Starting the conversation
If you are concerned about a friend or family member’s alcohol consumption or drug use it may be helpful to raise your concern with them. Your actions, words and support could bring them one step closer to recognising their addiction and getting help.
It is okay if you feel unsure about talking to someone about their addiction. Raising concern can be a challenging task and it is normal to worry that starting the conversation will result in an emotional outburst or argument. By considering the following points, and preparing yourself as best as you can, the conversation can be a little easier.
If you would like some one-on-one support, chat with one of our friendly counsellors online anytime. Our service is free, confidential and available 24/7. You can also chat to others with similar experiences on our friends and family section of the forum.
Understand their situation
Know what is happening so you can have an informed conversation. You might want to keep an eye on your loved one for a few weeks, to identify the signs of a problem. You may also wish to learn more about addiction – understanding the factors that can lead to addiction and how it is a chronic illness can help you to approach your loved one with compassion, and understand their experience.
Prepare what you want to say
A good way to reduce any worry you have about starting the conversation is planning what you will say. Having an outline of the thoughts or information you want to bring up can help you to be more effective and assertive when you talk to them. You might want to consider raising the following:
- the person is important to you, and that you are there to support them
- there are signs of a problem that are causing you concern
- that things can change for the better, and that there is help and support available to them, and
- that you want to hear what they have to say, and work out how you can move forward together.
There is no ‘right’ way of expressing things – the main thing is to be thoughtful and genuine in your approach. An example might be, "I know you’ve been having trouble sleeping and concentrating lately, can we talk about that?"
Also think about how you will respond to any objections, and be prepared to be flexible. It can be helpful to remember that by confronting a person about their addiction you are taking a stand against their illness, to stand with them. Also keep in mind that if your loved one responds with any resistance or anger that they are not resisting you, they are resisting the conversation and what may come from it.
Remember that you don’t need to have all the answers – it’s about starting the conversation and the support you offer by listening and talking. By identifying that there are signs of an illness, showing you care and offering to talk, you can make a difference.
Think about the most appropriate time and place to talk to your loved one. Choose a time when you are both calm, when the person is not under the influence and find somewhere private where the person will feel comfortable. You want to speak to your loved one when they are most likely to be receptive and able to participate in the discussion.
You might want to open with, "I’d like to talk something over with you that’s been worrying me. Is this a good time or shall we talk later?"
Maintain your composure and keep a calm tone
Remember that as the initiator of the conversation it is important for you to keep a level head and control the flow of the conversation. Be aware of your own body language, maintain eye contact and try to stay in a relaxed position. Speak calmly and be mindful that using an attacking or judgmental tone may make it harder for the person to recognise that you are trying to help them, and result in them getting defensive.
Instead of saying “You shouldn’t use drugs” (judgmental tone) you could say, “When you use drugs I worry that ___” (concerned tone).
Be a good listener
Try to make it a two-way conversation and do not underestimate the power of listening. Giving the person time to talk, opportunity to respond and letting them know that they have been heard is a valuable and supportive contribution. Understanding how they think and feel about their addiction is important to handling the situation.
Be patient – it may take a while for your loved one to process what you are saying and respond to your concerns. They may need to continue the conversation with other people or take more time to consider their consequences of their addiction, before they feel ready to take action.
If this happens continue to show your support and try to help them realise how addiction is affecting their life and how things could be better. Stand your ground and be firm in your belief that your loved one needs, and deserves help.
Consult a professional
Speaking with one of our counsellors can give you an opportunity to ask any questions you may have and provide you with an individualised, professional opinion on the best way to handle the situation.
You might also want to access support for yourself, as understandably addiction can affect the people around the person using alcohol or other drugs too.
What can I do next?
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