Addiction Recovery - Relationships in Recovery

Talk About Drug Addiction: How to Confront Someone You Love About Their Drug Addiction

Talking about drug addiction is never easy, especially with a loved one you're concerned about. Here's 12 tips on how to do it the right way.

How to Talk About Drug Addiction

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

September 8, 2023

The Edge Treatment Center

While the SAMHSA National Helpline is a free and confidential service that is operated on a 24/7, 365-day-a-year scale, a helpline might not always be able to provide timely intervention. Such resources are better for getting treatment referrals and information about drug rehab or addiction treatment options, helping families and individuals who are struggling with substance use disorders.

While such initiatives are as important as community drug treatment programs and social support groups that help recovering addicts maintain sobriety, they cannot replace your role in confronting someone you love who has developed a drug addiction.

When your friend or someone in the family is showing clear signs of substance abuse, it becomes your responsibility to help someone you love.

However, talking about drug addiction is not easy.

Addiction By the Numbers:

The World Drug Report for 2019 estimated that nearly 35 million people in the world suffered from drug use disorders, but only 1 in 7 received treatment.

Talk About Drug Addiction: The Challenge

Talking about drug addiction with a family member is not expected to be pleasant. There is a big chance that a person with drug addiction might get overly defensive. Addiction is not limited to merely obsessively smoking, injecting drugs, or drinking alcohol. It soon becomes a psychological issue, impairing the judgment capabilities of the person.

As a result, when someone is confronted, there are arguments, and things can quickly spiral toward violent reactions too. The person using drugs can seem unreasonable and hyper, refusing any wisdom or advice you might provide.

Whether it is your sibling, husband, wife, parent, best friend, or work colleague whom you care about, you can talk about drug addiction with an individual with addiction and create positive outcomes with a bit of preparedness.

Talk About Drug Addiction: 12 Good Tips

Here are a few pointers about how to talk about drug addiction and turn around a person towards self-introspection, seeking help, getting treatment, and hopefully, taking the road that leads to a rehab center.

Talk About Drug Addiction: Do the Groundwork

In almost every instance of drug addiction, denial is the first reaction. When confronted, most drug users will deny the severity of the problem. Some might even put it down as having used drugs just a couple of times to beat the stress or as a part of partying with friends. Such folks usually believe they can stop at any time and have no compulsion to use. Here, your groundwork can help. 

Talk About Drug Addiction: Gather Information

If you have a list of all the school days, working days at a job, family dinners, and events like birthdays and weddings that the person missed, you can present more facts. People with a drug addiction usually have a pattern of missing out and being absent, apart from running into fights at school or at work, coupled with DUIs. Some start getting sicker a lot more with repeated hospital visits.

Bringing up such instances can help you navigate through the many excuses that will come up.

Talk About Drug Addiction: Gather Irrefutable Evidence

Trying to talk about the emotional changes in somebody can be difficult to explain or prove. Someone with an addiction is not expected to own up to strange mood swings or unreasonable behavior. Instead, try to quote symptoms/signs that are hard to refute. You need to provide a reality check by highlighting any of the easily visible, classic symptoms of addiction, such as:

  • Bloodshot eyes 

  • Extreme weight fluctuations

  • Unexplained nose bleeds

  • Remaining lazy or sleeping through the day

  • Trouble falling asleep during normal night hours

  • Neglect of personal hygiene, basic self-grooming

  • Shrinking circle of friends and excessive in-fighting with siblings, cousins

  • More than a couple of episodes of stealing money from someone at home

  • Unable to maintain concentration at work or school with a considerable dip in performance

  • Increasingly finding it challenging to communicate about the smallest things with slurred speech

Talk About Drug Addiction: Look for Drug Paraphernalia

If you are ready to do the dirty work, there is every chance of finding more physical evidence that is always hard to deny. This includes gathering drug paraphernalia that often comes with an addiction taking shape. If you can team up with a family member, it can be easy to find more physical evidence, such as:

  • Tiny bits of cling film

  • Paper wraps littered everywhere

  • Small plastic bags used for stacking drugs

  • Bits and pieces of rolling paper in the car, study room, garage, etc.

  • Classical drug user’s supplies like syringes, spoons, and burnt/used foils

  • More than one instance of finding concealed bongs, pipes, or pierced plastic cans 

  • Increasing instances of missing prescription medications at home, leading to excessive instances of pain medicine or opioid prescription drug refills

Talk About Drug Addiction: Do the Homework 

You might find yourself in a spot where someone with a drug addiction seems ready to listen, but you find yourself short on words. It is not easy talking about addiction if you are not educated about the subject. The more informed you sound, the chances are that you will look like a more authoritative figure, someone who understands the struggles of a person caught up in active addiction and can really help.

If you have too many blanks during the interaction, and if you are not clear about how addiction works, how it wrecks personal relationships & mental health, and how rehabilitation can help, your loved one is less likely to even sit through the intervention.

Being educated about drug addiction means you should be confident when talking about:

  • Struggles of someone who is addicted

  • Types of medication available to stage a complete recovery

  • How the problem is not limited to a family or a neighborhood

  • It is normal to seek counseling or guidance to find a solution 

  • Making a complete turnaround is always possible by seeking timely help

  • Detox can help purge the body & mind

  • Addiction due to stress at school or work needs psychological help, and it is easily available

  • You and other family members are ready for group counseling since it is normal for families to come together during such times

  • You are ready to take up the responsibility of helping the person maintain participation in peer support groups

Talk About Drug Addiction: Get Help

Trying to confront a loved one about a drug addiction might also bring up the worst emotions in you. Such interactions might mean revisiting unpleasant memories and discussing family situations to which there is no ideal response. The good idea is to get some support at the outset, teaming up with someone who can help if you struggle during the intervention.

Better still, if you have the time to visit the community and volunteer programs in the neighborhood that help people stay rooted in their drug recovery journey, try to get some tips from the group. It would be wonderful if someone with experience in drug abuse interventions could provide you with a checklist of all the things you should have to navigate such interactions.

If you are unsure how stern you would sound, get the help of a family member who can fill in at the right time and ensure that your loved one understands the seriousness of the problem. Not just family members, family friends, or the best friend of a loved one with an addiction can be of help. If you can network through drug rehab forums, you can get some insight by reading about the experiences of families and people who have fought addiction within the family. This can provide handy tips to handle the emotional turmoil associated with confronting someone with a drug addiction.

Talk About Drug Addiction: Clarify Consequences & Define Boundaries 

Getting into the conversation with clearly defined goals is a great idea. The interaction is not about blaming your loved one and inducing a sense of shame or guilt which can backfire and stop the person from seeking help. Instead, your goal is to get your loved one into a drug detox or rehabilitation program. It is better to present treatment as “help” without getting too deep into the clinical part of a rehab program. It would help if you also defined some consequences without sounding unreasonable or threatening. 

Defining boundaries is about tough love. You must confront loved ones for their own good but still sound strict and unyielding to any excuses. People talking about drug abuse often fail to mention the promise of unconditional love no matter what challenges arise during rehab. At the same time, you must clarify that continuing without getting help means being cut off financially in all possible ways.

While you emphasize being ready to bear the cost of treatment and traveling for miles to get the best drug abuse treatment, establish a clear NO for any financial help if a person is not ready to seek help immediately.

Ways to Define Consequences

You can define some consequences without sounding threatening. Some examples include:

  • Not paying for the tuition fee (when your loved one is in college)

  • Taking away privileges like a personal car

  • Putting up limitations to interacting with kids in the family

  • Not paying the allowance (when the loved one is a minor)

  • No more vacations or shopping trips (until the person agrees to get treated)

Consequences can be quickly followed by some realistic awards, like:

A fully paid-for overseas vacation upon completing treatment

  • Getting a fully personalized, redecorated room upon completing treatment 

  • The allowance amount being increased

Talk About Drug Addiction: Timing Matters

There is no perfect time to talk to your loved one about drug addiction. Such difficult conversations need to be handled as soon as possible but just try to ensure that you stage the confrontation better. Timing it when other family members, not the kids, are also going to be home is a good idea.

Picking the day when the loved one seems most sober is highly recommended. Clear up your schedule also. You don’t want to be getting calls from work or being reminded about another client meeting during the intervention. The smallest things, like having the liberty of ordering your loved one’s favorite junk can help—it is about making the environment more conducive. Choose a day that is without distractions like a big game day or a weekend when you are expecting guests.

Talk About Drug Addiction: Be Polite, Yet Stern

You may be emotionally overwhelmed upon learning that a family member has been abusing drugs. However, the intervention is not the stage to express your feelings. When confronted, someone doing drugs might even blame you or lie about the instances you quote.

However, like a therapist, you have to maintain your composure. Don’t vent your grievances, as this stage is not set for you—the focus is to make the loved one realize the severity of the problem and get help. It would help if you sounded clear and authoritative but without getting angry or being opinionated. Try to be sympathetic but have a clear and firm stance that you don’t wish to argue, and your only objective is to get the person into a drug addiction treatment program.

If the conversation borders on discussing difficult situations or phases of trauma that made the person use drugs in the first place, sound sympathetic without mulling for too long about the incidences. Blaming yourself, your loved one, or a situation at home will not be very productive.

Talk About Drug Addiction: Keep Your Expectations Realistic

Keep realistic expectations as you most probably have not done this before, and things might not turn out as planned. A confrontation can get ugly too. However, none of this means that things will not work out. Don’t be too harsh on yourself or your loved one.

When confronted, someone with a drug addiction can say the worst things that might be very hurtful. Often, this is out of fear of being found out and when rehab or a treatment sound very harsh—expect this without hoping to emerge as a savior. It is better not to expect a note of thanks or gratitude for your efforts.

Talk About Drug Addiction: Have A Plan B

A worst-case scenario is very likely when you confront someone about drug addiction. The situation can quickly get out of control, or you might face questions with no ready answers. This is why educating yourself about addiction and all aspects of drug rehab is necessary, but you also need to have some backup plans in case you find yourself cornered or without a proper response.

An example: You should have more than one rehabilitation option to quote. If the individual seems apprehensive about a stay-in facility, like those found in residential rehab programs, quote the virtues of an outpatient rehab program. If the person is afraid that a nearby outpatient detox center can let out the ‘secret’ about going to rehab, bring up the advantages of a distant but good inpatient rehab center that might offer more secrecy.

A first attempt or even a couple of attempts might not create the required impact. This is how therapy works with professional counselors and therapists. So, while you might feel disappointed, you should try again after a few days, allowing yourself some time to prepare better. You can also reflect on what could have been handled better.

Talk About Drug Addiction: Have More Options

If you are still wondering about how to start talking about drug addiction with someone you love, please note that such apprehensions are expected—confronting someone with so much preparation seldom happens.

However, if you are scared of the outcomes, perhaps you need to consider the options and bring in someone else who is likely to handle it better. Also, there are options in the form of professional counselors and experienced rehab specialists ready to provide counseling. Yes, this means bringing someone to a rehab center, but it takes the pressure off you to confront someone repeatedly.

The Edge Treatment Center Can Help You Talk About Drug Addiction with a Loved One

The Edge Treatment Center can provide guidance for intervention and provide clarity about the path to sobriety via detox, withdrawal management, and post-treatment support. Our effective, evidence-based treatment programs welcome input from friends and families. For us, recovery is a team effort.

If you’d like to learn more about our drug treatment programs and how you can help your loved one rebuild their life, just reach out to The Edge Treatment Center today.

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