HomeAddictionWhat to Say to a Family Member with a Substance Use Disorder

What to Say to a Family Member with a Substance Use Disorder

Written By: Harris House

Category: Addiction, Blog

Couple walking outside.

If the home environment isn’t suitable for a hard talk, a walk may be a preferable alternative.

Open lines of communication are critical to the wellbeing of all human relationships. However, this is sometimes easier said than done — especially when sensitive topics are involved. In the case of substance use disorders, however, a productive conversation can be the difference between life and death. If you suspect that a family member or friend may be suffering from a substance use disorder, you may be wondering how to broach the subject. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has assembled a helpful resource for facilitating the conversation.

Here’s a closer look at SAMHSA’s advice aimed at helping loved ones who are using drugs or drinking too much get the help they need.

Five Steps to Having the Conversation

SAMHSA sets forth five specific ways to help, including the following:

1. Identifying an appropriate time and place.

Not all times and locations are ideal for having a difficult conversation with someone. What is the first step in encouraging your loved one to open up? Pick the right setting at the right time. A private place with limited distractions is best. Home is a comfortable environment for many, while taking a walk may be better for others. If your loved one is busy, stressed, or impaired at the moment, postpone the conversation for another time.

2. Expressing your concerns directly. 

Beating around the bush doesn’t make a hard conversation any easier. Instead, be as straightforward, honest, and direct as possible. Ask how your loved one is feeling before getting right to the point: the reasons for the talk and your concern.

3. Listening and acknowledging how they feel.

Your loved one is likely to shut down if he/she feels judged. Instead, pay careful regard to how they’re feeling through open and active listening. If you have a family history of substance use disorder, bringing it up may help your loved one feel less alone.

4. Offering your help.

Because people often withdraw from their families and friends out of shame and embarrassment, living with a substance use disorder can be isolating. Furthermore, while addicts may want to change, they can also feel trapped. Reassure your friend or family member that addiction is treatable and that you’re ready, willing, and able to help. Take the burden off of their shoulders by locating a reputable treatment facility and connecting your loved one with them.

5. Practicing patience.

Your loved one did not develop a substance use disorder overnight. Nor will he/she magically heal just because you’ve addressed the problem. Give it time, and recognize that the road to recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. Resolve to continue to reach out with offers to listen and help for as long as it takes. And remember: while it may seem hopeless, people can and do recover every day, and family support is a big part of the process.

Hand shake.

Your judgment-free offer to help may be the one your loved one’s been waiting for.

Four Phrases to Have Ready

Finding the exact words can be difficult in the moment. SAMHSA has also provided a list of “what to say,” including the following:

  • “I’ve been worried about you. Can we talk? If not, who are you comfortable talking to?”
  • “I see you’re going through something. How can I best support you?”
  • “I care about you and am here to listen. Do you want to talk about what’s been going on?”
  • “I’ve noticed you haven’t seemed like yourself lately. How can I help?”

Notice that each of these phrases leads with care, concern, and compassion. These qualities are essential to ensuring optimal outcomes when talking about this difficult topic.

One last thing to keep in mind? Not all addiction treatment programs are created equal. Finding the right rehabilitation center can help lay the best foundation for lasting recovery. Enter St. Louis area rehab Harris House, which has provided targeted treatment for substance use disorders for more than 50 years. Contact the Harris House team today for more information.

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