There is no question: addiction is a difficult topic to discuss and navigating conversations with someone in your life who is living with an addiction can be challenging. When a loved one is dealing with substance abuse, it is easy to believe that by communicating with them you are overstepping or that bringing the topic up can result in worsening the already strained relationship. While it is normal to feel overwhelmed, it is important to remember that there is hope for recovery. The first, and most important step in how to talk to a loved one about addiction, is always having an open and honest conversation. It is important to recognize that not all people living with addiction are the same. Below are some communication strategies that can help you show up with support and compassion:
- Take a moment to educate yourself on addiction prior to engaging in the conversation.
- Be clear and honest, including being specific about behaviors you have noticed that concern you.
- Select a time that you are both clear-headed.
- Engage in active listening, it is important to not do all of the talking and not to interrupt.
- Set and enforce boundaries. It is helpful for you to sit down and identify these prior to engaging in the conversation.
- Encourage your loved one to seek professional help – whether that be an outpatient program, therapist, family doctor or by getting local support through Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.
- Use threats or harsh words to scare or intimidate your loved one.
- Engage in making excuses, justifying harmful behavior can interfere with one’s recovery process.
- Talk with your loved ones while they are under the influence.
- Believe you can force or control anybody’s behavior except for your own.
- Blame yourself, you did not cause their addiction.
Before you talk to a loved one about addiction, please understand that they may or may not be ready to hear what you have to say, they may deny that there is an existing issue and they may not be willing to accept the help you are offering. By listening and asking guiding questions, the hope is that you are able to open up the line of communication, making your loved ones feel less alone.
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