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Telling Others About Your Substance Use Disorder or Addiction

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Recently in this space, we covered how to talk with a friend or loved one about their Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Of course, there is the other side of that discussion. When you realize you have an issue with SUD, you might feel alone and confused about how to get help. Confiding in a loved one or trusted friend can be an imposing step but gaining support can be important in starting and maintaining your recovery.

You have already demonstrated the courage to recognize that you need help. One way to keep your resolve is to next have the courage to open up so you can receive the personal support you need.


"A common thought in recovery communities is 'you're only as sick as your secrets' or 'live an honest program'," states Program Director Kerry Larson, LCSW, CADC, CODP I at Symetria Recovery. "Confiding in loved ones and trusted friends is a way to gain freedom from the secrecy in which Substance Use Disorders are often shrouded."


Reach out to a reliable person

Whether it’s a spouse or other family member, a friend or counselor, choose someone:

  • You can trust to give you strong, empathic support and keep your situation confidential
  • Who can devote the time it takes to give you their support
  • Who can provide a safe environment
  • Who, if possible has gone through something similar and resolved it.


Things to keep in mind for your discussions

Find a safe and comfortable place to have your discussion, where there won’t be any distractions or interruptions. Stay focused on a few things:

  • Be honest
    • If you are upfront with someone about the degree of your substance use and how it has affected your life, it will make that person better equipped to help during your recovery.
  • Take responsibility
    • Letting them know that it’s all about choices you have made and that you don’t blame anyone else will let them know that you are serious about recovery.
  • Be prepared for tough questions
    • Because they want to do as much as they can to help you, your friend or loved one is going to want to know as much as they can about your substance use. Let them ask questions and know that you will have to be honest about some uncomfortable ones, such as:
      • How long have you been using?
      • When was the last time you used?
      • Have you broken the law?
      • Have you quit using previously?
    • You don’t need to be explicit when answering these types of questions, but honesty will help them to better understand your situation and possibly free you from some of the burdens you are feeling.


Know that you can’t predict or control how someone will react to these discussions. They might be sad. They might not know how to react. The best thing you can do is to realize that, over time, it will get better and they will be able to give you the love and support you need. Remember to keep up the conversations and to consider taking the next step by seeking professional help.


Dale Willenbrink
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