Communicating with a Loved One who is Struggling with Addiction

Family and friends living with individuals struggling with addiction often spend all their time and energy focusing on the destructive behavior and the chaos brought upon due to their loved one’s actions. Communicating with individuals suffering from addiction means more than talking to them. It means stepping back to learn and understand the disease of addiction and its cycle, and finding how you as a family member can be part of the solution. Understanding the disease of addiction and developing skills to communicate effectively without the usual drama that generally follows talking about this subject to your loved one, goes a long way to turn the stress, anxiety and the worries the whole family deals with into the meaningful exit strategy from the current situation.

The first step in any effective and constructive talk starts with listening. Listening is the hardest part of any communication especially when you have to listen to someone that is trying to ignore there is a problem, justify the unjustifiable actions, or end the conversation by blaming anything and anybody around. Part of this communication should be honest questions that the answers or replies to which can encourage thinking about missteps taken by both the struggling addict and the family.

Knowing that knowledge empowers people not to repeat past mistakes, sometimes it is therapeutic to “walk back” in time and analyze what would have been the correct action or actions that could have prevented the current problems. If the conversation goes to the days that the substance abuse started, then it is reassuring for everyone involved that there is no question about the existence of the problem, as, in the majority of the times, the only one that whose behavior is the cause of all the problems is the one that believes there is no problem. The very first step in the 12 step recovery is to acknowledge that there is an addiction problem.

Knowing that there is a substance abuse problem and help is needed to stop the destructive cycle of drug use could be the very first step of the journey in recovery. How can anyone start recovering without acceptance of the need for recovery?

Since ultimately it is up to the individual to quit any drug or alcohol use, the communication between the affected parties, which include the person using and his or her loved ones, need to be non-emotional, productive and factual enough that would allow the addicted individual see the benefits of getting clean and sober. It is only then that getting clean and starting the recovery process become options for him or her to consider.

Another important ingredient of constructive communication is the way the suggestions are framed. Suggestions should be in the form of Feedback and not advice. One is intrusive, the other supportive. Advice amounts to telling the affected individual what to do, and generally, no one likes to be told that. In 12 Step Fellowships, it is said that defiance is the chief characteristic of the addict. This is another reason why Fellowships offer only suggestions. Feedback, on the other hand, means letting a drug or alcohol abuser know how his or her substance abuse is affecting everybody around who cares for them. Many times knowing how negatively their actions impact the lives of the ones they love is the moment that causes a change in the struggling individual’s life.

Below are a few suggestions for building any constructive communication:

  • Provide facts and information
  • Do not judge
  • Do not react on impulse
  • Avoid extremes in examples and suggestions
  • Avoid engaging the individual when he or she is under the influence
  • Make the conversation goal-oriented
  • Take responsibility for your feedback
  • Make sure your points are clearly stated
  • Highlight inconsistencies if and when you are presented with such

Since there are no miracles or overnight cures for changing one’s behavior, especially when it comes to drug use, you may not see any changes after what you thought was an honest and open conversation. Be persistent, don’t give up and pick up the conversation at the next best moment you find, again in a calm and objective manner.