Seeing a loved one struggle with addiction is challenging. It doesn’t matter if it’s drugs or alcohol; seeing someone you love being affected by addiction can bring up a mix of emotions. After all, you want them to succeed, but they can’t do this unless they seek treatment.
Sobriety is a life-long journey, and though it’s not always easy, it is possible with the right resources and tools. Treatment might begin at rehab, but it’s that first conversation you have with your loved one that will kickstart everything into motion. How you approach this conversation and what you say will greatly impact the outcome, so you should approach it thoughtfully.
Below are some tips on how to talk to a loved one about addiction:
Before diving into a conversation, it’s important to educate yourself on addiction and the substance use disorder your loved one is battling. Knowing the science and the why behind your loved one’s addiction will help you better understand them. There are many stigmas attached to addiction, so it’s key you get clued up on the facts so you can dispel the myths. Make sure other family members and loved ones are educating themselves too; you all want to be on the same page.
You might feel you’re coming from a place of love, but those with addiction might see your attempts as provoking or attacking. This is why it’s so important to put yourself in their shoes. Think about the kinds of words that would encourage them and the ones that you should avoid at all costs.
With all the stigma surrounding addiction, your loved ones will probably be expecting insults, judgment, and attacks. Go against this by approaching the conversation from a place of concern and care, rather than from a place of anger or criticism. Feelings of lowered self-esteem and lack of worthiness are common among those who battle addiction, so try to show as much kindness and empathy as possible.
Be mindful of the language you use when you’re talking to a loved one about addiction. They’ve probably heard all sorts of insulting terms, so try to steer clear of words that perpetuate the stigma around addiction.
Terms like junkie and clean are often thrown around but can harm the way someone views themself if they have an addiction. One of the most important components of recovery rests on self-acceptance and compassion, so try to foster this by using medically-correct terms and words that inspire, not degrade.
Though it can feel all-consuming, it’s important to remember that your loved one still has a life outside of addiction. They’re still a person with hobbies, dreams, hopes, and ambitions, so don’t make addiction the center of every conversation. You can bring up your concerns and ask how they’re doing, but try to start the conversation with something a little more ordinary.
Take an interest in their life and speak to them like you would any normal person. The moment they feel like they’re being treated differently, they might start to act defensively. This also means listening more. Don’t just talk their ear off - give them a chance to respond and talk it out. It’s probably taken a lot for them to open up as it is, so give them a chance to speak their mind.
Once you’ve made your concern clear to them, you must set boundaries and stick to them. This means not drinking or doing things around them that are triggering or enabling their addiction. If you used to buy them drinks when going out, now is the time to stop. Showing your concern and then enabling them only gives them the wrong impression.
This is especially true if your loved one is in active addiction - you have to stick to your boundaries even when it’s difficult. Try to make them see the way you feel and how their addiction is affecting you. Instead of blaming them, use the phrase I feel to deflect the attention away from them.
It’s good to talk to your loved one about addiction and your concerns, but if you’re not backing it up with action, then there’s no point. You’ve got to lead by example and show that you’re willing to put in the effort too. This could be something as simple as attending support groups or family therapy with them, or even going with them on tours of rehabilitation clinics. Not only will this show that you truly care, but it will show them that you’re serious in your concern about their addiction.
Addiction is treatable, with up to 75% of those addicted going on to achieve full recovery. Though it might feel overwhelming at times, it’s important to remember that sobriety is a life-long journey. It might take some time, but with the right resources and tools, your loved ones can go on to recover fully. While alcohol and drug rehab is a key component to achieving sobriety, adequate support is just as important, and this is where you come in. Having these conversations with your loved ones is never easy, but showing them that you care might just be the trigger for them to seek help.
While it’s important to focus your attention on your loved ones, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Dealing with addiction in the family can be challenging, so don’t neglect your mental health. If you feel yourself struggling, try attending a few support groups to learn from others in a similar situation. After all, you can’t help your loved one if you’re not helping yourself.
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