How to Talk to an Addict in Recovery

In this guide, we go through the best way to talk to someone in recovery. It can be difficult to know exactly what to say and what not to say. 

Here’s a look through the eyes of someone who is in recovery. What matters to them, and how to build a stronger and healthier relationship.  

Table of Contents

What to Ask (and Not to Ask) Your Loved One in Recovery

Every year, millions of Americans are affected by addiction; addiction is a tricky disease that doesn’t discriminate, causing heartbreak and hurting many families and friends. It’s a fact of life that most of us will encounter addiction at some point, whether it’s our family or friend. This is a difficult journey for everyone involved, and it’s important to go into such a challenge with an open mind and a willingness to listen and love. If you are facing this situation, you’ll want to know how to best talk to a recovering addict. There are some things you should say and ask, while there are some questions you should avoid bringing up. Although this can be a tricky time for everyone, as emotions—such as stress, frustration, and disappointment run high—it’s important to do your best to communicate healthily and openly, which will benefit both parties. If you’re struggling with this scenario and are unsure where to start, take a look at some of these tips and suggestions for successfully communicating with an addict in recovery. We want to help you, and your addicted loved one communicate better as your relationship becomes stronger and healthier. What can you ask and not ask your addicted loved one while recovering without causing a relapse?

What Addicts in Recovery Need: Positive Attitudes & Support Group Guidance

It’s essential to rely on positive thoughts and encouragement when talking to those who have faced drug addiction. Loved ones must know what to ask and what not to talk about because this knowledge will empower them to serve as the best support system. If you don’t know how to talk to someone about their drug addiction, you may find yourself at a loss for words or saying the wrong thing. ABTRS understands your worry and wants to help you through this. To succeed in sobriety and achieve a better, happier, and healthier lifestyle, a recovering addict will need a lot of resources at their rehabilitation center and within their group of family and friends. This is especially true for those who are parents or in a romantic relationship. Often, partners and spouses have to cope with intense feelings of worry, distrust, anxiety, and anger, while the recovering patients are more likely to be striving for happiness and hope. This means that family and friends need to work through their feelings before talking to or visiting their loved ones because they need a pathway for clear communication. With thoughtful support and careful conversations, recovering addicts can unlock the tools they need to remain dedicated and determined to get better and eliminate their drug and alcohol-related demons for good. In many cases, family and friends of addicts can benefit greatly from participating in support groups, where they can learn more about the guidelines for safe and healthy communication during this time, as well as get the chance to talk openly about what’s on their minds.

What Can You Ask Your Addicted Loved One About Their Recovery from Drugs & Alcohol?

One thing to remember is that you may not be able to have the same kind of conversations that you had when your loved one wasn’t in rehab. Instead, when speaking to this person, remember to be sensitive and straightforward. Comfortable Topics that are Trigger Free: One of the top suggestions for those wondering how to talk to a drug addict is to ask the recovering person what they feel comfortable about and what topics they would rather avoid. Some people may feel better if they address their situation head-on, while others may prefer to talk about other things and enjoy their time with family and friends. During your loved one’s recovery, It’s a good idea to ask questions such as “How are you feeling?” and “What do you need?” The key is having honest and healthy conversations and letting loved ones know they can come to you for support and guidance. It’s perfectly fine to ask for suggestions on how you can best help. Be upfront that you will be there for the long run, and you will be by their side as they strive to improve. It’s beneficial to set up boundaries and expectations for communication and contact.

Stand by Your Word & Stick to Your Boundaries: If you promise to be available 24/7 for your loved one, you should stand by your words. If you don’t feel like that’s possible, set up other expectations, such as that you’ll visit once a week or call three times a week. Do your best to stick to this schedule so you can provide some stability to your loved one during this difficult time. Providing Constructive Feedback: Another idea to keep in mind is that you can ask for permission to provide feedback on the recovery process. Once you have the go-ahead, you can let your loved one know how proud you are of them and what differences you notice in their behavior and health. This subtle yet meaningful encouragement can make a huge difference and give people the motivation and momentum to continue their recovery and stick to their sobriety. As part of this new chapter, you should also provide supportive and constructive suggestions and comments about room for improvement to help the person achieve more and stay on the right track to a better future. Let Them be in Control of Their Journey in Recovery: You should remind the person that they are in control of their journey and destiny. You can be there to help them as much as possible and offer that much-needed and appreciated love and guidance, but your loved one needs to make the right choices to continue recovering and truly take care of themselves. What Does Their Support System Look Like: Talk to them about their other support systems and resources, such as counselors, life coaches, and doctors. It’s great to give these people a chance to speak openly about their experiences and how they’re coping with all of life’s changes. Make sure you bring up healthy choices and lifestyles, such as getting enough sleep at night, eating a balanced diet, and participating in safe and social activities that promote improved mental and emotional health.

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Avoiding Topics that Cause Relapse: What Not to Ask Your Recovering Addict

You want to keep your conversations with a recovering loved one in a respectful, caring, and productive light. That means there are some things you shouldn’t say to maintain a good relationship and support, rather than hinder, their recovery journey.

It’s not necessarily natural to know how to talk to an addict. Still, if you want to be close to your loved ones and continue to help them throughout their recovery, you’ll need to watch what you say and focus on positivity, not negativity.

Avoid Details About Active Addiction:  Rather than asking about the details of their drug addiction, ask questions about their other interests and passions. It’s important to remember that drug or alcohol dependence doesn’t make up an entire person, and there’s much more to every individual than just addiction. That’s why, rather than asking them where they got the drugs and who they did them with, you should bring up more promising areas such as sports, subjects they enjoy studying, or pastimes they participate in. Addiction should not be what defines them as individuals, and you should be careful to ask questions and bring up topics that reflect such a belief.

Traumatic or Shocking Experiences: Another talking point to stay away from is your surprise or shock they suffer from addiction. Every newfound sober person is extremely susceptible to triggers, and hearing something like “You don’t look or seem like an addict” isn’t helpful.

Everybody has a different experience, and addiction doesn’t discriminate based on race, gender, or socioeconomic status. Even the most put-together, professional, and successful people can fall into the trap of drug and alcohol abuse, and saying statements like this promotes ignorance and misunderstandings rather than support and encouragement.

Similarly, avoid extremely personal and difficult topics like overdoses, moments of clarity, and hitting rock bottom. When former addict is trying to move forward and put their addiction behind them, the last thing they need is to be reminded of their darkest days. Such a question may bring up bad feelings surrounding spirituality, self-awareness, and shame, which could set your loved one back rather than put them forward in recovery.

Respecting Their Boundaries to Remain Abstinent: In addition, asking questions about one’s ability to drink alcohol still is also a no-go area. Addiction can easily span multiple substances. Just because an individual may have become dependent on heroin or painkillers doesn’t mean they won’t have an adverse reaction or become addicted to alcohol. Using alcohol is not the right kind of topic to be talking about with a former drug addict.

Educate Yourself About Addiction as a Disease Before You Ask: Lastly, it’s in the best interests of you and your loved one to avoid asking a question like “How do you know you’re an alcoholic/addict?” While you may be curious, this isn’t a good time to ask such questions. Not only will you seem ignorant, but it may also seem like you’re challenging the person’s self-judgment.

Instead, it would help if you tried to educate yourself about the recovery process and the multi-faceted addiction disease. This way, you’ll be able to make a big difference in your loved one’s recovery process, and your relationship with them will reap the benefits.

Make your marriage, partnership, friendship, or familial bond a priority by doing your best to understand the addiction journey and help your loved one in any way possible, including through positive communication. You’ll be amazed at the difference this will make!

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Our writers are experienced in everything related to addiction, mental health, rehab and recovery.

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