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  • You can help your love ones through addiction recovery by supporting and listening to them, but you must be careful about your own words.
  • The wrong words can easily hurt an addict, even when you didn’t mean it “that way,” which means it’s important you know what not to say and what to say instead.
  • Rather than further highlighting the fact that they’re an addict, praise them for admitting to their problem and seeking help.
  • Don’t assume or pretend you know how they feel—learn more about how they really feel by asking questions and then letting them steer the conversation.
  • Avoid pressuring them into making a promise they’re not sure they can keep; rather, validate the value of their life.

Drug addiction is a complex disease that impacts many. It’s likely that someone close to you is an addict. Being there for them and lending an open ear are two great ways to show your support. However, the wrong words can hurt an addict, even when you mean well. Ensure that your family member or friend feels your love and support by knowing what not to say to someone in recovery and what to say instead.

“You’re really an addict?”

Maybe you were surprised to hear that your friend is in a recovery program for an addiction. You may not have thought there was a problem, or maybe you fear that if the label applies to your friend, it must apply to you too.

Accept and support the person’s admission to being an addict. Give praise such as, “I’m proud of you. That must have taken a lot of self-awareness and courage.” Or, you can offer reassurance: “You’re not alone. I’m glad you found a support system.”

“How long have you been sober?”

The journey to full recovery has both successes and setbacks. This roller coaster trait can make it hard to talk about, especially in the beginning when relapse and slips are more common. Perseverance, not length of sobriety, is what matters.

Instead, ask sincerely, “How are things going?” It’s generic enough not to be invasive, while genuine enough to show that you truly care. It also puts the other person in control of how much to share. Don’t try to pry out an answer. The response you receive will let you know if you need to change subjects or if you can ask further questions, though the best thing you can offer is just a listening ear. After that first encounter, always ask permission to talk about recovery before jumping in.

“I know how you feel!”

Even if you’ve been through addiction and recovery, your experience, thoughts, and feelings are unique. You may understand and relate to your loved one’s experience, but don’t assume you know how they feel. Find out directly with the question, “How can I learn more about what you’re going through?” This may lead to an invitation to attend a meeting, read a book, or converse further. You may end up finding solidarity naturally.

“Does this mean you’ll never [insert addict behavior] again?”

Recovery may seem so far away, and a reminder of permanently giving up the comfort of the addiction may induce anxiety and despair. It’s impossible to predict future actions anyway. This comment also minimized the complexity of the circumstances. It takes a lot of inner work to address the source of addiction and eliminate the desire to abuse substances and behaviors. Validate this by saying, “You deserve to experience health and happiness.” You can also ask what you can do to help the person succeed, such as not drinking at parties you both attend to provide support in tempting situations.

*Desiree Patton is a media correspondent for Pyramid Healthcare, Inc., a provider of treatment for adults and teens suffering from addiction or substance abuse, as well as individuals with mental health disorders.*

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