While family and friends may have good intentions, it’s common for them to say things that risk making an addict’s problem worse. Even if you intend to be encouraging or supportive, it’s easy to accidentally come out with the one thing you should never say to an addict.
Family members and friends may also find it more difficult to know exactly what to say to an addict who has relapsed. It’s common to immediately assume that treatment has failed or your loved one doesn’t care enough about you or your support to remain sober. In reality, there are some things to avoid and some other things to say to a drug addict that could help get them back onto the right track
Top Things You Should Never Say To an Addict
Different things you might say or do can have wildly different effects on an addict’s frame of mind and confidence levels, depending where they are in the recovery process. Before thinking about what to say, take some time to consider WHEN to say things – and when it’s best to offer alternative forms of support.
One thing you should never say to an addict who is still using:
“You just need to use a bit of willpower and be strong”
Far too many people assume that an addict continues using because they’re somehow mentally weak. In reality, telling an addict to be strong and use some willpower implies that you don’t think the person is worthy of your support or assistance, as they should somehow be able to quit on their own overnight.
One thing you should never say to an addict who has asked for help:
“Just go cold turkey on my lounge. You’ll be sober in a few days and it will be all over.”
Abusing drugs or alcohol causes significant changes in the brain’s chemistry that lead to physical dependency on the substance. The brain becomes unable to function normally unless the person continues to keep using, which results in experiencing overwhelming cravings to continue using.
If the person does quit using suddenly, or go cold turkey, it’s likely that dangerous and potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms could emerge. Depending on the type of drug being taken, the person is at risk of causing harm to themselves or those around them.
There is also an increased risk of relapse during the detox process, which dramatically increases the risk of accidental overdose. The safest way for anyone to get through the detox process is under medical supervision in a drug rehab treatment center.
One thing you should never say to an addict after detoxing:
“Your addiction is fixed now you’ve finished detox so you shouldn’t feel cravings to take drugs or drink alcohol ever again.”
It’s common for people to assume that an addict should somehow be miraculously cured once they’ve finished detoxing from the drug of addiction. In reality, detox only eliminates the effect of the drug from the system. It does nothing to address the underlying psychological triggers behind self-destructive behaviors associated with addiction.
One thing you should never say to an addict who has relapsed:
“You relapsed? The rehab treatments obviously didn’t work.”
Many people assume that when an addict relapses it must mean that rehab treatments didn’t work or failed somehow. What you may not realize is that addiction is a chronic disease characterized by relapses in symptoms. If your loved one had a different type of chronic relapsing disease, such as asthma or diabetes, and they experienced a relapse in symptoms, you would encourage them to seek medical assistance to amend their treatment program immediately.
The same principle is true of addiction. What to say to an addict who has relapsed will be different for each person, but you should try to remain understanding and supportive wherever possible.
One thing you should never say to an addict in recovery:
“Your life must be so boring now.”
Far too many people automatically assume that overcoming addiction and becoming clean and sober must somehow mean the person has become boring. Yet for most recovering addicts the opposite is true. Many people in recovery often feel happier, more productive and more worthwhile sticking to their sober lifestyles than reverting to the constant shame, guilt and self-loathing of living the life of an addict.
If you’re struggling to think of positive, motivating or supportive things to say to a drug addict, perhaps the best option is to stop and think about what they’re going through. Attend a few family therapy sessions and learn more about the true nature of addiction. When you gain a deeper understanding of what the person is experiencing during their recovery, you’re in a much better position to find the right things to say at the right times.