It doesn’t have to be as scary as you think.

If you’ve realized your loved one may have a problem with alcohol or drugs, the next step in your process is having an honest, empathetic, and open conversation with them. This can seem incredibly daunting, so here are some guidelines to follow when talking with them.

  • Before you have an honest conversation with a loved one, it’s important to know if what you’re seeing is what’s actually happening. Take some time to discuss your concerns with a trusted friend or family member so that you can make sure your worries are serious, demonstrable concerns and not an overreaction to something else. 
  • It may be tempting to avoid addressing your loved one’s problem and hope they’ll fix it themselves. This is not a good idea. They may not know they have a problem or need help, and it could take them years to reach this conclusion- which they may not have. The sooner their addiction is addressed, the sooner the door can be opened for recovery and healing. Don’t avoid this conversation, no matter how hard it is for you to have,” says In The Rooms co-founder Ken Pomerance. 
  • Once you’re ready to have the conversation, have a general idea of what you want to say to your loved one. This will help ensure a productive conversation and lessen the chance of you misspeaking. 
  • Try to have the conversation when your loved one is not under the influence. Additionally, make sure you are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs either.
  • When you are speaking, use appropriate body language. Stay seated, speak in soft, slow tones, and have an open body posture. Do not raise your voice, cross your arms, or suddenly stand up. It is important that your actions reflect the empathy and concern you have towards your loved one- not your anger.
  • Do not lecture your loved one- instead, try to have a two way conversation with open-ended questions. Don’t say: “You’ve been distant and mean lately. I think you’re on drugs. Are you?” This sounds accustatory and one-sided. Instead, say: “I feel like you’ve been off lately. Is something going on in your life that you want to talk about?” This shifts the blame away from your loved one and opens the door to an honest conversation. 
  • It’s important to remember that you alone cannot change your loved one. You can encourage change, but they have to decide to take that first step. 
  • Though you may be angry, don’t direct your anger at your loved one. Instead, direct it towards the problem, and focus on how you can support your loved one through their journey to recovery.  
  • Remember that they are not trying to choose their addiction over you. Substance abuse messes with your loved one’s brain chemistry and can cause them to act irrationally and unkindly in pursuit of their addiction.
  • Finally, offer your continuous and consistent support through your loved one’s recovery. It is so important that they know someone is on their side. But if they refuse to change or seek support, be prepared to offer consequences. It is equally important that you are not an enabler for your loved one.

The journey to recovery for your loved one is a long one- there is no quick fix for addiction. But remember that there is hope ahead. There is also support for your loved one and for friends and family like you too.  

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