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Discussing Addiction: Talking to Someone Who Needs Help

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Reaching out to someone with an addiction is never easy, but is often necessary for the patient to realize the time for recovery has come

Alcoholism (and addiction in general) is not just painful for the sufferer; anyone who has witnessed a friend, colleague, or loved one battle with alcohol abuse knows that the recovery process can be just as trying for those close to them. Below, we’ll cover a few tips for communicating with someone who may be fighting a drinking problem, and how to ensure your support is made clear without damaging your relationship.

  1. Set Realistic Expectations

Remember, ultimately an addict must make the decision to pursue recovery. While a supportive ally is precious to the recovery effort, know beforehand that an alcoholic may not realize the significance of their disorder. They may respond with shock, argument, or dismiss your concerns. If you haven’t spoken with them about their drinking problem before, the first few conversations may not inspire a rapid turnaround. However, by making your concerns clear, and showing you care, you have begun to lay the groundwork for future change.

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  1. Keep it Private

A one-on-one encounter is far less intimidating than a group intervention. Particularly when an addict is unaware of the effect of their disorder on those around them, it is important they know your discussion is private, personal, and free of any judgment or aggression. While the involvement of others may be required down the line, in the early stages, often the concern of a trusted friend is sufficient for inspiring an addict to re-examine their situation.

  1. Don’t Blame

As difficult as it may be to have a relationship with an alcoholic or addict, avoid anger, blaming, or judgmental language. Coming from a place of compassion is far more likely to earn the desired response, and it may allow you to discuss the effect the person’s drinking problem has had on you personally. For someone struggling with substance abuse, it is vital to know there are people to rely on for support. If you have been hurt by their disorder, remember there will always be future opportunities to seek forgiveness and understanding.

  1. Let them Speak

While you may have accumulated a wealth of pain, frustration, or concerns due to this person’s addiction, remember to make sure they have a chance to respond. It is never easy to hear a friend express concern or frustration over your behavior, and it is important not to let your discussion turn into a “venting” session or monologue. By keeping the lines of communication open, and allowing the person to speak, you show they are with someone safe and supportive. You may disagree with things they say, but the recovery process is long: there is ample time in the future to mend ill will or hurt feelings.

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  1. Remember Your Own Needs  

While your goal is to encourage this person to seek help without appearing judgmental, critical, or hostile, you have also likely suffered as a party to their drinking. The pain or frustration you’ve experienced is still real, and you still have the right to express this to them. Ultimately, recovery can only begin when the addict sincerely wishes it: be honest, intimate, and make it clear why your concerns are valid and how their addiction has affected you.  

 As we’ve seen above, the first conversation about addiction is a difficult balance; while it is important to make your fears heard, you may also need to temper what you truly wish to say. The decision to pursue recovery and sobriety is not easy. However, by making it clear you are a compassionate, trustworthy, and supportive ally, you can reduce the difficulty for your loved one in choosing to pursue a change.

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