What Not to Say to Someone Struggling with Addiction

What Not to Say to Someone Struggling with Addiction

It’s very hard to understand what addiction is like if you have never struggled with it yourself. It’s normal to be concerned about a friend or family member who seems to be out of control. It might be extremely frustrating or stressful to watch their self-destructive behavior and wonder why they can’t just get it together.

Why don’t you just stop? This is something they have already asked themselves a million times. You won’t be the first person to think of it. Addiction is fundamentally about not being able to stop doing a harmful behavior. To tell someone that they should “just stop” is essentially to reject reality.

You’ll always be like this. It’s obvious why someone might believe this. Addiction can go on causing damage for years. For anyone trying to be supportive, there have probably been many broken promises and moments of hope that didn’t come to anything. That doesn’t mean they will never change. People recover all the time, just not always on the first try. There may be an age effect too. People under 25 struggle the most. That’s not to say recovery is easy for older people, but it might be more possible. Most importantly, this will only make them feel more hopeless, which isn’t helpful.

Why are you so selfish? Addictive behavior is selfish, but the person is not. Addiction makes you feel like your survival depends on using. Unfortunately, that’s super inconvenient for everyone else. Like other criticisms, calling them selfish only adds to the shame and makes recovery harder.

There’s only one way to get sober. This is something you are likely to hear from some 12-Step people. They succeeded in AA or NA and so they assume it’s the only way to get sober. In fact, 12-Step programs seem to work very well for about a third of people, pretty well for another third, and not at all for the last third. Everyone has different problems complicating their recovery. It takes some trial and error to figure out what kind of treatment is most effective for each person, and sobriety is always evolving.

You don’t have a problem. If someone thinks they might have a problem, they usually do. Hardly anyone mistakenly believes they have a substance abuse problem. The error is almost 100 percent the other way–someone has a problem but can’t admit it. In fact, AA isn’t necessarily for alcoholics; it’s for anyone who wants to quit drinking. If someone says they have a problem, respect that and do what you can to help.

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