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Finding the Right Words: How to Talk to Someone With an Addiction

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Having a constructive conversation with someone struggling with an addiction can be challenging, especially when your own fears and frustrations may be clouding your thoughts. Doing some research beforehand and thinking through what you want to say can help prepare you for discussing dependency with a loved one.

What you want to do…


What you COULD say…

“Everyone can see that you’re an addict. What’s wrong with you?”

Effect it has on the addicted person

Blames, shames, and immediately shuts down any possibility of a constructive conversation.

What you SHOULD say…

“Hey I’ve noticed you don’t quite seem like yourself lately. I want you to know that I am here to talk anytime.”


What you COULD say…

“Why didn’t you pick up your phone when I called? Are you drinking again?”

Effect it has on the addicted person

Centers what could be just a normal lapse in communication completely around an addiction, and puts the other person on the defensive.

What you SHOULD say…

“I tried calling a little earlier but wasn’t able to catch you. Can you give me a call back when you get a second?”


What you COULD say…

“Okay, so here’s what you need to do in order to beat this thing.”

Effect it has on the addicted person

Frames you as the expert in addiction as well as your loved one’s specific needs, and disempowers their own ideas and self-understanding.

What you SHOULD say…

“It’s so great you’re thinking about treatment. I have a few resources that I can share with you if you want.”


What you COULD say…

“Oh, I know exactly how you feel. This actually reminds me of the time I…”

Effect it has on the addicted person

Shifts the focus to you, instead of allowing the space for them to talk through what’s going on.

What you SHOULD say…

“I’m so glad you can talk to me about this. I’m always here to listen.”


What you COULD say…

“You’re so embarrassing when you drink. You were rude to me in front of everyone.”

Effect it has on the addicted person

Immediately lays blame on the person without taking into account the way addiction works, and limits the possibility for a productive conversation about the problems related to their addiction.

What you SHOULD say…

“I feel like when you drink, it really changes the way we interact. I think when we have a conversation, we should do it when we’re both sober.”


What you COULD say…

“Wow, it’s so great you went to treatment! Let’s celebrate at that restaurant on the corner. Are you okay to have a beer every now and then, because I sure could use one.”

Effect it has on the addicted person

Puts someone in a potentially triggering situation, and ignores all the work the person has just done to regain their health.

What you SHOULD say…

“You look great! I’d love to hear more about how you’re doing – happy to meet you anywhere that works for you.”

Do’s and Don’ts of Conversations About Addiction

Loving someone with an addiction can be frightening, frustrating and utterly baffling at times. These conflicting emotions make knowing what to say and how to check in feel awkward and difficult. Here are a few do’s and don’ts to guide your conversations and help keep channels of communication natural, positive, and constructive.

1. Do speak to your loved one, not their addiction – no one wants to be defined by an illness or a disorder, and those battling addiction are no different. Avoid labels and pointed questions (i.e. “You didn’t pick up my call – were you using again?”) in favor of open-ended questions that encourage genuine conversations.

2. Do educate yourself about addiction – it is easy to simply fall in step with the turbulent emotions related to loving someone with an addiction and respond based on those, but this likely won’t help your interactions with them. Being informed about addiction and understanding the science behind it will give you a better idea about why people living with an addiction do what they do, and will help you respond more constructively. 

3. Don’t tell someone how to deal with an addiction – just as you would not tell someone with cancer how to manage their treatments or emotionally process their diagnosis, you shouldn’t instruct someone on how to overcome an addiction – especially if you’ve never done so. Instead, offer a listening ear and support for good decisions. You may also want to prepare some helpful resources like books or websites on addiction, or contact information for an addiction counsellor to provide to your loved one if they ask for it.

4. Don’t wait – if you suspect that a loved one is developing an addiction, the earlier you speak with them about it the better. Remember that the tone you want to strike is not accusatory, but observational and from a place of care and concern. Listen more and talk less in order to open up ample space for the person to analyse and reflect on their choices.

5. Don’t expect it to all get sorted with just one talk – addiction didn’t happen overnight, and neither will the process of acceptance and recovery. Settle in for multiple conversations, and recognise that it may take time for your loved one to even admit they have a problem. 

Overcoming Addiction at The Dawn

Overcoming Addiction at The Dawn Thailand

At The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab Thailand, we offer a comprehensive addiction programme for individuals struggling with substance addiction, behavioural addictions and co-occurring disorders. The fundamental objective of our programme is for clients to achieve and maintain long-term recovery by equipping each individual with a personalised set of coping tools to use when dealing with life’s challenges.

The Dawn offers long-term rehab that focuses on in-depth mental health treatment and further guidance through the continuum of care, which includes detox, addiction and mental health treatment, a step-down programme, and an aftercare plan. This means that instead of spending four weeks in treatment and then heading home, the rehab model is generally eight weeks, and is flexible, all-inclusive and can be extended based on the unique needs of the client.

Call The Dawn today and learn more about our holistic and innovative addiction treatment.

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