety? Instead, focus on telling your loved one how much he or she means to you and others and how much there is to look forward to and experience in life.
“So-and-So Beat His Addiction in No Time.”
Everyone’s addiction is different. You cannot compare experiences when it comes to achieving sobriety, and touting another’s achievement or “fast” recovery only creates more pressure. Focus on your loved one’s individual journey and support their path to sobriety.
“I Feel Bad for You.”
It’s natural to feel sympathy for an addict. But no one wants to be pitied. In addition, saying “I feel bad” puts more attention on your feelings than those of the addict. Focus instead on your love one’s feelings and on being empathetic toward their struggles.
“You Can Have One Drink, Right?”
Addicts, especially in the early stages of recovery, need to avoid all substances. Even if one didn’t receive treatment for alcoholism, drinking can begin a cycle of abuse that could spiral back into full blown addiction. Never suggest engaging in a behavior that could lead to a relapse, no matter how harmless it may seem.
“Pull Yourself Together. You Just Need a Little More Willpower.”
One myth about recovery is it’s a case of mind over matter. Addiction is a disease, and all the willpower in the world may not be enough. Telling an addict to pull himself or herself together or just “be strong” diminishes the reality of their addiction and creates a feeling of helplessness over their situation, which isn’t true.
“It’s So-and So’s Fault.”
It’s natural to want to blame someone for your loved ones addiction. But placing the blame on someone else, whether it’s the addict’s parents or a friend, is hurtful and does not help.
“Once an Addict, Always an Addict.”
For some, addiction is a lifelong struggle. Others complete a treatment program and never use again. Because addiction is different for everyone, it’s unfair to say once someone is an addict, he or she will always be an addict.
“You Are Ruining Your Life. And My Life, and Your Kid’s Life . . .”
In most cases, addicts are acutely aware using is not the right thing to do. They know what they have to lose. But the disease is often stronger than the desire to stop, and telling someone they are ruining their life is just adding fuel to the flames. Instead, be supportive and encouraging, and focus on the positives of recovery.
“Do You Feel Like Using Today?”
After rehab, asking your loved one if he or she wants to use 10 times a day is not going to help prevent a relapse. It only serves as a reminder of the addiction and could actually push your loved one back to using. Learn to recognize the signs of trouble and back off and allow your loved one to communicate with you.
“Are You Sure You Want to Do That?”
Addicts work hard to regain trust, both in themselves and from others. Constantly questioning their actions prevents them from building that trust. Intervene if there is legitimate concern — for example, he or she is meeting with friends who are users — but otherwise, trust your loved one to make good decisions.
Similar to how an addict makes mistakes, you will probably make mistakes in how you deal with your loved one’s addiction and recovery. Understanding the pitfalls ahead of time and knowing what not to say can help you avoid common problems and be the understanding supporter your loved one needs.