How to Start the Conversation With a Loved One About Addiction Recovery

Addiction and substance abuse recovery is a tough topic to address. If you have a loved one who’s struggling, you may feel stuck or helpless. Moreover, you may feel like the number of people you know who are engaged in substance abuse is increasing.

How Common is Substance Abuse?

Addiction and substance abuse recovery is a tough topic to address. If you have a loved one who’s struggling, you may feel stuck or helpless. Moreover, you may feel like the number of people you know who are engaged in substance abuse is increasing. 

According to a SAMHSA report from 2020 focused on Arizona, the number of individuals in substance abuse treatment in 2019 has more than doubled since 2015. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. And with the right treatment and support, recovery is possible for everyone.

Dos and Don’ts of the First Steps to Recovery

The first step is to start the conversation with your loved one. But how do you open up such a tough topic like this? How should you approach it? What if your loved one shuts down? 

Imagine being someone who is struggling with addiction or substance abuse. For your loved one, it probably feels like a big leap to admit that something needs to change. You can offer encouragement that even if it's a slow process, it all starts with admitting the need for change. That begins with a conversation. 

Depending on the stage of acknowledgement that they’re at, the conversation may vary. In any case, the simple “dos and don’ts” outlined below will help you begin the process.

Do #1: Get Educated

For you, the first step is to educate yourself on the basics. If you’re well-informed, it will be easier to talk to your loved one. You will be able to be more patient, gentle, and clear. And for them, they’ll be more inclined to listen if you’ve done your research. Therefore, it’s important to learn about addiction, how it can begin, and recognize the red flags in your loved one’s day to day. 

At the start of your conversation, it may help to call out the harmful stigmas that come with addiction. For example, “my loved one is a failure.” If you avoid falling into these assumptions yourself, you can ask them about their struggle as a mental health condition. Your respect, sensitivity, and willingness to learn will go a long way for your loved one. They’re probably already feeling isolated, so it helps to avoid enforcing any stigmas.

Don’t #2: Avoid Ambushing Them

Many people make the mistake of backing their loved one into a corner and ambushing them. This is not the way to start a conversation. Instead, approach it with love, care, and respect for their humanity. If you don’t, reaching out will likely be interpreted as an attack rather than genuine care. In the long-term, this could deeply damage your relationship with them and even cause them to cut off contact with you.  

If you’re involving more family members in the conversation, think twice. Make sure you’re all on the same page before you start and avoid a “gang up” situation. Keep healing, openness, and honesty as your goals. If this is too difficult for some family members, it’s better to wait until a family therapy session at a later time.

Do #3: Focus on Compassion and Connection

Once your loved one knows you’re not there to attack them, make it clear that your intention is your love for them. You can focus on these points to start:

  • What makes you worried about their physical and mental health
  • How your relationship has changed in light of their substance abuse
  • Ask questions about how they're feeling and where they’re at in life
  • Brainstorm on what they see as good next steps

You might also think about what will motivate your loved one. For example, if they’re a spiritual person, you could incorporate this into your initial research. “Spiritual healing,” as studies have shown, often “parallels mental and emotional wellness.” Treatment centers like Seven Arrows that value the whole of the person might be a good place to pique their interest 

Your loved one might not respond to this conversation how you hoped. They may experience denial, anger, sadness, manipulation, excuses, or other defense mechanisms. If that’s the case, remember that this may be the first of many conversations. There’s no need to rush.  

Don’t #4: Try to Avoid Blaming Language

 If the conversation isn’t going how you imagined, you may find yourself feeling frustrated and starting to get defensive. Give yourself a bit of grace—you’ve been affected in a major way by your loved one’s struggle. 

The first thing is to try to stay calm in the moment. Second, avoid the snowball effect of blaming language. You’ll provoke your loved one to be defensive if you do.  For examples of what NOT to say:

  • “You shouldn't have done _____”
  • “You never do _____”
  • “You make me ______” 

Instead of pointing the finger, try bringing back your language to how you’re feeling. Examples of constructive language include:

  • “I’ve been feeling like ____”
  • “I'm worried about____”
  • “I feel sad when_____”

These small language changes can make a huge difference. They redirect the conversation to what you have in common, which is primarily your relationship and the love you have for each other.

Helpful Tools for a Difficult Conversation

While it's certainly not easy to talk to a loved one about starting addiction treatment, it may be a necessary first step. But it’s just the first one. There are many more steps to take on the path to healing. 

Above all else, tell your loved one that you will support them through their journey, however long it takes and whatever it looks like. The ways you educate yourself will be useful throughout their entire process. In treatment, out of treatment, or in a tough time, your healthy support is invaluable. 

If you or your loved one is still unsure about the process, reach out to the support team at Seven Arrows Recovery today. We’re here to answer any questions and discuss treatment options to help you begin a healing journey starting now.

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