Talking to someone you care about concerning their possible addiction problems is a difficult thing to approach, and can be awkward, uncomfortable, and challenging. No two people who are living with addiction issues are facing the same struggles. You may be concerned that you will make things worse by bringing the problem to the forefront instead of helping them on their journey. You may also worry about protecting yourself, if the addict may be likely to lash out or harbor feelings of resentment or guilt.
There are a number of communication strategies that may help when it comes to addressing this situation. Above all, it is important to remember to stay calm. Because of the many stigmas associated with addiction and the surrounding issues, your loved one is likely to expect criticism, rejection, and belittling. Addiction is an illness, and should be treated as such. No matter the type of rehabilitation your loved one might need, be it rehab for government workers, rehab for older adults, rehab for persons with mental illnesses, or some other form, the first step is for them to admit that they need help, and you can help them get there.
Educate Yourself on Addiction
It’s difficult to talk about any subject if you know nothing about it. Many people who have loved ones who are addicts have no experience with addiction themselves, and at the same time, many families struggle with multiple addictions and illnesses within the family. If you are unfamiliar with addiction, take the time to educate yourself about it before attempting to speak to your loved one. Doing so may help both of you by clearing up misconceptions you may have, or giving you a deeper understanding of their struggles.
Get Your Timing Right
There is never a perfect time to have an exceedingly difficult conversation. However, choose a time to have a conversation with your loved one who is struggling with addiction when you are both clear-headed. If your loved one is on a substance, they will not be thinking clearly and will not be reacting clearly. It’s also likely that you have some big emotions surrounding this issue. Talking to your loved one when you are angry or upset will not do any good for either of you, and it may only make the situation worse. Make sure you are clear-headed as well before you dive in.
Choose Words Wisely
Think about a lot of the words used surrounding addiction. Things like “junkie” and “addict” can be demoralizing and dehumanizing. Using the word “clean” to refer to getting sober has the possibility of causing a person who struggles with addiction to feel as if they are dirty or unworthy of help or kindness. Try as much as possible to put yourself in their shoes. If the roles were reversed, what would you want to hear that would help you see the real picture and encourage you to elicit change for yourself? Practice mindfulness, keep yourself in the moment, and speak from your heart.
Examine Your Own Enabling
Often as loved ones of those who struggle with addiction, we enable them without being aware. Setting hard boundaries and sticking to them can be one of the most difficult things ever when we are dealing with someone we love. Especially if there is a close family relationship, such as a parent and child or siblings, we want to help in any way possible. It’s important to understand what enables an addict and how to avoid those behaviors.
Enabling can be as simple as avoiding the problem. It can be extremely difficult for people to discuss their feelings, especially if those feelings are negative, and may not be received well. However, staying quiet about your loved one’s issues gives them the space to continue those behaviors without provocation from you. It is your responsibility as their loved one to help them face their problems, and avoiding a conversation out of fear or discomfort will not help them.
Addiction is hard, there’s no way around it. As the loved one of an addict, keep in mind that the struggle they are facing is exponentially larger than the struggle of helping them overcome that addiction. Make no mistake, family members and loved ones still suffer from this illness, but the addict is also ashamed – they know, deep down, what they are doing. A little education, an open mind, and an open heart will help pave the way to recovery.