What Not to Say to Someone With a Drug Addiction

Knowing what to say to a friend or loved with a drug addiction can be challenging. But, if you’re like most people, you probably mean well but don’t realize that some comments and statements cause more harm than good.

What’s more, people struggling with drug addiction often are sensitive, emotional, and insecure about their situation, especially in the early stages of their recovery. As a result, it can be easy to hurt them without even intending to cause pain.

To keep this from happening with your loved one, be careful with your words. Here are the most common comments people make to those struggling with addiction without even realizing that they are hurtful.

“Once an Addict, Always an Addict”

Assuming that people with addictions are incapable of change is not only an inaccurate statement, but it’s also insensitive. Likewise, making this comment communicates that people who struggle with addiction are always going to be defined by their mistakes.

They have so much more to offer the world and should be encouraged to embrace their strengths and pursue their passions.

What’s more, making assumptions about them and labeling them in such a way can be extremely painful, especially if they are still using or in the beginning stages of recovery. As a result, this statement can cause them to feel defeated and discouraged. It could even lead them to give up on their recovery because this statement reinforces the idea that they will never be anything other than an addict.

You should always refrain from saying “Once an addict, always an addict.” This comment only causes your loved one to feel alienated, misunderstood, and hopeless about the future. In some situations, this comment could even trigger more drug use, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, let your friend or loved one know that you are there to support them.

You also can encourage them to contact the support and treatment facilities in the area.

“Going Cold Turkey Is the Only Answer”

Making a comment like this only highlights how much you still have to learn about addiction and recovery. There are multiple paths to recovery and the experience is different for everyone.

Although quitting drugs and becoming abstinent overnight might seem like the best solution, giving up drugs suddenly can be one of the most difficult and dangerous ways to tackle addiction.

With some drugs, such as alcohol and benzodiazepines, going cold turkey can induce seizures and can even be life-threatening. And with meth withdrawal, people can become delusional and violent if they suddenly withdraw from the drug. Opioid withdrawals, while not life-threatening, are very uncomfortable.

The best way to quit a drug is under medical supervision or in a detox program. You can offer to help your friend or loved one find a program if they are not already enrolled in one.

“It’s Your Parent’s Fault”

Drug addiction is a complex condition, and when someone develops an addiction, it’s typically the result of multiple factors including physical, psychological, and social vulnerabilities. While parents do have some influence on whether someone becomes addicted to drugs—for example, by modeling unhealthy behaviors or being abusive—these experiences don’t represent the entire story. Addiction occurs in the context of a larger community and is influenced by societal factors.

There are plenty of people with supportive parents who still go on to develop drug problems. And, many people with less-than-perfect parents are able to live a life free of drugs and alcohol.

Whether or not an individual’s parents played a role in the development of a drug addiction is irrelevant. So, blaming them is not only unhelpful but it’s hurtful as well.

Even though you think this type of comment may be appreciated, you’re actually helping your loved one shift the blame to someone else. Statements like these actually can be counterproductive to their recovery.

One of the biggest goals during recovery from drug addiction is for people with addictions to accept responsibility for their behaviors and their choices. Consequently, blaming other people is not part of that solution. Instead, they need to not only take responsibility for the addiction, but also focus on what they need to do to recover.

Help your loved one recognize that they have the power to choose how they want to live their life. They are not victims of their addiction nor are they victims of their parents’ bad behaviors.

“Let’s Grab a Drink”

Alcohol is a drug, and although it may be legal for adults, it’s one of the most harmful and addictive drugs out there. Encouraging someone to replace their drug use with alcohol will not help them quit drugs.

In fact, alcohol may reduce the person’s impulse control and increase feelings of depression afterward—possibly even increasing drug use.5 Bonding over alcohol also reinforces the belief that drugs are necessary for socializing with others and for coping with life’s challenges.

Instead, reinforce the idea that they don’t need drugs or alcohol to be happy and enjoy life.

Suggest an activity that doesn’t include any addictive substances or behaviors. Some examples might include going for a hike, grabbing coffee, or attending an exhibit. Demonstrate that life is pretty amazing without any interference from drugs or alcohol.

“You Just Need to Pull Yourself Together”

This statement is extremely invalidating when directed at a person who needs much more validation and support. It is also a myth that people can just “pull themselves together.” Recovery requires community and social support.

If you’ve never struggled with an addiction or other psychological problems, such as anxiety or depression, you have no idea how difficult it can be for someone to make such a profound change in their life. Yet, people often believe that solving these types of problems is as simple as a little extra determination and willpower.

What’s more, the person with the drug addiction is probably well aware of what they “need” to do—whether that means quitting drugs, getting a job, or any of the other goals that society imposes on them. They don’t need any reminders from you.

Consequently, telling loved ones to pull themselves together is likely to come across as patronizing. It also may undermine their self-esteem and derail their recovery.

When you make statements like this, you’re essentially communicating that they are weak and not trying hard enough. And, when this happens, your loved one may feel defeated, which can lead to seeking comfort in drug use.

Instead of lecturing your loved ones to “pull themselves together” try offering your support. Let them know that you care about them and that you want to do what you can to be there for them as they begin their recovery.

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