Jul 4, 2022 | By Tim Stoddart

How to tell my loved ones I am struggling with addiction


For many of us, admitting to ourselves that there is a problem with a substance, or a behavior is challenging enough, but admitting it to our closest family and friends can feel even more daunting. The fear of being stigmatized, labeled, and even rejected is of paramount concern to many who are struggling with a substance use disorder or a process addiction. Whether or not to share this difficult news, when to share it, and how to share it is something that those who suffer with addiction have had to ask themselves as they embark on getting help, living soberly, and making the huge life changes that healthy recovery requires. Here are some points to ponder for anyone facing such an unenviable but potentially fruitful conversation regarding their relationship to a substance and potential addiction.

When Is It Appropriate to Share this News?

Knowing when to approach family members and loved ones with the news that we have been struggling can be tricky. The fact that it may not be of great surprise to our loved ones is highly likely. For others it may be the first that their family members are hearing of this challenge from their loved one. Assuming there have been no glaringly unwanted outcomes such as DUIs, legal consequences from using, arrests, etc. some family members will find it hard to grasp and may even try to minimize the behavior or enable the loved one to believe that they aren’t as critically ill as they really are. Therefore, these conversations need to happen when the one suffering from addiction is truly ready for help and accountability. Simply confessing to a list of transgressions related to our addictive behavior isn’t the same as intentionally sitting people down and sharing the unmanageable nature of our lives. Most struggling people know that once we own up to our disordered behavior, we will be opening ourselves up to accountability, scrutiny, and questions. This can be challenging and even a strain on families given that there may continue to be relapses even after these conversations. 

How Do I Decide Whom to Tell?

It is best to begin our disclosure process with those with whom we feel safest. A small, trusted core group of family members or friends is sufficient at first. Don’t feel the need to tell everyone all at once. Ask for a specific time to sit down and have their undivided attention. They need to know that we are dealing with something larger than ourselves for which we need their support and encouragement. As we become more comfortable in our process, then we can open ourselves up to others as well.

Why Should I Share Something as Personal as Addiction with My Loved Ones?

It isn’t that everyone in our lives deserves to know every single detail of our lives. But addiction is something that can be very hard to hide. Once we are moving into a place of recovery it will eventually become easier to deal with sharing our journey as well as deciding with whom and how to do it. The good news is that we are getting help and moving forward. We are inviting people into the process of our new beginning, not shamefully bemoaning our past. There is an appropriate time in 12-step recovery for acknowledging “the exact nature of our wrongs,” but this isn’t that time.

How Do We Approach the Ones We Love?

  • Humility – Remember that the people we love, and trust are there to help and support us in our recovery. This is best accomplished by minimizing any defensive excuse-making behaviors on our part as we share our invitation for them to join us in our process.
  • Minimal Expectations – We should emphasize to our loved ones that we aren’t sharing our struggle with any ulterior motives. There is no expectation for anyone to do anything at all. This is simply an invitation into a process where we want to begin sharing our truth and ask for the help we need.
  • “Here is what I need from you…” – This is a helpful concept to keep in mind as the overarching theme whenever we are sharing this type of news with those we love. Being able to help them understand what being helpful does and doesn’t look like in our situation is freeing for our loved ones. It eliminates them having to resort to guesswork in navigating what is likely to be uncharted territory for them.
  • Acknowledge the Awkwardness – It is okay to acknowledge and name the elephant in the room in these situations. Owning the reality that this conversation is difficult to hear, and process is helpful to those with whom we are inviting on this journey with us.
  • Be Specific – It is important to speak as specifically as possible to others when we are acknowledging our dependency, but even more importantly as we are setting forth on our mission to make enormous changes in our reality. Sharing how we are planning to move forward, what type of help we are implementing, whether we are interested in residential treatment, meetings we plan to attend, our willingness to engage professional counseling, etc. are all helpful for our loved ones to hear. Knowing that we have a care plan in place and that we are not planning on going it alone will instill great confidence among those you invite into the process.

It is never easy to disclose the parts of our lives that require outside intervention, but it is always honoring to those we invite into the process to know that they are a trusted source of encouragement to us in what will become a new way of living and being. As we grow healthier and more confident in our recovery, we can begin to include others in our circle of trust.

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