Five Things NOT to say to Someone in Addiction Recovery

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Supporting someone through addiction recovery is both admirable and delicate. You may be well-meaning, but your words may cause more harm than good. You may not even realize it. 

Words hold immense power and can be used to uplift and motivate or deeply wound and discourage. 

If you’re unsure what to say to someone in addiction recovery, let’s start with what NOT to say (and why). Then, let’s move into what to say instead. 

I know how you feel. 

Your goal is to empathise–which is admirable. But the reality is, unless you are also in addiction recovery, then you do not know how they feel. To put it bluntly, you have absolutely no idea. You may be tempted to talk about how you went through something similar. Again, use caution. Your chocolate addiction does not compare to someone’s drug addiction. In fact, it diminishes and minimises their experiences. Again, saying “I know how you feel” is typically well-intentioned, but it can unintentionally push your loved one farther away. 

It’s important to acknowledge their experiences without assuming you fully comprehend them. This fosters a more genuine connection and shows respect for their individual journey. 

What to say instead: 

Don’t compare experiences. Don’t try to empathise in this case. Instead, just be present. Just listen, really listen to what your loved one has to say. You can offer support and encouragement without overshadowing their addiction journey. For instance, you could say something like, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but I’m here to listen and support you in any way I can.” 

This statement validates their emotions while emphasising your willingness to help. 

You’re smarter than this. 

Grey-haired elderly lady feeling amazing with her son

Telling someone that they are “smarter than this” is incredibly damaging and unhelpful. First, addiction has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence. Instead, it’s a complex disease influenced by many factors. Implying that their struggles stem from a lack of intelligence oversimplifies it all and overlooks the underlying psychological, genetic, biological, and environmental factors contributing to their addiction. 

Such a statement evokes feelings of shame, inadequacy, and misunderstanding, hindering rather than supporting their recovery efforts. 

What to say instead

It’s more constructive to offer words of encouragement and support. You could say something like “I believe in you and your ability to overcome this challenge.” This acknowledges their strength and resilience without minimising the complexity of their struggle. 

Expressing empathy by saying “I know this is hard, but I’m here for you,” can provide reassurance they need. 

Why can’t you just stop? 

If only it were that easy…

It is essential to understand something: People with an addiction can’t just stop. No amount of willpower will help them stop. Addiction transcends all willpower and self-control. It doesn’t make sense. Asking someone why they can’t just stop creates more distance between you and your loved one. It oversimplifies the challenges they face every day and can undermine their efforts. 

What to say instead: 

Recognize the multifaceted nature of addiction. Recognize that they can’t stop without outside help. Instead, approach the conversation with empathy and understanding. Here are some things you could say instead: 

I understand that addiction is incredibly challenging, and it has nothing to do with your willpower. There are many factors at play, and I’m here to support you through it all. 

I know it’s tough, but I believe in you. You’ve already come so far, and I’m here to help you keep moving forward. 

Replacing judgement with empathy and offering unwavering support can make a significant difference in someone’s path to recovery. 

You’re selfish. 

Dark-haired bearded man holding hishead looking desperate

Those struggling with addiction will behave in ways that are out of character. These behaviours include lying, cheating, and acting out in self-serving ways. It would be easy to tell someone in addiction that they are selfish because they may act selfishly. 

However, it’s important to realise that these selfish actions are driven by addiction. Your loved one feels profound feelings of guilt and shame. They are aware that their actions don’t match their motives. Telling someone they are selfish isn’t typically helpful. 

Additionally, if your loved one prioritises their recovery and spends a lot of time working on it, then you should never say they are selfish for their dedication to recovery. Often, when someone gets sober, they spend a lot of time in recovery-related activities because they have to. It is their lifeline. 

What to say instead: 

It is helpful to express your concerns and feelings directly, while still showing support. For example, you could say something like this: 

I love you, but it’s difficult to be around you when you have been drinking. 

The way you act when you’re drinking makes me uncomfortable. I know this is not the true you, but I don’t want to be around you when you’re drinking. 

I feel hurt when you don’t follow through with our plans because you are using drugs. 

You’ll never change. 

Telling someone that they will never change, particularly after a relapse, is telling someone that you have no hope for them. There are many problems here. First, “you’ll never change” is not a true statement. They can change. Change is possible. Hope matters

Second, telling someone they will never change reinforces feelings of worthlessness. Addiction recovery is challenging enough. It’s filled with ups and downs, and believing that change is impossible can hinder someone’s progress and discourage their efforts. 

Recovery is a process of self-discovery and personal growth, and everyone deserves the chance to overcome their struggles. 

What to say instead: 

It’s more supportive to offer encouragement, especially if your loved one has recently relapsed. For example, you could say: 

I am proud of the progress you have made, and I believe in your ability to bounce back. 

Mistakes are a part of recovery, but they don’t define you. 

You are not a failure. I have faith in your strength. 

Offering positive reinforcement and reassurance can help your loved one maintain hope and motivation. 

What’s the bottom line? 

Senior Father Talking With Adult Son On Walk Through Autumn Countryside

Ultimately, being there for someone means being patient, empathetic, and understanding. 

Words matter. Your words matter, so it’s vital to be careful with them when interacting with someone in addiction recovery. Words have the power to lift people up or bring them down. Choose your words carefully and make sure they are covered with kindness and compassion. Your support can be the light they need to keep moving forward. 

How Can Centres for Health and Healing Help? 

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction or mental health issues, taking the first step into treatment can feel overwhelming. We get it. However, trust us on this one: the first step is the hardest, but once you have reached out, you will be taken care of. 

At Centres for Health and Healing, we prioritise your well-being above all else. In our holistic programs, we offer a wide range of treatment options in a safe space, from group therapy and trauma informed treatment to individualised therapy and aftercare support

Reach out to our compassionate team today, and let your journey begin with us. 

We are here to help.

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