You Don’t Say (to an addict)

By Heidi Fogle

There are many ways we can undermine ourselves with the words we use.  That’s even truer when a person outside the recovery community is speaking to someone who’s a substance abuser.

You Don’t Say:

I know just how you feel.

You don’t. We’re all unique enough that we don’t want to hear someone make assumptions. It can feel like an insult.

I can help you stay away from your addiction.

You can’t. This is a red flag that could indicate you think you can cure the problem. You may want to seek help for yourself if you think you are the answer to someone else’s problems.

I said I wouldn’t, but OK. I’ll do it.

Wavering on healthy boundaries (like not giving them money) is undermining to your peace of mind and to their opportunity to face the consequences of their own choices. Increasing pressure from painful consequences is what brings most of us to recovery.

Say ‘yes’ when you really want to say ‘no’.

Though it may seem kind, it’s confusing to them when you allow yourself to be manipulated. They assume you will continue to bail them. Instead of seeking change in their lifestyle, you may unwittingly become a supporting factor.

You don’t have a problem.

If they think they have a problem, they do. Don’t argue. Addicts are masters at deception, so you can’t trust your own observations of the situation. You don’t have the facts.

There but for the grace of God, go I.

Really? God has made more grace available to you than to them? That expression can sound superior and insulting. Debbie covers this well on TMG.

I’m not an addict but…

Even if that’s true, why would you say it? It may make you feel better, but can you imagine how that makes a substance abuser feel? Probably not. Avoid the qualifier.

Much of anything

When they’re under the influence: words don’t help. Wait until they’re not using, if you can tell.

Mostly listen. Say very little. Getting an addict to talk about their struggles is not easy. For the most part, addicts only trust others who’ve been there, so if you haven’t, don’t say much. Treat them with respect, which encourages confidences. By talking about how they really feel, an addict may eventually realize they need to get help. Statistically, if you’re an outsider (non-user), you have little chance of convincing them to change — and trying to do so will result in their silence. Show them love by listening, not talking. Continue to set healthy boundaries or you can even be a stirring example of getting help when you need it.