The Do’s and Don’ts of Talking About Addiction
The subject of addiction is a very tricky one to approach. There’s no right or wrong way to talk about your addiction if you have been through the experience yourself, but if you are approaching the subject with someone else who is going through it, you need to be cautious.
In this post we will explore how to break the ice around the subject of addiction, in a healthy way, that ultimately achieves a good flow of communication.
What not to say about addiction or addictive behavior
Before we go into what you should do when someone you love has an addiction, let’s cover some no-nos when it comes to talking about addictive behavior. There are unfortunately still many people who try to help, but often end up saying something that makes the whole situation worse.
Here are 5 things you should NOT say to someone who has an addiction.
- ‘Just stop doing it – go cold turkey!’
Someone who has an addiction can’t simply stop doing what they do – otherwise they would. Addiction is a compulsive, often chemical reaction in the brain that makes a person feel as if they need to do the behavior just to cope. This can manifest itself in different ways, such as taking drugs, or exhibiting excessive compulsive behaviors, but whatever way you look at it, ‘just stopping’ isn’t an option.
- ‘I’ve been through the same thing – I just can’t stop eating chocolate!’
Unless you have experienced an actual serious addiction, don’t compare your experiences to that of an addicted person. It only diminishes their very real struggles, and might even hurt their feelings. We all feel addicted sometimes – to a person, to a food, or to an activity – but it’s not the same as living with an addiction.
- ‘Have some self control.’
No matter how hard an addicted person tries, without professional help, it is unlikely that they will be able to stop it on their own. Having self control is difficult for everyone, but for an addicted person, it’s about so much more than that.
- ‘Why don’t you just go to rehab?’
Alcohol or drug addiction aftercare programs are great tools that have helped millions of people recover from addictions. But just like anything else, a person has to decide on their own whether they are ready for recovery. Nobody can push you into going to rehab, so saying ‘Why don’t you just go to rehab?’ can sound judgemental or harsh.
- ‘Don’t you know you’re hurting your body?’
People with addictions to substances like drugs or alcohol know that these addictions can damage their health, sometimes even to the point of fatality. Saying, ‘Don’t you know you’re harming your body?’ can be hurtful – yes, they do know, but addiction is more complex than that.
How to talk to a friend who is struggling with addiction
Now we’ve covered what NOT to say, let’s talk about how to break the ice in a positive way.
Here are 5 things you can say to someone who is struggling with addiction.
- ‘How can I help?’
Sometimes the simplest questions are the most effective ones. Rather than assuming what you think is best will help, you should ask the person how you can help them, and listen. Maybe they need you to help them get more healthy food in their system, or they need assistance in leaving the house or going to social situations that can be hard for addicts. You won’t know what they need until you ask.
- ‘Are you exploring treatment options?’
This is a kinder, more open, less judgemental version of ‘Why don’t you go to rehab?’ You can gently approach the subject of treatment with the person, letting them steer the conversation, and taking the position of helpful listener, rather than instructor.
- ‘Do you want to talk about it?’
Sometimes, the best thing you can do for someone with an addiction is behave normally. If they are constantly being bombarded with questions about their addiction, it can be very overwhelming. If they want to open up to you, they can – but perhaps they don’t want to, and that’s okay too.
- ‘Do you need anything from me?’
People who are going through addiction and exploring recovery options might often need practical help. This could be a lift to their hospital appointment, a home cooked meal, or even just some company.
- ‘I’m here for you no matter what – I will never judge you.’
One of the biggest fears that addicts sometimes harbor is the fear of judgement. It can feel as if everyone is talking about them behind their backs, or judging them for their behavior. As a friend, you should reassure them that they won’t be judged by you, no matter how many times they relapse.
Ultimately, addiction is a hard subject to talk about – but by saying the right things, you can open up the conversation.