5 Do’s and Don’ts of Talking to Your Loved One About Their Addiction

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If you suspect your loved one has a substance use problem and is in denial about it, bringing up the topic can feel awkward or even frightening. Defensiveness is the default response to such conversations for many people who have a substance use disorder or addiction, and any concerns or feedback you express are usually interpreted as criticism or unnecessary worry.

Even if you say all the right things and calmly and diplomatically state the facts and express your feelings, there’s not much you can do to help your loved one if they aren’t willing to be honest with themselves. However, just because these conversations are difficult to have doesn’t mean you should stop trying altogether.

Such conversations can be challenging and uncomfortable, but since they can ultimately steer your loved one toward treatment, it’s important to keep having them. These do’s and don’ts can help you prepare.

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Do stay calm.

When you’re ready to talk to your loved one about their addiction or substance use, it’s critical to stay as calm as possible. Stick strictly to the facts and say what you need to say. If your loved one is on the defense, don’t get heated. Resist the urge to lose your temper.

Otherwise, they could completely shut you down and not listen to anything you have to say, sinking further into denial. This is an emotional, overwhelming subject to talk about, so save the venting and impassioned discussions for other family members.

Don’t be judgmental about their addiction.

To you, your loved one’s destructive behavior is crystal clear, and the solution couldn’t be more obvious. However, reacting with judgment and disbelief that they can’t see what’s in front of them is another surefire way to get your loved one to shut down. Before you let your emotions get the best of you, remember that addiction isn’t a choice–it’s a disease.

Your loved one may have chosen to drink or use the first time, but they didn’t choose to become addicted. They may even be aware of the problem, but mental illness hinders their decision-making abilities.

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Do talk about how their behavior makes you feel.

When you aren’t honest about how you truly feel, you’re shielding your loved one from the consequences of their destructive behavior, which is a form of enabling. Instead of dancing around the subject, be honest about their behavior makes you feel.

If you feel panicked when you don’t hear from them after a day or two, say it. If you felt embarrassed by the way they behaved at your friend’s birthday party, tell them. If you’re worried because their addiction is making them miss work, say so.

Your loved one is likely so caught up in their own emotions and needs that they’re completely oblivious to how their behavior is affecting other people.

Don’t talk to them when they’re under the influence.

Substances of any kind or amount alter the mind. Wait until your loved one is completely sober–usually first thing in the morning–to confront them. Catching them before they’re able to drink or use increases the chances of having calm, productive conversation.

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Do stage a professional intervention.

These conversations are challenging by nature, and it’s so easy for them to go off course. If you’ve tried time and again to have a productive discussion with your loved one to no avail, you may want to consider a staging a professional intervention.

A professional interventionist can help you and your family prepare for the conversation, using evidence-based tactics, providing education and structuring the intervention is a way that will resonate with your loved one.

Guardian Recovery’s team of professional interventionists has helped hundreds of families and earned an impressive 98% success rate. We utilize a highly individualized approach to intervention and know precisely what it takes to encourage your loved one to seek the help they deserve. Please don’t hesitate to contact us for more information about our intervention services.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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