It is hard for anyone to imagine what life is like for an addict. So much of society has nothing but judgment and condemnation for addicts. There is a pervasive attitude in our culture that views addicts as nothing more than unintelligent people who keep making the same bad choices.
But nobody chooses to be an addict. When a person suffers from an addiction, it is not because they made a series of big mistakes. They usually made a series of small mistakes that added up to one big mistake. And anyone could make a series of small mistakes.
Addicts are accustomed to being treated as carriers of a stigma, however. That means that even if you understand this, you need to know how to communicate with someone dealing with addiction if you are going to do anything with them. Recovery is a highly sensitive process.
And it doesn’t matter if the things you are doing with them is taking them to a rehab clinic or going out to dinner. There are some things you just don’t say. Here are 10 of them.
Don’t Call Them an Addict
One of the clumsy things about the English language is that it has such a preference for titles. A person can’t be a “person with a mental illness”. They “are mentally ill”.
It is simply much faster to call a person an addict than “a person with an addiction” or “a person with a substance abuse disorder”, even though both of those are far more accurate to what is going on inside them. Avoid rushing through identifying a person as “an addict”.
That label is damaging and inaccurate.
Don’t Encourage Their Addiction
This one might seem obvious. Of course you don’t want to encourage their addiction, right? Well, one of the hardest things about dealing with a friend or loved one that has an addiction is the fact that they will advocate for that addiction.
It is all too easy to accidentally play devil’s advocate for addiction. Avoid saying anything compromising. Never tell them it’s okay to indulge just because they have a craving.
Don’t Shame Them
In a societal sense, shame helps people know what behaviors to avoid. But on an interpersonal level, shame is just hurtful and alienating. Becoming a source of shame for someone with an addiction for having an addiction is not going to get rid of their addiction.
In fact, Don’t Shame Others
At the same time that you shouldn’t shame them, make sure that you don’t go shaming other people in front of them. If you make it seem like shaming others is a habit of yours, then they might start thinking that you are shaming them when they are not around.
Practicing patience with others will make everyone trust you more.
Don’t Treat Their Problems as Trivial
Imagine that you have a friend with an addiction that has trouble waking up and getting to work on time. Firmly reminding them of their obligation is fine, but it is also the most you should do.
Don’t act like any problems an addict faces are small, and don’t act like they should “just get better sleep” or something like that. Addiction makes everything more complicated.
Don’t Act Like Addiction is a Simple Problem to Solve
Quick, think of a solution to a drug or alcohol abuse disorder. For most people, the first and last thought they have will be “Just don’t do drugs or drink alcohol”. Any solution that starts with the words “just” or “simply” is oftentimes a massive oversimplification.
Don’t Pressure Them Towards a Particular Solution
If you tell an addict over and over again to check themselves into a place like Gallus Detox Center and they tell you that they don’t want to do that, then listen to them.
One of the most common mistakes people make when trying to help a friend or family member with an addiction is to be in a rush and think of only one extremely linear solution.
A person with an addiction can only get better in the way they are comfortable with. Yes, it is important for them to push the boundaries of their comfort zone. But that is their responsibility.
Don’t Force Ultimatums on Them
One of the worst things that you can say to an addict is something like, “It’s me or the drug,” or “Quit drinking or I leave.” Of course, you are free to leave a person with an addiction if that is what is best for you. But if your intention is to help them, ultimatums will just hurt them.
The problem with ultimatums is that they escalate things and force decisive action. If a person has an addiction problem, forcing them to act decisively is more likely to drive them further down their addiction than anything else, simply because that’s the path of least resistance.
Don’t Tell Them Your Love is Highly Conditional
Whether you love the person romantically, in a familial way, platonically, or in a general human sense, you need to not only let them know, but show them that this love does not require them to jump through tons of extra hoops. This is true whether the person is an addict or not.
Don’t Tell Them Your Love is Overly Unconditional
This is one of the hardest balances to strike. Unconditional love is ideal, but also almost impossible. If a person suddenly starts hitting you every day, it is unhealthy to keep loving them.
If a person gets the impression that you will cling onto them no matter what, even if they start mistreating you, then they will lose respect for you. And that will make helping them harder.
Dealing with someone that has an addiction problem is hard. But it’s not complex. Stay empathetic, hold them accountable for their actions, but at the same time don’t waste time being hurtful. The more constructive you are, the easier it is to help them on their recovery journey.