Whether we like it or not, our lives are filled with difficult conversations. Talking about the birds and bees with our children, for example. Talking politics over Thanksgiving dinner with squabbling relatives. Firing an employee who just can’t meet expectations. Reminding a friend they owe you money. Admitting you’ve done something wrong or embarrassing. Confronting someone about inappropriate language or unwanted advances.
None of these talks are easy.
Ranking toward the top of the list of awkward and challenging conversations is talking to a loved one about a substance abuse disorder. This is true for any number of reasons. You don’t want to be wrong, for example. You don’t want to make the person you love feel worse because you think it might contribute to the overall problem. And you don’t want to make a friend or family member angry, especially if it puts your relationship at risk.
But just like all the other unavoidable and awkward conversations mentioned above, talking with someone about their potential addiction is sometimes impossible to avoid. Or rather, it could be avoided, but not without risking the health—even the life—of the person you are reluctant to confront.
These Signs Point to a Problem
You may have suspicions that a loved one is struggling with an addiction, but maybe you’d prefer to avoid examining the situation too closely as a way to avoid a confrontation. That strategy might seem appealing, but it won’t make you feel any better in the long run. More importantly, it won’t get your loved one on a path to treatment, recovery, and lasting sobriety. So it is important to recognize the signs of addiction when you see them.
Those signs may include physical changes:
- Unexplained and sudden weight gain or loss
- A sudden decrease in concern about personal hygiene
- Glazed or bloodshot eyes, skin discoloration, or bad breath
- Slurred or otherwise unclear speech
- Unexplained and significant increase or decrease in energy
You might also note behavioral changes:
- Defensiveness or paranoia
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Memory loss or difficulty concentrating
There are also behavioral signs to watch for:
- Money management issues
- Associating with a new circle of friends (and possibly avoiding longstanding friends)
- An increased appetite for risk
- A decreased appetite for participating in favorite hobbies and activities
- An unexplained increase or decrease in sexual desire and activity
Once you’ve seen the signs, it’s time to have the conversation.
Having a Conversation Free of Accusation
Before you talk to a person about your suspicions of addiction, you will want to carefully consider what you plan to say. As a rule, you should try to frame the conversation so that you are expressing concern and offering to help rather than accusing your loved one of something.
For example, it probably will not be helpful to start out with a comment like, “You are always drinking too much when we go out in public. It’s embarrassing to me, and I would think you’d be embarrassed, too.”
Instead, try to express yourself in a less confrontational manner. This often means starting with an “I” statement rather than a “you” statement. For example, you might say, “I’ve noticed lately that you’ve been drinking more than usual when we go out. Why do you think that is?”
It must be noted that this approach isn’t some sort of conversational magic. Your loved one may well still try to avoid having the conversation, make up some excuse, or even get angry with you. But starting with “I” rather than “you” does open up a space for talking about difficult things in a calm manner and might reassure your friend or family member that you are not judging them. Whenever possible, clearly communicate that you are trying to help and support them—not accuse them or belittle them.
Getting to the Key Question – and What’s Next
Ideally, there will be a moment during the talk when you can ask your loved one whether they are willing to get professional help. If the answer is yes, then you have already made a major difference in the person’s life; now you can help them follow up on that willingness to enter treatment.
Often, however, the person you are trying to help will resist that help, deny there is a problem, and refuse to change their behavior. In that case, it may be time to consider planning an intervention with other friends and family members who share your concerns. If it comes to that, it is essential that you find and work with a professional—for example, a social worker, psychologist, physician, or substance abuse counselor—who can help you develop a plan that will be both respectful and effective. That plan will include deciding what to say (and where and when to say it), choosing who should be present, and adopting a realistic attitude about possible results of the intervention.
Straight Talk About How We Can Help
Wooded Glen Recovery Center in Henryville, IN, offers evidence-based treatments for people suffering from substance abuse disorders as well as co-occurring mental health disorders. When you talk with a loved one about their addiction, you can feel confident suggesting Wooded Glen as a possible location for detoxification and residential addiction treatment. We know that first conversation can be difficult. We want to make the next steps easier for you and your loved one.