How To Talk About Addiction

News Team's picture
By News Team on August 4, 2022

Talking to loved ones about substance abuse or addictions can be daunting even for the most open and loving families.
Once a person becomes addicted to a drug, it may be very difficult to quit due to painful withdrawal symptoms that lead to powerful desires to start using again. Drugs also alter a person’s state of consciousness, causing abnormal mood changes and hindering their ability to communicate.
Although starting these discussions can be frustrating and painful, know that addiction is a treatable disease and recovery is definitely possible with a strong support system in place. Carilion Clinic’s Addiction Task Force offers the following guidelines for talking to a loved one about their substance addiction:

  • Show as much love, kindness and support as possible. Let them know that you are there to offer help and to support them through the recovery process.
  • Avoid blaming them. Know that addiction is not necessarily choice, but a mix of genetic and environmental factors that anyone may be susceptible to.
  • Look for and offer local and regional resources that can help combat addiction. These may include psychological counseling, individual and group therapy and Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous (AA/NA) groups. Even if your loved one refuses, these places may be able to set up an intervention if deemed necessary.
  • Be predictable with your actions and words toward your loved one to avoid giving him or her additional stress. If you live together, have consistent rules and expectations.
  • Refrain from discussing your loved one’s addictions if he or she is still under the effect of the drug or alcohol.

It is also important to structure these conversations in a constructive manner, because people suffering from substance abuse often already feel socially isolated, depressed and guilty. Inadvertently placing blame on them may lead to the person feeling even more rejected and helpless, which affects their willingness to seek treatment.
According to Phyllis Wolf, Carilion Community-Based Workforce manager, nearly 30 percent of people with addictions in southern Virginia identify stigma and shame as barriers to seeking support. 

“When talking about substance abuse disorders, we must be aware of the language that we use, and how our words may affect those suffering from addictions,” she said.
Stigmatizing addiction also leads to societal burdens, as those who do not seek help for their addictions eventually generate higher medical costs as their conditions worsen.
Some tips to consider while discussing substance abuse disorders include:

  • Discuss the person rather than just their condition by avoiding using the word “addict” and instead saying “he or she has a substance abuse disorder.”
  • Talk about drug-related deaths as you would deaths from another condition: “He died from a substance use disorder” or “She died from the disease of addiction” rather than the term “overdose.”
  • Emphasize the power and beauty of recovery, as opposed to focusing on the ugliness and devastation of substance abuse and addiction.

And remember to take care of yourself too. Addiction is a family disease, and support is key for everyone affected. Support groups like Families Anonymous can be as helpful for families as resources like AA and NA can be for the person in recovery. Carilion’s Center for Grief and Healing also offers support for those grieving a loss.

___________________ | |
Need a primary care provider or specialist?
Use our Find a Doc tool!