Recovering from an addiction is not an easy process. It requires years of determination, bravery, treatment, and support from loved ones. Unfortunately, it is very easy for a well-meaning or frustrated loved one to say the wrong things, damaging the person’s ease of recovery. Though your loved one’s recovery is certainly hard on them, it can also have a negative effect on those around them. This can cause anger and irritation as the person struggles to cope with sobriety.
To those who have never been addicted, simply quitting can seem easy. You may feel that your loved one just isn’t trying hard enough. With all the potential for these negative emotions, here are a few things you should avoid saying to someone recovering from addiction.
“You did this to yourself.”
Shaming a person for their addiction is not helpful to anyone. There are many reasons a person may become addicted to a substance, and none of them include a desire to develop an addiction. Some of the most common reasons include self-medicating and escapism.
People who have a physical or mental illness may take to using substances as a way to cope. This is known as self-medicating. They think the substance is helping the illness when in reality, it’s only making things worse. This results in a vicious cycle.
People living in unfortunate circumstances like poverty or abusive relationships may also be more likely to abuse substances. They are looking to forget their lives for just a little while and feel relaxed and happy. LGBTQA individuals, for example, very commonly experience social rejection, verbal abuse, and even physical violence. These negative experiences are enough to make someone seek an escape.
“I know exactly how you feel.”
Even if you have suffered through addiction recovery yourself, saying their difficulties are no different than yours is an unintentional way to invalidate their struggle. By saying that you have already gone through this and survived, you may be making them feel weak or as though their experience is commonplace. It tells them that if everyone else can handle the struggle, they should be coping better. Each recovery is unique, and each person experiences their path differently.
Quitting can be easy for some but nearly impossible for others. It’s not a matter of strength but rather a physiological difference in each person. Never try to say that your experience is the same and certainly never tell a recovering addict that you understand if you have never experienced addiction.
“Why don’t you just stop?”
Not only is this unhelpful but it also makes you sound ignorant. A person who is truly addicted cannot just drop the substance and walk away with no difficulty. Addiction is classified as a mental illness with actual changes in the brain as the substance abuse goes on. People who abuse substances for long enough can actually develop a mental disorder such as anxiety or depression.
Addiction is not a decision; it is a legitimate health problem. If you cannot imagine telling a person with a broken arm to “just fix it,” then you shouldn’t be telling a recovering addict to “just stop.”
As a loved one, your support is hugely important to someone recovering from addiction. By keeping in touch, you are preventing social isolation, depression, and even relapse. People working to better themselves need the support of others in order to achieve such a difficult goal. As long as you avoid saying negative things and focus on positivity, recovery, and beneficial lifestyle changes, you have no reason to worry about saying the wrong thing.