Watching a loved one endure addiction can be terrifying and taking action to talk about it can be just as nerve-wracking. It may feel like you’re walking on eggshells around them, or that the pink elephant in the middle of the room is staring you down. You probably feel angry, confused, frustrated, scared and hopeless as you see them drudge down a dark road of despair. The good news is, you’re not alone and many others have come before you. The bad news is there’s no easy way to do it.
Here’s seven helpful steps to talk to someone about their addiction:
Use “I” statements
Symptoms of drug or alcohol use are not only physical but emotional, and defenses can rise when bringing up a double life that someone may or may not be hiding.
“I” statements can make a world of difference and will have you take responsibility of your emotions. They can change the entire tone of a conversation without placing direct blame on the person. This can soften the rhetoric and shift the focus from them to you, emphasizing your feelings and emotions rather than pointing fingers. Understanding things from your perspective can possibly plant the seed to help the addict see things a certain way.
Here are a couple of examples:
- “You make me upset when you drink.” VS “I feel concerned when you drink.”
- “You need to go to treatment.” VS “I feel frustrated that you won’t accept help.”
- “You are killing yourself” VS “I feel angry watching you hurt yourself.”
Addiction is on the rise and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, “drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S.” The conversation that you have with your loved one can be potentially life-saving, and even the non-verbal behavior you display can be pivotal. Listening can be an art in itself and in today’s world genuine listening is rare. Here are a few to powerful ways to make the most of it:
- Maintain a positive posture
- Keep eye contact
- Listen to the words and picture what the speaker is saying
- Accept the ideas and feelings of the person
- Don’t interrupt or jump to conclusions
- Ask questions to better understand
Keep your cool
Tread lightly! One of the most powerful tools we use instinctively is “mirroring.” Mirroring is a social phenomenon that happens when one person subconsciously imitates the gesture, speech, or attitude of another person. If someone smiles at you, chances are, you’ll smile back, right? This is a prime example of mirroring. You as well as your loved one are in a vulnerable state and if you go into things as a ball of anxiety, chances are the person will be able to subconsciously recognize that and things could escalate. We all play off each other’s emotions, and some addicts can do this like an Olympic sport.
Have a plan
Make sure you talk to your loved one at a time when they are sober and be prepared to take action!
If the person you’re talking to is receptive to your thoughts and concerns, have a plan. It is encouraged to seek the help of professionals when dealing with such an undertaking, so it may be wise to have a couple of treatment centers or the location of a 12-step meeting on hand.
If the person is not receptive to your feedback, have another plan.
A good start would be setting boundaries. Boundaries establish guidelines for suitable behavior and actions, and in this case, your loved one’s substance abuse. Sometimes boundaries can help a person get to their “bottom” and increase the chances of them getting help. These can be easy to set, however putting them to practical use is the tough part. As long as they continue to use it is important that these boundaries are set to so you can get off your emotional roller-coaster ride.
Here are a couple of sample boundaries you could use:
- “I will not allow you to live here if you continue to use.”
- “I will not give you any more money.”
- “I will not bail you out of jail again.”
- “I will not support you in your addiction, but I will support you in your recovery.”
Don’t take it personally
“Hurt people hurt people” and if there is a negative reaction, it has nothing to do with you. If the conversation doesn’t end well and you’ve been open and honest with your emotions, you did what you intended to do.
Take care of yourself
Addiction is a family disease that can wreak havoc on all lives it touches, and if you’re close with the addict, there’s no doubt you may have been exposed to lying, cheating, or manipulative schemes. It can take a toll on your well emotional well-being and sometimes feels like you care more about your loved one than they do themselves. It would be wise to seek outside support such as therapists, or support groups like Al-Anon. Just like the addict needs to recover, so do you!