If you’ve ever loved an addict, you are no stranger to heartache and worry. Betrayal and bitterness may be persistent shadows in you life. You may wish your words had the power to break them free from addiction.
You may believe that if they loved you enough, they shouldn’t need the addictive substance or behavior at all. Unfortunately, addiction is a complicated, ruthless disease. It is not invincible, however, and with the right steps an addict can find freedom and happiness. Whether in recovery or not, there are 7 things to never say to an addict; certain words will almost always do more harm than good. Every situation is unique, of course, but I urge you to keep this insight in mind. We could all benefit from more patience, compassion and awareness.
1. Why can’t you just STOP doing drugs or drinking?
There are the miracle stories of addicts simply calling it quits and never picking up again. And then there is the vast majority who just need help. It is nearly impossible to will away a disease that manipulates brain chemistry. Beyond that, addiction is deeply rooted in emotional trauma, anxiety and pain; such matters do not vanish because we want them to. There are also daunting detox and withdrawal symptoms to contend with. Addicts need support, consistency and courage both physically and mentally.
2. I bet I could give up drugs or alcohol easily.
Imagine that you’ve devoured a hearty meal, enjoyed a long, deep sleep or engaged in great sex. These are all biologically necessary activities and they feel wonderful, don’t they? You have dopamine and endorphin to thank for that. These natural brain chemicals reward us with feel-good sensations that encourage us to keep doing what keeps us alive. Addiction takes advantage of this process. Drugs and addictive behaviors directly stimulate the production of these brain chemicals and convince us that we need them to feel good and survive. Now imagine just giving up food, sleep or sex or a favorite hobby or skill that reassures you of your value. This truly puts the reality of addiction into perspective.
3. You won’t ever be able to break free from this addiction.
I understand that relapse, fighting and deceit may drive you to want to give up on the suffering addict, but the last thing they need is a death sentence from a loved one. It is true that some never break free, but there are also so many recovering addicts who enjoy happiness, success and freedom. Truly, recovering addicts are some of the most uplifting, cheerful people I have the pleasure of knowing. They provide for their family, delight their friends and live meaningful lives. So please never condemn a loved one, even if you must cut ties with them. If you do stay, here are some tips to helping them recover:
- Provide rides to recovery meetings
- Commit to being an exercise buddy
- Ban alcoholic beverages from get-togethers
- Be a listening ear when an addicted loved one needs to talk, vent, or think about something other than drugs or alcohol.
4. You HAVE to do it this way.
Since 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have assisted many addicts in lifelong recovery. As successful as they are, please keep in mind that treatment is never one-size-fits-all. Encourage your loved one to find a treatment plan that works for them. Counseling and therapy, resident rehabilitation centers and holistic treatments are just a few routes to explore. Conquering addiction is about establishing a lifestyle that provides happiness and security; this means something different for everyone.
5. You’ll be back to it in no time.
If an addict declares that they’ve had their last fix, don’t scoff and doubt them even if you’ve heard it many times before. The first step to recovery is acknowledging the addiction and trying to do something about it. It may take many first starts to finally get it right and they need all the help and encouragement they can get. Instead of expecting failure, try to identify just what it is that is causing them to stumble. Recovery is often a process of trial and error best fueled by patience and compassion.
6. Why are you being so selfish and unfair by staying addicted?
I firmly doubt that there is any addict that wants to be addicted. They most likely suffer from suffocating guilt at the pain they cause, and this may drive them to use more. They are always human; they long for love and life lost to them. We must remember that addiction is a disease. The addict is no longer in control; they are driven by the chemical corruption of the addiction. With this understanding, we can try our best to take a more sensitive approach and stop taking it personally.
7. You’re going to be this way for the rest of your life.
I’ve witnessed addicts of all ages recover and it truly a beautiful thing. You cannot predict the future and you certainly cannot determine someone’s fate based on their past. Even though it can be frustrating, exhausting and heartbreaking to love an addict, we must try to remember that nothing good can come from verbally sentencing someone to a lifetime of misery.
I hope that this has shed some light on just how valuable optimism, empathy and patience are when it comes to communicating with those suffering from the disease of addiction. Is there anything that you would add? I would absolutely love your input!