There’s no manual for learning how to talk to a drug addict, let alone live with one. Most people that find out their loved one is struggling with addiction are first and foremost shocked. However, they’re also at a loss because they genuinely want to help, but they don’t know-how.
Communicating with someone who has an addiction can be challenging, especially if you realize you’ve been enabling their addictive behaviors.
Sometimes people find their unique ways to maintain the line of communication open. However, addiction is a progressive disease that’s ever-changing and can often make communication difficult along the way.
Luckily, there are ways to communicate with an addict that produces better outcomes. Making changes in how you talk to someone struggling with addiction will not only help you stop your enabling behavior, but it will also show you care about them and want to help them get better.
Educate Yourself About Dependency vs. Addiction
The first misconception most people have is that every addictive behavior is an addiction. It’s essential to educate ourselves about the different variables of addiction.
- Dependence: Happens when the body becomes used to a specific drug and experiences withdrawal symptoms when people stop taking the drug.
- Addiction: Relates to the compulsive use of a drug despite negative consequences. Most of the time, people are also dependent on the drug.
Sometimes people become dependent on a drug without realizing it. For example, someone might develop a dependence on painkillers or headache medications. It’s possible that eventually, this leads to addiction.
Listen More Than You Talk
Now that you have a basic understanding of the differences, you can listen more than you talk. Whether they’re your loved ones or not, those struggling with addiction genuinely need someone that will listen. Even when you disagree with their behavior, addiction is a complex disease, and those with it need compassion.
Being kind and open is the elusive secret ingredient to a successful interaction with an addiction. Addiction is highly stigmatized that people who have habits are predisposed to criticism, insults, and rejection. When you offer kindness and attention in return, you’re likely to have a more productive conversation.
Let Go of Labels and Judgment
Individual labels are loaded with negative connotations. These labels — junkie, tweaker, addict, drunks, abusers, alcoholics — bring the person to a shell of themselves. Using these words erases their persona, leaving them to be defined by drugs and addictive behaviors instead.
These words don’t support those who need help. One study described an imaginary patient as a “substance abuser” or “someone with a substance use disorder” to professionals. Researchers found that even medical professionals were more likely to hold the individual to blame for their condition.
The study even goes as far as to find that medical professionals recommended more “punitive measures: to the imaginary person labeled as an “abuser.” However, the imaginary patient with a “substance use disorder” didn’t receive as harsh judgment and felt less punished by their actions.
Set Boundaries for Your Conversation
The most challenging part of speaking with someone about their addiction is setting boundaries. Many times, those struggling with addiction are unaware of how their behavior affects you. After all, most heavy substances leave them in a state of detachment from reality. They have no reason to change.
Be open, concise, and precise about your boundaries. Don’t be scared to set limits and consequences. This isn’t about making threats; instead, it is about setting boundaries to protect your mental health and wellbeing. Gently let them know your limits are, if you need help, assisting counseling sessions can help.
Support Their Journey
It can be challenging to let them do it their way. After all, you want to help them in every way possible. However, you can offer your help and support without dictating what they must do. Of course, you have to remember your boundaries. If using drugs in the house or not coming home at night are unacceptable behaviors, you have to be firm about those.
Support the process of change and remember to be patient. Substance use disorders don’t make turnaround over time; they’ll struggle with relapse and have to start all over.
Please show your support by letting them know you’re ready to help them whenever they are. Things you can do to show your support include attending counseling sessions with them, volunteering to take them to group meetings, visiting them in rehab if that option is available. These are some of the ways you can support their journey on their terms and not yours.
Help Them Find Help
Sometimes people are ashamed of their addiction. The fear of being reported to the police or other authorities often prevents them from seeking help. Offer to do some research for them about how to get help. Even if they decline, you can still find support for yourself.
If you start to get help by attending therapy or group meetings for family and friends of those struggling with addiction can be inspiring to them. Offer to ask for information about the different treatment types available, pay for rehab, and other related questions.
Here’s an important point though, if the person continues to decline, they might not be ready to seek help. However, it would help if you still focused on getting help for yourself as this situation can be mentally drowning and cause long-term mental health disturbance.
How to Talk to a Drug Addict & Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Change won’t happen overnight. The person struggling with addiction needs to be ready or determined to start their healing process. Keeping the lines of communication open will help you be there for them whenever they’re ready. However, be mindful that your mental health and wellbeing are also important. Don’t drag conversations if they’re affecting your wellbeing.
Remember, the keyword here is boundaries. These are there to protect yourself and push others to realize it might be time to seek help.
If a loved one or someone you know is struggling with addiction, consider contacting us for assistance. Our doors are always open at Lighthouse Recovery Institute to help you navigate the addiction’s ins and outs. Whenever your loved one is ready to find help, we’ll support and guide them through every step of their recovery journey.