How to talk about addiction
Many people suffer from addictions to alcohol or drugs in the UK today. According to latest government figures, there were 275,896 adults in contact with drug and alcohol services between April 2020 and March 2021. But dealing with addiction is not only a challenge for the addict.
Many families and friends are affected too. Helping a family member or friend to get help for their addiction will often start with a hard conversation. Parents, guardians, siblings and friends can feel ill-equipped with confronting the difficult issues of speaking to a loved one with an addiction. Addiction is often a deeply personal, sensitive and painful thing to talk about.
Whether you have friends, family members or work colleagues with an addiction and you want to know more about the challenges of alcohol or drug addiction, use our simple guide.
This guide is designed to help with understanding addiction and advised etiquette including things you should know as well as some dos and don’ts when talking to someone with an addiction.
Addiction Etiquette – a simple guide for people who don’t suffer from addiction
Do encourage me to find professional treatment that is right for me – the most important thing you can do for a loved one that is suffering from an addiction is to encourage them to find the help they so urgently need. Partner with them by offering to accompany them to an appointment at a local GP or independent caregiving service.
Do educate yourself about addiction before talking to me – take the time to learn about the triggers, symptoms and signs of addiction. Being able to empathise with your loved one will help you to understand and talk to them in a positive way about their addiction and recovery options.
Do help me to set realistic boundaries and goals – Although health care professionals should be where addicts go to for rehabilitation, you can help your loved one by partnering with caregivers to set boundaries and goals once they have been treated. Most rehabilitation services will offer support and guidance for family or close friends. Make sure to engage with this service so you can help your loved one have a better chance of a sustained recovery.
Do praise me when I achieve my goals but don’t patronise – Celebrate with your loved one when they meet a goal but remember that it is a constant struggle to achieve sustained rehabilitation. No goal is insignificant or small for a person who is dealing with addiction.
Do Communicate statements using the words “I feel” – This is to ensure your ownership of your feelings and doesn’t project your feelings onto the addict. Don’t communicate using “you make me feel” statements as these can flood the addict who is already struggling to manage their own emotions.
Don’t assume it’s easy for me to talk about my addiction – Your loved one might not be in the right place to fully admit to the extent of their problem. They may feel embarrassed or awkward about talking about personal things with you. They might fear the consequences of admitting to their addiction. At worst they may not agree that they have a problem or if they do, not want to change. If you are worried about approaching a loved one, seek guidance from caregiving professionals.
Don’t tell me how to deal with my addiction – Offering non-professional advice on how to deal with addiction can actually do more harm than good. Addiction is a disease rather than a state of mind. Trust health care professionals and addiction specialists to first diagnose the issue and then give treatment.
Don’t assume that my addiction is a character flaw – Addiction is actually an illness that affects the brain. Different substances affect the brain in varying ways, but addiction can be characterised by mood changes, problems with memory and a compulsive urge to seek out the substance despite negative impacts on personal health, relationships and career.
Don’t tell me that I’m selfish – in most cases, a person suffering from addiction will know that their actions will have a direct effect on the people around them. However, the illness they have will compel them to carry on abusing the substances they are addicted to, regardless of how that decision will impact on their loved ones.
Don’t assume that only certain types of people get addicted to drugs and alcohol – Substance abuse and addiction affects many different types of people. It can happen to people with highly paid jobs and families as much as it can happen to others.
Don’t punish me if I struggle to remain addiction free – Although it may be disappointing to see a loved one lapse back into addiction, punishment will only push the addict further into substance abuse. Instead, positively encourage them to seek further help and draw attention to past achievements.
Do give me practical and emotional support – as a family member or close friend you can be a champion for your loved one’s long road to recovery. Investing time, energy and love in someone that can often seem selfish and unaware of what you yourself are going through can be tough. However, never underestimate how your perseverance can be a great way to demonstrate how determination can help to overcome problems or, most importantly, addiction.
Don’t speak negatively or accuse me – Negative and accusing language will only push your loved one away. Feelings of guilt could add to the psychological torture that addiction is causing for your loved one.
Do speak with positivity, optimism and love – put simply, approaching the topic of addiction with empathy and love might be the one thing your loved one needs to signal that they need help. Positivity and optimism could help them to believe that they can beat their addiction.