If you’ve noticed your loved one displaying signs of addiction or relapse, the best thing you can do is talk to him or her.
Even if it might be uncomfortable, conversation is critical to recovery and to defeating the societal stigma around substance abuse.
If you’re worried about your loved one resisting your concerns, consider the following hypothetical conversation which you can use as a starting place or foundation for the talk that you need to have.
You: “Hey, can we talk for a bit? I’ve noticed that you haven’t been acting like yourself and that our ‘rainy day’ money jar is empty.”
Your Loved One: “Are you implying something?”
You: “I’m worried about you and your substance use.”
Your Loved One: “I’m not addicted, this is just a medical dependence. It’s normal.”
You: “I understand that you were originally prescribed this drug for medical reasons, but to me it seems like it’s becoming more than a dependence. For example, when you upped your dosage this week, you missed three days of work.”
Your Loved One: “I missed work because I wasn’t feeling well which is why I took more of the medicine!”
You: “The doctor said to call her if you weren’t feeling well—not to increase how much you were taking.”
Your Loved One: “Why are you making such a big deal out of this? You’re blowing it out of proportion.”
You: “I am sorry if I’m offending you, but I think that you’re sounding a bit defensive. Are you comfortable talking about this?”
Your Loved One: “No! I want to drop it.”
You: “Can I talk about it?”
Your Loved One: “Whatever.”
You: “When you are high on that drug, I feel unsafe and detached from you. It seems like you have stopped caring about our finances—you used to be the one that would keep my spending in check and you were crazy about your job. I also miss the open, deep talks that we effortlessly had. What do you think?”
Your Loved One: “I think I’m feeling attacked by you!”
You: “I was just describing how I feel.”
Your Loved One: “Well, I feel terrible and you are stressing me out. I need to take more of that medicine. Or something stronger…”
You: “Could it be the medicine or the withdrawal from it that’s making you feel terrible? You were supposed to only take it in response to physical pain after surgery, not in response to emotional problems. I think we should call the doctor.”
Your Loved One: “No! Don’t call the doctor. I am fine!”
You: “Please, listen to me. I’m saying this because I love you. I think you need professional help. I will stand with you through the recovery process, but I can’t guarantee that I’ll stand by and watch you sink deeper into this hole.”
Your Loved One: “Easy for you to say! You wouldn’t be the one in the recovery program!”
You: “You’re right. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like in your shoes, but that doesn’t mean that loving you is easy right now.”
Your Loved One: “What do you mean?”
You: “I hate to say it like this, but if things stay the way they are and you refuse to get treatment then I am going to have to ask your sister for help.”
Your Loved One: “Don’t drag her into this! This is my life! I can do what I want!”
You: “Not when what you’re doing is hurting yourself and those around you. You are hurting me.”
Your Loved One: “I’m sorry. I don’t want to hurt you at all. Honestly, I feel kind of out of control with this, like I can’t help it. I feel so ashamed, and I hate myself for hurting you.”
You: “Thank you for being honest with me. I love you no matter what. Do not blame yourself; addiction is not a choice or a result of low self-control. It’s a biological illness which is why we cannot fix this on our own. If you’re ready to recover, let’s call the treatment center tomorrow morning.”
Your Loved One: “Okay, I want to get better. Really.”
You: “I know you do. And I want to learn to how to be a better support for you; I know that I struggle with taking on your problems as my own and enabling…”
Your Loved One: “Yeah, and maybe you can find a support system too. Thank you for putting up with me and for addressing this… I am scared though.”
You: “Nothing can be scarier than not having control over yourself, right?”
That conversation was only an example, but there are a few points you can take away when you talk to your loved one.
- Understand the symptoms of addiction and prepare examples if he or she denies the problem. However, don’t list these as critique or grudges of the past.
- Avoid “you” statements by using “I” statements: e.g., in order to address your loved one’s addiction, explain how you feel when he or she uses the drug, is dishonest, skips work, etc.
- Acknowledge that you’ll never really know what your loved one is experiencing, but assure him or her that you will be supportive no matter what.
- Share your perspective and point out places in your life where you need growth and outside help too.
- Give an ultimatum of outside intervention if your loved one continues to resist and abuse the substance.
- Try to bring the conversation back to your original intent; you care about your loved one and want what’s best for his or her safety and your relationship.