Bringing it Up: Tips for Effectively Discussing Addiction

By Published On: March 22nd, 2023Categories: Blog, Family, Strategies, Treatment / Recovery

Discussing substance use with someone in an active addiction can be overwhelming. The person being confronted may respond with anger or become withdrawn, shutting down productive conversation. As a result, people trying to raise the issue with a loved one suffering from a substance use disorder sometimes feel like they’re walking on eggshells or become discouraged by failed attempts to make progress.

While there may not be a guaranteed way to make someone willing to commit to recovery, there are effective ways to have discussions, set boundaries, and provide support for people with substance use disorders.  Here are three strategies to try when discussing addiction:

1. Shame and Blame don’t Help

When starting a conversation about addiction, families and support systems are encouraged to be mindful about how they approach their loved one. It’s always advisable to address matters of addiction from a place of acceptance and compassion. Having an accusatory demeanor can lead to responses of resentment and defiance.

Blaming, shaming, and lecturing also tend to yield few results. Generally, it’s best to avoid “shoulds.” Expressions like, “You should know better,” and “You should be able to stop,” are counterproductive because they imply moral failings and incompetence, provoking even more shame and guilt. In many cases, people suffering from addiction already have plenty of shame to deal with. Layering more shame on doesn’t help anyone.

2. Establishing Healthy Boundaries

Addressing someone’s substance use disorder is often most effective when the individual feels supported. It’s important for people dealing with these issues to know that they are still loved and appreciated. Being committed to providing support does not equate to not having boundaries, though. Families and loved ones of people with substance use disorders should always try to set healthy boundaries rather than presenting ultimatums.

Instead of saying, “This is the last time I’ll help you,” one can say, “This is what I am and am not willing to do for you moving forward.” They may not be able to offer their loved one money or a place to stay without contributing to their substance use, but they will always be willing to offer support for treatment and other things that would aid their recovery.

Setting these types of boundaries can help clarify what each person is willing to do, and by not staking the entirety of the relationship on the individual’s commitment to recovery, they know that they are seen as more than just their substance use disorder.

Speaking honestly is also important to these conversations. Explaining how someone’s addiction has impacted the relationship can be a helpful way of getting them to think introspectively about their habits and behaviors.

3. Providing Support Through the Recovery Process

Throughout, it’s important to remember that establishing one’s recovery can be a process. It may take repeated attempts over a substantial amount of time for someone to find recovery. Letting them know that people care about and support them along the way—just as one would for a loved one suffering from any other kind of disease—can be very beneficial.

It goes without saying that navigating discussions about addiction in a family or friend group can be strenuous. To help with the difficulties and nuances of these relationships, we partner with Magnolia Recovery Resources to offer weekly FAST© Family Support Meetings. At these free meetings, families and loved ones can learn and share experiences, helping to develop strength and understanding along their recovery journey. Addiction may be a family disease, but that doesn’t mean families don’t recover.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, call the New England Recovery Center today at 1-877-MyRehab. 

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