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Talking to Your Loved One About Substance Use Disorder and Addiction

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If you have a friend or loved one suffering from Substance Use Disorder (SUD), one of the most difficult things to do is to talk with him or her about it. If they have yet to seek help, it’s likely that they will be in denial. So, when you do broach the subject with them, you can be met with a range of negative emotions. What’s important is that you are coming from a place of compassion that provides a safe place for open dialogue that shows your concern and empathy.

Educate yourself

The first step is to do some research about SUD. The more you know about this mental illness, the more you can understand what your loved one is experiencing and the easier it will be to provide caring support. Learn the language to use that avoids the stigma of SUD. A recent blog in this space addressed this.


Offer support

Show kindness, respect and be calm. Let your loved one know that you are willing to be there to help achieve a positive outcome. Avoid judgments and accusations. These can easily lead to shame, guilt and a defensive attitude that will cloud your message of support. It’s okay to raise the issue of problematic behaviors but use “I” statements that keep the focus of how the behavior made you feel without demanding an explanation. This will help you be able to focus on encouragement by letting your loved know you understand these behaviors are not part of who they really are.



Part of talking is listening. Ask questions that will help you understand what your loved one is going through and take in what they have to say without interjecting. If you have created a supportive environment, they will want to tell you how they feel, what they are experiencing and how they want to deal with it. The more you understand, the more you can help.


"It is important to keep in mind, when your loved one is engaging in addictive behaviors, they feel a false sense of control," states Counselor II Marissa Hatcher, MSW, CADC at Symetria Recovery. "With this being said, when you decide you are ready to approach your loved one regarding their behaviors, they may be defensive due to believing they can stop when they want.  If this is the case, they will not be willing to listen to your concerns.  Take this time to communicate how much you care about them and your openness to listen whenever they may need to talk."


Once you have established safe and comfortable environment for discussion, you can approach seeking professional help for recovery. Let them know that you will be there to support them through the recovery process.


Be aware that there’s fine line between being supportive and enabling. Part of being supportive is to empower yourself to set boundaries that protect you from problematic behaviors and create consequences that can motivate your loved one to make change.


Finally, take care of yourself. Supporting someone through recovery can take its toll on you. Make it part of your mission to stay healthy both physically and mentally. Eat well, exercise and get plenty of rest. Many recovery programs provide counseling and support groups for loved ones, specifically. It can be highly beneficial for all when those in recovery and their loved ones are in a program of support together.


Dale Willenbrink
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