What you should never say to a loved one in recovery

Published by Daniel Brooks Moore on

No matter how many times you read and reread about the rise of substance abuse in the U.S., you still may be surprised to know just how high it is. Although the exact number varies from each controlled group to the next, the ballpark figure of those who suffer from some form of substance use disorder is somewhere between 19 and 20 million in the United States (via Addiction Group). Of those with addiction issues, alcohol abuse is at the top of the list, with 73% battling the bottle and only 11% having received treatment. 20% claim that they have no idea how to or where to get help.

Addiction is a treatable disease and only recently has been treated as a disease. Also, similar to those who suffer from mental health issues, if you’ve never been addicted to a substance, it’s hard for friends and family to understand. From a biological standpoint, it all comes down to how the addiction affects the brain’s reward system, which makes people come back for more and more, and crave whatever substance to which they’re addicted (via Harvard Health).

One of the hardest things that anyone with a substance disorder can do is, first of all, finally admit that they have a problem. Then secondly, get themselves into recovery. But quitting is extremely difficult and having a network of loved ones to not only cheer them on but say the right thing is extremely important.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

You don’t look like you have an addiction

For those who have been able to function, day-to-day, with their addiction, when loved ones find out that they are dealing with substance abuse, it can be shocking. For example, 20% of alcoholics are considered “high-functioning.” What this means is they get up every morning and go to a job that they can not only hold down but actually excel at. These people are also extremely successful, both in their careers and financially, and there’s a very good chance that most, if not all, people in their lives have absolutely zero idea there’s an addiction issue (via Addiction Center).

Also, what does someone with a substance addiction even look like? Jesse Pinkman in “Breaking Bad?” Rue Bennett in “Euphoria?” A person on the street who’s been outcast by society because of their addiction? Contrary to societal stigma, there’s no one way for people with substance use disorder to look (via National Library of Medicine).

Belittling their addiction and recovery

Although you may mean well when you say something to the effect of, “I totally understand what you’re going through. I can’t live without coffee or an occasional cigarette.” While, yes, these two items are addictions in their own right, and you may be trying to empathize and relate in a way to show your support, but just don’t (via The Walker Center). You saying you’re not able to function before your first cup of coffee in the morning or get through a stressful scenario without a cigarette is a far cry from someone who is battling an addiction to substances like drugs and alcohol.

So before you compare your coffee addiction to someone else’s recovery journey, know this: alcohol, for example, kills and destroys the lives of roughly 90,000 people in the U.S. every year (Via Caron). Alcohol addiction is an epidemic in our society and should never be compared to, of all things, coffee and cigarettes.

Stay away from triggering words

When it comes to supporting someone who’s in recovery, there are words and even thoughts that you might innocently share that can be really triggering. For example, telling your loved one that they can handle one drink or one hit is definitely one of the most triggering and unsupportive things you can say (via Destination Hope).

If someone you love is getting up every morning and struggling to stay away from a substance that they’re in recovery for, to suggest such a thing is cruel — it’s a display of pure ignorance. In fact, if you can, avoid drinking or doing drugs in front of them while they’re in recovery (via Insider).

Although substance abuse is an illness and not in any way a sign of weakness, people can cave. When dealing with a loved one who’s in recovery, remind yourself of this proverb every time you even consider suggesting getting one drink: “A man takes a drink, the drink takes another, and the drink takes the man.”

Don’t suggest there’s an easy way out

Yes, dealing with and caring for someone who’s in recovery isn’t easy. It’s hard to know what to say, what not to say, and sometimes you feel like you’re walking on eggshells. But you need to remember that you know this person — if it’s a parent, a sibling, or a best friend — you have known this person for years, and they’re the same person they’ve always been, but right now, they’re in recovery for substance abuse. Treating them like a child, interrogating them every time they go out, and trying to keep tabs on them in an unhealthy way, isn’t going to make anything easier for anyone (via Shatter Proof), especially because everyone in recovery has a chance at coming out the other side.

“So there is absolutely hope,” co-author of the study on recovery success and teacher at Harvard Medical School, Dr. David Eddie tells NPR. “[Those who survive addiction] end up achieving things they wouldn’t have achieved if they hadn’t gone through the hell of addiction.”

Getting help for any type of substance abuse is true courage. And while some people will have setbacks because we’re all only human, it’s important to be there for your loved one 100%. Make sure they know you’re there for them, through the ups and downs, free of judgment, and with so much love and support.

(Source: The San Diego Union Tribune)


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