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How to Check in on Someone Who Has an Addiction

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Having a friend or family member with a substance use disorder (SUD) or alcohol use disorder (AUD) can be challenging to deal with. Many of us naturally fear saying something insensitive, accidentally offending their loved one, or offering the wrong advice.

Below, we will discuss some of the best strategies for offering compassion and support when checking in on a loved one with an addiction.

Why checking on someone who has an addiction can be difficult

Addiction is a complicated illness. Even those who are not in denial that they have an SUD or AUD can be frustrated and confused by the disease. Addictions can come in many forms, such as the obvious drug and alcohol dependency. But there are other forms of addiction, such as gambling, compulsive shopping, sex addiction, and so on. 

Because of the confusing, inconsistent, often volatile, or even life-threatening nature of addiction, many friends and family members are understandably reluctant to talk to a loved one about their addiction.

Common reasons that loved ones might resist addressing an addiction

  • Fear of saying the wrong thing and causing the person to withdraw
  • Discomfort about the language of addiction
  • Confusion about the nature of the disorder
  • Anger or hurt about actions that have occurred during active addiction
  • Anxiety about conflict 

These are all valid and reasonable feelings, and many friends and family members of loved ones with an addiction turn to trained therapists to talk through these issues. There are also global support groups like Al-Anon Family Groups that are specifically geared toward the loved ones of addicts. There are also numerous resources, books, websites, and forums dedicated to supporting the families and loved ones of addicts.

Best ways to check in on someone who has an addiction

Now we understand why people struggle to reach out, but what can we do? Here are some tried and tested tips and tricks for supporting a loved one with an addiction. 

Don’t fear hard conversations

Many loved ones avoid honest conversations or “real talk” because they are worried that they may cause the addicted person to feel triggered to use substances or relapse if they’re sober. This is an understandable fear and it is good to be mindful of emotionally triggering language or conversations. However, it is often far better to show your loved one that you’re supportive and present in their lives and risk possibly saying the ”wrong” thing than it is to stay silent or avoid difficult conversations out of fear.

Isolation is a big problem for someone seeking sobriety, so communicating your presence and willingness to talk will likely be far more helpful than harmful. You don’t need to say the perfectly “right” thing to extend your support and share your concern. Sometimes the best thing to say comes straight from the heart. 

If your fear of saying the wrong thing is preventing you from reaching out, it might be worth scheduling a meeting with a trained substance abuse counselor or therapist to help you work through those worries and create a game plan for supporting your loved one.

Ask what they need

No two people recover the same way. Ask your loved one how and when you can support them, and then follow through with what they request. Some suggestions for ways you can show support include:

  • Attending 12 Step or support group meetings with them
  • Acting as a “lifeline” that they can text, call, or visit if they feel like relapsing
  • Spending leisure or recreational time with them
  • Checking in regularly (weekly, bi-weekly, daily, etc.) 
  • Helping them identify their reasons for wanting to stay sober and reminding them of those things when they’re feeling triggered to use substances

Actively destigmatise addiction

Many addicts avoid reaching out for support because of embarrassment or the moralization of the disease of addiction. Isolation and shame can often push the addicted person away from those who love them most and towards the people who judge them least (usually others who are also dealing with addiction). 

Addiction doesn’t make someone a bad person, just like kidney disease or diabetes doesn’t make someone a bad person. And like other chronic medical conditions, addiction typically requires a treatment plan (sobriety), medical monitoring (psychotherapy, counseling, and sometimes medically assisted treatment), and support from loved ones to encourage healthy decisions. 

Remind them that you care

Sometimes all someone needs to hear is that they’re not alone. As previously mentioned, addiction can be incredibly isolating. Shame leads to increased substance use. Increased substance use leads to guilt. And the cycle continues in perpetuity. 

Letting your loved one know that you don’t judge them and that you want to understand what they’re going through can make all the difference. Part of providing unconditional positive support can include educating yourself on the biological, psychological, and social nature of addiction. 

Takeaway

Support from family and friends for someone with an addiction is often crucial to recovery. Knowing how to extend a helping hand is a significant first step to building that healing relationship with your friend or family member. You don’t have to be perfect or say all the right things to show love and support. 


Scott H. Silverman is the author of The Opioid Epidemic and frequently makes appearances on television discussing the addiction trends that are impacting our lives. He created Confidential Recovery in 2014 to specialise in helping executives, veterans, and first responders recover from an addiction to drugs or alcohol. The private and highly clinical outpatient treatment program for substance use disorders can be reached at: https://www.confidentialrecovery.com/.

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