Talking to Someone About Their Addiction

Recognizing that someone you love is caught up in substance abuse is a very painful realization to come to. It is difficult to watch that being destroyed by an addiction, as well as experiencing how their addiction impacts the lives of others. Substance abuse is not a victimless crime. The tragedy of substance abuse and addiction is far reaching, and as you see this happening to someone you love, you may feel compelled to talk with them about their addiction.

Before you confront your loved one about their substance abuse, realize that you cannot change their behavior. The goal of talking to your loved one is for you to be able to express your feelings, your concerns, and to clearly state what is acceptable for the future of the relationship you share. Recognizing that any changes made in their behavior, including the desire to seek treatment and pursue recovery, must be made by their own choice. If a person feels forced into treatment and recovery, it will not only become a source of conflict and resentment for the addict, but the recovery will not last.

As you speak with your loved one, be specific in explaining how their addiction is affecting you. Do they become violent when they are drunk or high? Is their substance abuse ruining your financial stability? Are you concerned about the effect the addiction has on your children? Are you consumed with worry for the addict, or experiencing depression and anxiety because of their addiction? Be as specific as possible when explaining the impact your loved one’s substance abuse is having on your life.

When you talk about the relationship you have with the person struggling with substance abuse, be clear on what you will and will not accept in the future. Keep in mind that if you cannot follow through on what you are asking for, then there is no point in asking for it. Establish clear boundaries, with clear outcomes for crossing them. For example, “If you continue to drink, then I will (leave you/divorce you, not spend time with you when you are drunk, get separate bank accounts).”

Avoid placing or taking blame for the addiction. Do not criticize or call the person names, as this will be unproductive and cause undue conflict. Be mindful of using “I” instead of “you” statements, such as, “I feel really upset when you drink as much as you do,” rather than, “You are making me upset with your drinking.” Own your feelings and behavior, as much as you want them to own theirs

Plan the confrontation for a time when they will be most coherent, and do not confront them if they are under the influence. As you plan the confrontation, think about how they may react. While they may have an awareness of their problem with substance abuse, they may not be ready to admit it. They may become angry, engage in self-harm, have a breakdown, or blame you for their problems. Carefully think through how they may react, and be prepared to handle it. However, if there is any chance of violence, do not confront them alone. In any situation, approach them non-judgmentally, with love, caring, and the intent to offer help and not blame.

It is very possible that your loved one may not admit their addiction as you confront them on your own. When one person who is not a substance abuser decides to confront someone who is, it often becomes a situation of the addict vs. the sober person. Often, a group intervention becomes necessary, and should be compiled of friends and family who see and are ready to confront the person about their substance abuse, and explain how it affects each of their lives. A group intervention is often successful, because the person can see that it is not just the opinion of one person, but that of several people. They can see that their addiction is something that impacts a life beyond their own.

After you have talked with your loved one about their addiction, be prepared to offer a few treatment options to them, and to be supportive if they choose to go forward in getting treatment. It is a good idea to be aware of what insurance coverage is available to them in order to help pay for the treatment.

Once you have drawn the line in the sand, do not do anything to support the addiction. Do not “call in sick”for them if they have a hangover. If they are broke because they have spent their money on drugs and alcohol, do not pay their bills for them. Do not make excuses for them anymore. If there are no consequences for their behavior, there is no motivation to change.