How to Talk to a Loved One about Addiction

Nobody likes broaching the subject of drug use and addiction with a loved one. There's the fear that if the person isn't on drugs, you have just alienated them and damaged your relationship. There's also the fear that if they are on drugs, you have just alienated them, damaged your relationship, AND pushed them farther into their addiction.

At the same time, you feel like you can't stand idly by while someone you love engages in self-destructive behavior. The following tips can help you approach your loved one from a place of caring and support:

  • Choose the right time. Approach your friend when they are sober and clear headed, not when they are intoxicated. First, they might not remember the conversation and, second, they might be less likely to become angry and defensive.
  • Ease into the conversation. Start by asking your friend about her social activities as a lead-in to talking about their substance or alcohol use. For example: You can meet with her for lunch on Saturday and ask her about her plans for the evening, or what she did the night before. This way, you'll be on the topic of drug use, and what you have to say won't seem like it's coming out of left field.
  • Avoid accusatory language. It's easy to say things like, "You're a jerk when you drink," or "You have a problem," but doing so will only put them on the defensive. Instead , saying something like: "I have noticed that we ending up fighting a lot when there's alcohol," or "I was really upset with you when you called me, drunk, at 4AM," or "I'm worried that you have missed so much work from being hung-over."
  • Ask them if they think they have a problem. A lot of people with drug and alcohol problems don't think there's anything wrong, but others do realize that their substance use could be getting out of hand. Sometimes, having someone evaluate his own behavior will get him thinking.
  • Don't press if they don't admit to having a problem. Their drug issue might be as clear to you as the nose on their face, but if they are in denial they're not going to see it, no matter how much you insist. The idea, here, is to get the conversation started and to leave room for more conversations later.
  • Don't jump straight into intervention mode. In some cases, merely shining a light on their behavior is enough for them to re-evaluate their substance use. They could decide to seek help on their own, and may even ask you for some assistance. If their substance abuse continues, you might need to take it to the intervention stage, but start off slowly in the beginning.
  • Set boundaries. Let it be known that, regardless of what they choose to do about their addiction, there are certain things you will not abide. For example, you could tell your loved one that you can't hang out with him when he are using, or that you can't allow her around your kids when she is drinking. As much as you love them, you need to set boundaries for your own protection. Also, setting these boundaries can help them see how their use is affecting your relationship.
  • Consider attending an addiction support group that is geared toward helping people who have loved ones who are addicts. Here, you can hear similar stories and get advice from people who know what you're going through.

The thing to remember is that approaching a loved one about drug use and abuse is an ongoing thing. Just getting started is the hardest part of the process. Once you open the lines of communication, you will have more room to continue the conversation.