Navigating addiction’s rocky terrain can be difficult for both substance abusers and the people who love them. But if you implement a few communication tools, conversations about addiction with friends and family can move from angry, fruitless, and frustrating to productive, effective, and empowering.
Educate Yourself About Substance Abuse
Whether you’re dealing with addiction or you’re eager to help a loved one struggling with substance abuse, do a bit of research before broaching the topic. Over the years, scientists have conducted many studies exploring the hows and whys of addiction, and the results go a long way in de-stigmatizing the condition. Familiarize yourself with the latest findings. Understanding substance abuse from both scientific and social standpoints can keep conversations from reaching critical emotional mass.
Be Thoughtful, Kind, and Compassionate
Nobody wants to get cancer or Parkinson’s disease, and the same holds true for addiction. Most people would prefer to avoid substance abuse struggles, and it’s helpful to remember that when speaking with a friend or family member who’s in the process of acknowledging an unhealthy dependency. Substance overuse involves a web of psychological, physiological, and sociological realities. Understanding the contributing factors and employing a more compassionate approach is the right thing to do. Plus, kindness will get you a lot further than antagonism. Yes, it is an addict’s responsibility to take control of their lives, repent for past actions, and summon a bit of self-discipline. But berating people doesn’t push them toward productive ends. Instead, it may alienate your loved one permanently.
Listening Is a Virtue
The human impulse is to problem solve. We’re wired to fix things. So sometimes, when trying to help someone through a difficult time, we instinctively grab the conch and start barking out solutions. But this approach is rarely helpful. More often than not, individuals working through substance issues need their loved ones to listen. They need to tell their stories in their own way. They need to put their pain, fear, and anger on the table and examine it. Cutting them off doesn’t help this process. When talking to a friend or family member about their addiction challenges, try to listen more than you speak. That doesn’t mean you must be silent — just let thoughtfulness be your guide.
Set Healthy and Helpful Boundaries
Productive conversations and interactions about addiction need boundaries, and the following ones are helpful:
- Don’t instigate discussions while either party is under the influence.
- Refrain from name calling.
- Though sometimes difficult, every effort should be made to mitigate shouting.
Understand that Experience Isn’t Universal
Perhaps the most important thing to internalize when discussing addiction issues with family and friends is that experiences are not universal. Humans are complicated, and various factors — all of which aren’t necessarily in our complete control — affect who we are and how we behave. For example, just because you can drink two glasses of wine and easily stop doesn’t mean everyone has that ability.
The Five Don’ts
We’ve explored what can be helpful when talking to friends and family about addiction. Now let’s look at some things to avoid.
- Don’t assume it’s always easy for substance abusers to talk about their addiction or what gave rise to it. Doing so can re-traumatize painful memories.
- What works for one person may not for another. As such, don’t dictate how someone should address their circumstances. Of course, it’s fine to share your opinion and concerns, but behaving like a potentate over their addiction isn’t at all helpful.
- Refrain from characterizing your loved one’s addiction as a moral failing or character flaw. Substance abuse is a lot more complicated than that.
- Labeling an addict as selfish is another road to nowhere. Again, 9.9 times out of 10, addicts don’t want to be stuck in their destructive cycle. They’re not purposefully trying to hurt you.
- Don’t assume only certain types of people struggle with substance abuse. It can attack anyone.
Addiction doesn’t have to be forever. Help is a phone call away. Our counselors are available 24 hours a day, so call 833-820-2922 today to begin the conversation.