It can be tricky to figure out how to talk to a drug addict. First of all, if you’re still trying to process the shock of just discovering a loved one is struggling with an addiction, odds are your communication skills won’t be the best.
Without realizing, the way you talk to a drug addict can be enabling their addiction and behavior. Not to mention, the person struggling with addiction might not know how to voice their struggles. On occasions, they aren’t ready to discuss their addiction.
Fortunately, there are ways of communication with a drug addict that can produce excellent outcomes for everyone involved. Here’s how to talk to a drug addict and end your enabling behavior while showing you care about them and hope they start recovering.
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Sometimes it can be challenging to speak with compassion and kindness to a drug addict, particularly when you blame them for their addiction. First of all, understand that while their initial behavior moved them to start using drugs, their addiction isn’t their fault. Highly addictive drugs have a way of rewiring the brain that makes someone feel powerless against their decisions.
Instead of criticizing, insulting, and belittling them, try speaking to them with kindness and compassion. This small change in your communication can make a huge difference in their lives, and know they will have the support they need to get better.
Stay Consistent with Your Narrative
It’s paramount that you stay consistent with whatever narrative you chose. What you say has to correlate with your actions. For example, don’t say you think they have a drinking problem and then share a bottle of wine over dinner. It might seem silly at first, but having that disconnect in your narrative can let addicts take advantage of it, so they can manipulate you to enable their addiction.
Do your best to stay consistent with your message, your actions, and your expectations. However, this can be easier said than done. Having a loved one with addiction can be overly emotional and draining. It can be easy to give up and let them slip through the cracks. This is why seeking aid from support groups, and other family members and friends are key to stay consistent.
Forget About Labels
We often forget that some labels carry negative connotations. These labels usually reduce the person to a shell of their former self. Crackhead, addict, junkie are all words that take away any hopes of possibly leaving addiction behind. Even when someone is trying, it makes them carry all the prejudices that come with that term.
Believe it or not, science even proves these labels can be harmful. 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 a judgment and felt less punished by their actions.
Avoid saying things like:
- Junkies or addicts
- Tweakers or crackheads
- Drunks or alcoholics
- Are you clean? Are you sober?
Instead, say things like:
- They have a substance use disorder
- They have a drug dependence
- How are you doing?
- How’s your recovery going?
Get the Conversation Going
At first, it can be intimidating to confront someone about their substance abuse problem. Whether they’re a family friend or a coworker, we all fear pushback and repercussions. However, when you speak from a place of respect, love, and compassion, the story can be much different, and you could actually get the conversation going about seeking help.
- Talking to a loved one: “You know, we’ve been close friends for a long time. I don’t want to meddle, but I’ve noticed that you’re [symptoms and signs go here]. It seems you’re not getting along with your [friends or family] as much as you used to. I’m a bit worried about you. Would you like to talk?”
- What to say to an acquaintance: “Hey, I don’t want to intrude, but I’ve noticed your personality has changed recently. It seems that you’re either in a low mood or overly aggressive lately. Is everything okay? I’m not trying to say anything in particular, but I’d thought I’d mention it because I’m your friend, and I want to help if you need it.”
- Talking to a coworker or colleague: “I got to say you’re one of the brightest people I know. But recently, you’ve been missing a lot of work and always coming in late. You don’t seem to be yourself. I know you’ve been [drinking or using drugs] a lot. If you feel like you’re having a problem with anything, I’d be happy to help. I’d hate to see you lose your job.”
Remember to Be Positive and Patience
Even when you talk to them with the best intentions and you practice everything mentioned here, sometimes your loved one won’t be ready to seek help. It can be extremely frustrating and sometimes heartbreaking. However, you can’t force them to change; it doesn’t work that way.
If you notice their substance abuse problem keeps evolving, perhaps you can stage an intervention. We recommend that you download our guide on how to stage a successful intervention. At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, we can help you talk to a loved one with a substance use disorder. Our mission is to help you, and your loved one start walking the right path toward recovery and be there for you every step of the way.