How to Talk with Someone Who Needs Addiction Treatment

Think of someone in your life who might be showing signs of an addiction. Maybe they downplay their substance abuse as social or recreational. Perhaps you have caught them hiding how often they’re using. You notice changes in their behavior, such as increased aggression or irritability. When someone asks them about it, they immediately become defensive or angry. They might be a high functioning addict and seem to “have it together” on the outside. But even if they sound in control of their habit, their dependency on that substance speaks otherwise.

When someone develops an addiction, their world revolves around using, constantly chasing a high or using just to feel normal. Their judgment and reasoning is clouded. Their emotions are unpredictable, and their thoughts may not be coherent. Approaching someone about such a personal subject is never easy, but that conversation could have major bearing on their future. Consider these tips on talking with someone who needs addiction treatment.

Create a safe place

In our work, we commonly hear stories about people who thought becoming a drug addict or alcoholic “would never happen to me.” Often times an addiction begins somewhat innocently, like taking pain pills for an injury. However an addiction started, recognize that addiction is a chronic disease, not just a lack of discipline or self-control. You can foster a meaningful conversation about addiction if you create a safe place to talk about it.

Regardless of your relationship with the user, approach them as you would a friend. Since this topic carries high sensitivity, express your honest concern for that person’s well-being. Even if their addiction has personally hurt you or your family, this conversation is a time to focus on the user’s health and future. Create a safe environment that would allow them to admit their problem, and err on the side of caring rather than critical. Provide an opportunity to offer hope for change and options to get help.

Be ready for their reaction

When you first address someone’s addiction, they will likely react in denial. When an addict is in denial, they may respond to confrontation as if they feel attacked or accused. If the user reacts this way, don’t feel like your effort was wasted. When you are reaching out in compassion, you are still helping them consider the dangers of their habit, even if they aren’t ready to admit the problem. Let them know you have their best interest at heart.

Suggest a first step

Depending on how your conversation goes, think about how you can walk away encouraging that person, even if they aren’t convinced that there’s an issue. Words like “rehab” or “treatment” can sound drastic to someone who doesn’t think they have a problem. Offer an easier alternative, such as calling a treatment center to get a confidential assessment. Being confronted by a peer that you have a problem might not be as persuasive as hearing it from a doctor. Anyone can call The Walker Center to get a confidential assessment from a clinician. Bringing in an educated, third-party opinion can help a user accept that they need to break their chemical dependency.

Once an addict has admitted they need to change their lifestyle, you can help them navigate next steps and learn their options. See our recent blog on researching treatment programs.