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The Transition House, Inc.

Guide for families: How to talk about addiction

Family holding hands outdoors

Seeing a loved one struggling with drug addiction and alcohol dependence is difficult. It’s normal to feel lost, disappointed, or frustrated. However, if you have a healthy family dynamic, having your support can go a long way in the recovery process. Talking about addiction in your family can help address the presence of a substance abuse disorder, potentially lead to treatment, and provide your loved one with much-needed support throughout their recovery.

Do’s and Don’ts

Do ask questions, don’t make accusations.

Curiosity and confusion are normal. You may want to ask your loved one about their behavior and how they feel about it. You don’t want to assume or make accusations as to why they may be acting a certain way or engaging in risky or unhealthy behaviors.

Try saying, “How are you feeling lately?” instead of “You are always drunk.”  This can open the conversation, rather than making them feel defensive.

Do use “I” or “we” statements, don’t use “you” statements.

While you may be hurt or frustrated with your loved one’s behavior, it’s important to communicate your feelings, rather than blaming them. Statements like “I feel sad when we don’t spend time together when you’re using drugs,” can be more productive than “You don’t prioritize your family because you’re always high.”


Find more addiction resources for families here:
Download Addiction Resources for Families



Do make a plan for treatment, don’t support further drug use.

When you are ready to have the conversation about addiction, it’s important to approach your loved one with a plan. You never want to support further drug use or make an agreement with them that allows their drug use to continue.

For example, you could say, “We are here to support you. We want you to get help and have found a treatment program that is nearby.” You don’t want to say, “You have one more week to stop your drug use. We can talk about this again later.”

Do show compassion, don’t be confrontational.

As you are expressing your concerns, remember that speaking with a calm and caring tone will be more productive than being judgmental, accusatory, or confrontational. Try statements like, “We know this is hard on you, and we want to support you through treatment.” Avoid statements like, “Why can’t you just quit? You don’t respect us because you use drugs.”

Do seek help, don’t do it alone.

Experiencing substance abuse in your family is difficult. Doing it alone can make it harder than it has to be. It’s okay, and in fact encouraged to seek the help of professionals and trusted loved ones. You can find support through your healthcare provider, a family counselor, your faith leader, or a support group of peers who have had similar experiences.

While it can be difficult to see the effects of alcohol and drug use, family members can be our greatest emotional support system. Learn more about substance use disorders and how to help your loved ones in our free substance abuse eBook.


Our free addiction resources can help you and your loved one start on the road to recovery. Find more information here.


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