3 Tips for How To Talk to a Loved One About Addiction
It can be hard to watch your loved one suffer with mental health or substance use. Here’s how to open up communication and build trust.
By Adam Hartzell
As CEO of SouthLight, Adam is frequently asked the question, “How can I help someone who is struggling? Here’s how he starts that conversation.
When someone you care about is spinning out of control, the urge is to save them. Too much drinking, too many pills, too much anxiety or depression – it can be hard to watch your loved one suffering.
First, you want to keep them safe. Second, you want to keep them from harming others. You want to return to a happier time when you did things and laughed together. It can be difficult to know how to start that conversation when there is so much denial, and when so much change is needed.
Your goal in a single conversation is not to “save” or solve the entire problem, but to open up communication and begin to develop trust.
Let’s be honest; one discussion isn’t likely to solve a complicated pattern of substance use. Your goal in a single conversation is not to “save” or solve the entire problem, but to open up communication and begin to develop trust. Your loved one needs you now more than ever!
When you are ready to start that conversation, here are three things that you can try:
1. Remain Calm and Listen
A discussion about substance use needs to be a two-way conversation – both people talking. It is important that you are intentional about maintaining your cool. Don’t assume that you have to do all the work, and you definitely don’t want it to turn into a shouting match. What is most important is that you listen.
A good way to make sure you are truly hearing the other person is to ask questions rather than make statements.
A good way to make sure you are truly hearing the other person is to ask questions rather than make statements. You might make a non-threatening observation followed by an open-ended question. For example: “Last night, I noticed you seemed sad. Is there anything going on?” or “You have a lot on your plate. Are there times when it’s easier to zone out than deal with it all?”
And, if you feel yourself getting frustrated by the responses, it’s time to walk away from this encounter and try again later. If you get angry, or make accusations, your loved one will shut down. Think of each conversation as an opportunity to build trust.
2. Recognize Fears
People often turn to alcohol and drugs because they believe, rightly or wrongly, that it makes things better, even if only for a limited time. Often, they fear that opening up a discussion with you, or anyone, will mean they will have to give up what is currently taking away the pain.
Understanding what your loved one fears most will help guide your discussion.
Understanding what your loved one fears most will help guide your discussion. Phrases that acknowledge those fears will help him or her feel heard. It recognizes their wishes and helps make them feel in control. For example: “Having fun with your friends is important. I imagine it would be hard not to drink when you are hanging out with them.” or “It can be hard to sleep sometimes with so much going on. Are the pills helping you to sleep?”
3. Take Small Steps, not Big Leaps
Drastic change in actions, such as giving up alcohol or pills immediately and going cold turkey can be scary, painful and possibly harmful. It can be overwhelming for your loved one to imagine life without the routines that come with using substances.
Focusing on the present and chunking the request into small manageable steps might be one way to open the dialogue.
Focusing on the present and chunking the request into small manageable steps might be one way to open the dialogue. For example: “I am not asking you to give up anything. I would like you to talk to someone about why you are feeling so sad. Would you be willing to do that?” or “Your situation is unique. Let’s see if a conversation with a counselor would help you sort through it all.”
In the end, your love one will need a lot of support on their journey, whenever the time comes for them to begin down that path. And remember SouthLight Healthcare is here to help. Call us when your loved one is ready to begin that conversation.
In the end, your love one will need a lot of support on their journey, whenever the time comes for them to begin down that path.
About SouthLight Healthcare:
Founded in 1970, SouthLight Healthcare is one of the area’s largest nonprofit providers of substance use treatment and mental health services. SouthLight partners with individuals and communities to provide innovative treatment solutions delivered with compassion and dignity. With outpatient and community-based programs, SouthLight provides prevention, education, and treatment services in the Triangle and beyond. Call 919-787-6131 for help or more information or visit www.southlight.org.
Read more about CEO Adam Hartzell here.