When experts discuss how to talk about addiction, the focus is often on helping family members and friends figure out the right way to approach someone about getting help. People with substance use disorders often deny the extent of their alcohol or drug problem, and may become angry when confronted. It’s important to help families and concerned friends navigate these difficult discussions.
Admitting to having an addiction is also tough for those struggling with substance use disorder. Many people feel ashamed of their inability to control their drug or alcohol use, and embarrassed to tell their loved ones they need help.
Sometimes these conversations can take a surprising turn. Family members may not believe the drug or alcohol problem is really that bad, especially if the addicted person has gone to great lengths to keep their substance use hidden. Friends may be not as supportive as one would hope, or they may make light of situation, especially if the relationship tends to revolve around socializing at bars and parties. And if you’re revealing a relapse, families may become emotional or angry.
For those who are ready to share their struggle and seek help with overcoming and addiction, here are some tips for talking with friends and family.
Choose the right moment – Pick a moment when you are calm, and you have the time and space to talk privately and openly. Plan what you want to say ahead of time.
Be honest – Chances are, you’ve been lying or at least bending the truth for a while now in an effort to hide your disease. It’s time to come clean, in more ways than one. The words will be hard to say, but if your family knows what’s actually going on with you, they’ll be better able to help you. Though you shouldn’t expect forgiveness overnight, honesty helps relationships start to heal.
Allow your family to feel angry and disappointed – You may have put them through a lot, and they may become emotional. Try not to react with hostility or anger if they don’t immediately praise you for your courage in admitting you have a problem.
Remember they may not be surprised – You may think you’re doing a great job hiding your drug and alcohol use, but those closest to you could be well aware something is amiss. They’re just waiting for you to tell them you’re ready to get help.
Revealing a relapse – These conversations can be incredibly difficult. People who have relapsed are often ashamed, and dread disappointing those that they love. Help your loved ones understand that addiction is a chronic disease, that you will never give up on your sobriety and that you’re willing to work on your recovery.
Tell them how you are going to help yourself – They may not fully believe you if they’ve heard it before. It’s understandable and it’s OK. But telling your family about the concrete steps you want to take to pursue sobriety and recovery are the words families want to hear. By letting them know that you are motivated to change – and best of all following through – you can give them the gift of hope.
Share information about treatment programs – If you’ve explored treatment options and have a plan in place before you speak to them, show them information about the program. This will show them that there is commitment behind your words.
As difficult as the conversation may be, being honest can be a relief. Instead of secrecy and lies, admitting to an addiction and getting into a treatment program allows the healing to begin. Opening up can be an important step in recovery for all involved. Recovery will enrich your life, deepen your relationships and lay the groundwork for good health and happiness in the years to come.
RiverMend Health Center of Atlanta’s recovery specialists are available to answer any questions you have.