Addiction Recovery - Relapse Prevention

10 Wrong Things You Can Say to Someone in Recovery

10 Wrong Things You Can Say to Someone in Recovery

Words have an impact on a person in substance addiction recovery. Talk with your loved one about phrases that hurt and join family therapy.

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Addiction Recovery

Relapse Prevention

February 1, 2022

After a person with a substance use disorder (SUD) completes an addiction treatment program, you may not know what words or phrases you should avoid. You want to support their recovery, but you're conflicted. How do you approach your loved one? You might not even be aware that some words or phrases will hurt your loved one to hear.

When a person asks for your support, talking with them may be more straightforward. However, not everyone will ask for help. An open, honest conversation about what words hurt and what words are okay provides the guidance you need to back your loved one's recovery.

The Effect of Words

People often overlook the power of words to lift someone up or tear them down. Even if someone seems strong, they are sensitive to their weaknesses. Many must still process their SUD and the effect it had on others. The thought of repairing relationships and maintaining their sobriety is, at times, challenging, so someone being careless with their words around them can be damaging.

Accepting that weakness is strength is another obstacle for many to understand. When a person knows their faults, they have the chance to assess the causes and work toward a healthy alternative to harmful behavior. The choice to enter a substance addiction treatment center takes their weakness and makes it a strength. Likewise, the approach you take when talking with a loved one in recovery can encourage them.

Phrases to Avoid

Common phrases intended to boost a person's self-confidence or mood can actually be damaging to a person. You may not think about the effects of telling someone something you think is helpful. If you've used these phrases before, don't feel bad. This is a space to learn. Make amends where they're needed, and avoid these phrases in the future:

  • 1. "Everything will be fine." Maybe everything will be fine, but those working on their recovery are adjusting to life without substances. They don't always need reassurances of some far-off day when their cravings are gone, and life is normal. Sometimes they need someone to listen to how they're struggling and help them through the difficulty.

  • 2. "That's not how you should deal with your issues." Though substance use is not a healthy way to deal with issues, drugs and alcohol often grip a person with claws that are near impossible to break away from. When you tell someone how they're handling a situation is wrong, you judge them. A person who feels judged is unlikely to seek help; judgment also harms that person's self-image, and they may have a hard time coming to you when they need a friend.

  • 3. "I give up." No one said being a friend or family member of someone with SUD is easy. There are times when your loved one is difficult, insecure, or struggles with their feelings. Be kind and stay by them. They're going through many changes and adjusting to them is difficult.

  • 4. "You made a choice." A person doesn't choose to become addicted to alcohol or drugs. Substances affect the brain, leading to dependence on the substance. In some cases, genetics or the environment play a role in substance addiction.

  • 5. "If you don't do this, I'll do that." Ultimatums make a person feel isolated. Instead, ask them how you can help or help them seek treatment. Encourage, don't threaten.

  • 6. "Remember when?" If a person who drinks stumbles down a flight of stairs and asks what happened the night before because they have a bruise, that's one thing. Once a person gets into recovery, bringing up the past isn't supportive. Few people like reminders of things they did when under the influence of substances.

  • 7. "Why didn't you stop?" Substance addiction isn't like most behaviors. While you may not understand how a person can lose control over substances because you can stop drinking doesn't mean everyone can. Think of something you would have difficulty giving up, like sugar. The effects of sugar on the brain are reminiscent of the impact of drugs on the brain. Perhaps you feel sugar cravings when you're stressed because you know it will decrease feelings of depression or anxiety. That's what substances do on a much larger scale. Substances temporarily reduce or numb harmful feelings, and people's bodies and minds can become dependent on their effects.

  • 8. "You're an addict." People are not their disorders. You wouldn't say to someone with cancer they're cancer. A person can struggle with SUD, but calling them by their struggle is damaging and unproductive. Further, “addict” is often viewed as a harmful term. Someone with SUD may think you're telling them it's their fault when it's not.

  • 9. "Your habit." Exercising is a habit. Journaling every day is a habit. These are choices a person makes in their life. Addiction is not a choice. 

  • 10. "There are people in worse circumstances." Diminishing a person's thoughts, feelings, or experiences never helps. Suffering is not a contest, and comparing experiences doesn't get anyone anywhere. If your loved one feels you're comparing their experiences and SUD to others', they may feel judged. They may also believe you're not open to listening to them when they need support and understanding.

The Decision To Seek Help Is Never Easy

A person who completed a substance addiction treatment program made a difficult decision to seek help for their substance use disorder. As a friend or family member, you want to acknowledge their strength and bravery but might be unsure how to talk with your loved one. Ask them if they’re willing to engage in an open, honest conversation about their substance addiction recovery.

The Edge Treatment Center is here to help you begin a healthy, supportive relationship with your loved one. In addition, we offer family therapy, which prepares you to support your loved one in their recovery. To learn more about our services, call (800) 778-1772.

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