BLOG | Five ways to talk to your family member about their addiction

By Cathy Allen, LPCA

What is the best way to talk to my family members about their substance abuse?

According to the NIH (National Library of Medicine) approximately half 46% of our nation’s families are affected by substance abuse. Therefore it stands to reason that broaching this subject with your loved one could be quite difficult. The short term and long term effects of substance abuse use can be traumatizing to the loved ones who are dealing with the consequences and behaviors of their sick family member.

However, there is hope that can help families with understanding and the communication process of this Brain Disease. Here are some ways that may help “Bridge the Gap” within the family system.

Once you observe questionable behavior such as: changes in sleep patterns, appetite, mood, interpersonal relationships/conflicts, financial issues, loss of job or keeping a job, slurred speech, changes in hygiene or skin and most importantly witnessing drug paraphernalia or use then it is time to make a move.

Try using some of the suggested tips below:

1. Wait for the right moment

Do not bring up the subject when the person is intoxicated because their ability to logically reason with you will be non-existent. The person may have lack of impulse control and become physically violent and verbally combative.

2. Check yourself

Do not be intoxicated or under the influence yourself, this will only exacerbate the issue instead.

3. Focus on dialogue

Pick a time to talk when everyone can have a dialogue or two-way conversation. The goal is to be able to express your concerns and allow for understanding, and empathy to the issue. It is best to set aside a time so that there will be no interruptions. Allow your loved one to express their thoughts and emotions without judgment from you.

4. Show them you care

During the meeting make it clear that you are here because you care about the person and are worried about the effects their drug use has been causing them. Point out what you have witnessed personally with them. Try to avoid lecturing them about “what you know and learned from social media” This will only put them on the defensive.

5. Question using kindness

Use open-ended questions, such as; 

“How have you been sleeping and eating lately? I have noticed a change.”

“What happened to your job? I noticed you have been absent lately.”

“When is the last time you had a good night’s sleep or saw your doctor.” 

Avoid “yes or no” questions such as;

“Did you eat today, or did you sleep today?”

“Is this your wine bottle,” instead, say, “Where did this wine bottle come from?” 

Do not expect a miracle overnight with their thinking process or behavior because this may be the first time anyone has approached them about this problem. Often the addict may feel embarrassed or ashamed when confronted about their drug use. Often, addicts convince themselves that “no one knows I have a problem. They can’t tell I have been using.” 

Avoid trying to convince them that they have a problem. Instead, keep the lines of communication open when met with resistance. Explain that you want to help and will listen if they wish to talk. 

It is crucial to avoid “you statements” such as; “you need to stop drinking so much, you are gonna lose your job” or “you are stupid for using drugs.” 
These statements only breed anger and resentment and are counterproductive to helping the addict with their problem. Instead, try using “I” statements such as: “I am concerned about your health or mental state” or “I am worried that your behavior may harm you or someone else.”

About Cathy Allen, LPCC

Cathy Allen is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor who focuses on helping others in Addiction Recovery Care’s Lexington outpatient office. She graduated with a Master’s of Education, Human Resource Counseling.