How to Talk with Someone Suffering from Addiction

One of the hardest conversations you will ever have in your life will be talking with someone about their addiction problems. These conversations are often as hard or harder than talking with someone grieving from losing a loved-one, or the conversations about the birds and bees with a child reaching puberty. Don’t worry if you have a little anxiety going into the conversation, everyone who tries does. 

You shouldn’t be surprised if you encounter complete denial from the addicted person, or a sense of hostility, borderline anger, or a quick-tempered response to; “mind your own business!” These are all quite common responses. Expect the addicted individual to change the subject early and often during such conversations. Perhaps you will encounter the defense response where they tell you about all your own problems. Accept these responses and don’t overreact or allow this to ruin your relationship (cite: 1).

Make sure you explain, you are only bringing it up because you care so much about them and want what’s best for them. It’s important that you make an emotional connection, but also set forth logical points, make it about both of you, not just them. Do not condemn or lecture. This is one conversation where lecturing won’t work and could cause the opposite of your intended goals (cite: 2).

It’s Okay to Have an Introductory Conversation

If things get too heated or you find yourself making little progress, it’s not a total loss. You’ve planted the seed. It’s okay to have an introductory talk on the matter without getting into a to-do-list of priorities or a solution-based plan of attack to combat the addiction. Remember addiction and dependency don’t happen overnight, nor will the challenge to end the dependency be conquered in short order.

Suggest that they at least think about it and do a little introspective thinking on the issue, some soul searching perhaps and then leave it at that. Then bring it back up in a couple of days and ask if they have considered your concerns, and what if anything they plan on doing about it. You are making progress, but this might take a while.

The First Step Is to Admit You Have a Problem

Before you move forward, they will have to admit they have a problem, an addiction. Most have a tough time getting through the denial phase, and until you break through, you won’t be able to help them much. You simply cannot help someone against their will (cite: 3). 

It’s important to always leave the door open and not to take anything they say to you in anger too seriously. Brush it off, it’s not them talking, it’s the demon inside, their dependency has gotten the best of them, taken hold, and doesn’t want to let go. 

Once you are able to have a close heart-to-heart talk, you’ll see why your patience was so important to get to the action phase where they have agreed to accept help and pledge to give it their best efforts. 

Engage in the Prospects of a Positive Future

Ask about their current interests, and then ask about their goals and dreams. Help them affirm those future goals and let them know you will support them in their future quests. Ask them if they can attain those lofty goals amid their need and dependency issues. Ask them how much their substance abuse is costing them in dollars. Then ask them to consider the health costs. 

Let them see that the two cannot co-exist, that if they continue, it’s unlikely they will ever accomplish those goals. Ask them; “if you had to make a choice between your addiction and your future, which would you choose?” Appeal to both their logical side and emotional side. Don’t be surprised if they have an emotional breakdown at some point when they realize they can no longer deny they have a problem and are in over their head. 

Let them know you are there for them and will support them through the turbulent times ahead if they choose to do something about their addiction (cite: 4).

We Are Here to Help

Do you need help in this sensitive matter? We are here to help assist you in all phases of recovery. Call us today, tell us your situation, and let us help you help them. The sooner the addiction and dependency are addressed the better for all concerned. It’s imperative to get help as soon as possible, the longer addiction goes on, the more dependent the mind and body become, thus, the harder it is to recover. 

References:

  1. “Confronting Denial: An Alcoholism Intervention Strategy,” by Lena DiCicco, MSPH; Hilma Unterberger; John E Mack, MD, published in Psychiatric Annals. 1978;8(11):54-64. https://doi.org/10.3928/0048-5713-19781101-08.
  2. “I Can Help You Change! An Empathic Virtual Agent Delivers Behavior Change Health Interventions,” by Christine Lisetti, Reza Amini, Ugan Yasavur, and Naphatali Rishe. Published in ACM Transactions on Management Information Systems (TMIS) on December 2013 Article No.: 19. https://doi.org/10.1145/2544103.
  3. “Addicts’ choice,” editorial by Ole-Jorgen Skog, published in the Journal of Addiction,  Vol. 95, Iss. 9,  (Sep 2000): 1309-1314.
  4. Book: “The Courage to Change: Personal Conversations about Alcoholism,” by Dennis Wholey, published by Houghton Mifflin, Boston MA, 1984, 315 pages, ISBN: 0-395-35977-5.
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