How to talk about your addiction is a huge hurdle for many people as is how to tell someone about addiction. Many people living secretly with an addiction don’t know how to take the first step in seeking help for it by admitting to addiction. Of the estimated 20.3 million adults in America with a substance use disorder in 2018, 12.2 million had an alcohol use disorder (AUD), 5.4 million had an illicit drug use disorder, and 2.7 million had both. Even though it’s tough, confessing addiction—even talking about addiction—is not as difficult as it may seem. It is possible to come out of the shadows of addiction by coming clean and asking for help.
How to Take the First Step in Seeking Care
Most people with an addiction, one that they know is harmful, don’t know how to take the first step in seeking care. Instead, they live secretly with their addiction and go out of their way to keep their troubles hidden. Yet, there is no shame in seeking care. Indeed, it’s essential to getting on the eventual path to healing. Here are some thought-starters on how to talk about your addiction.
The Problem Won’t Go Away on Its Own
Understand that if you don’t take a step to get help, the problem will not go away on its own. Does the first step have to be admitting to addiction to your spouse? No, you could seek professional help first, but one of the first things they’ll probably suggest is to be honest with those close to you, as those individuals are in a position to be your constant support.
In fact, honesty is crucial in how to talk about your addiction with your spouse or anyone with whom you’re close who may be integral in your support network. By being honest, this takes a great burden off your shoulders. This will allow room for your spouse to be an invaluable source of support in your healing journey.
How Much to Share
Perhaps it’s best to avoid a total addiction confession all at once. After all, this is a lot of information to absorb and that may prove too overwhelming for both parties. Instead, figure out what’s absolutely necessary to confide now. Include basic details in admitting to addiction, such as what drugs, how long the drug use has gone on, etc.. Later, as trust deepens between you and your spouse, you can add more details in talking about addiction.
Expect the Relationship to Change
When admitting to an addiction to a spouse, there’s no doubt that the relationship between the two partners will change. While it seems like this would produce a negative shift in the relationship, that’s neither automatic nor necessarily permanent. Granted, when you consider how to talk about your addiction to your spouse, keep in mind that they may first react with distrust and hurt. The initial emotional reaction is likely to be intense, especially as your addiction affects the spouse in addition to you.
In addition, your spouse will almost certainly change their perception or how they view you. Respect your spouse’s feelings since they’re affected by your addiction as well. It will take time for your spouse to process these negative emotions. However, the changing relationship could eventually strengthen your closeness. Be patient and stay optimistic—and loving.
Plan the Conversation with Your Spouse
Planning how to talk about your addiction with your spouse seems like a daunting prospect. Yet, taking apart the basics and keeping in mind that it’s important to understand how a spouse will see it from their perspective will make it easier.
It’s likely that a spouse will be aware there’s a problem, if they’re not already aware of the addiction. Despite believing in their ability to keep a lid on the problem, the addicted individual almost always misses the clues that give away their addiction. In this, they’re not as clever as they think. Knowing this should make it less burdensome to open up to a spouse and confess addiction.
Tips for How to Talk About Your Addiction
Instead of a vague plan that involves admitting to addiction, having a few tips to follow may make the endeavor less onerous and more likely to succeed. At the very least, there’ll be specific things to work on in how to talk about your addiction to your spouse, and this should provide a confidence boost.
1. Write it Down
Anyone preparing to give an important speech or deliver a crucial talk knows what they’re going to say before they start speaking. The first recommendation for effective speeches is having a written document, as a springboard from which to expand or a word-by-word speech. Regarding how to talk about your addiction to your spouse, it’s advisable to write out specific points you want to say, even constructing sentences with carefully chosen words. It’s not necessary to read this speech aloud to your spouse, though, as it’s more of a tool to help you organize your thoughts. Thinking about the total message may help you tell a spouse about the addiction. After writing the speech, select the key elements and put them in bullet point format as a handy reminder in case you get distracted during the conversation.
2. Consider Timing and Location
This is not a conversation to have when your spouse is going out the door, or when the two of you only have a few moments to talk. As this is likely one of the most important conversations you’ll have with your spouse, it requires careful choice of the most appropriate time and location for the discussion. Be sure the time you select is one that will be uninterrupted, and that you set aside several hours to accomplish the goal of admitting to addiction.
3. Be Open
Openness is better than hiding, especially when talking about specific drugs, how long you’ve used drugs or alcohol, how drug use made life worse, and what recovery or sobriety steps you’re ready to take.
4. List Your Triggers
It isn’t enough that you know what your triggers are. You should share this list with your spouse. The people, places, and situations that trigger your drug and alcohol use are points that your spouse needs to hear. Why is this important? When your spouse knows what these triggers are that could lead to relapse, they can better support you in helping you to avoid them. Another aspect to cover is to confide what it is about these triggers that affect you.
As a dialogue between two spouses, this is not just you talking. Both parties should have ample opportunity to speak. As for your spouse, it’s vital that you listen to any questions, concerns, and fears they bring up, and that you take them seriously. If possible, understand where these issues come from. It may be that your spouse comes from a dysfunctional family where alcohol and drug use were a problem.
Fear that the marriage or partnership will dissolve due to your addiction may also be present. Perhaps there’s a distinct lack of knowledge about addiction in general that needs attention in the form of education. For this, encouraging your spouse’s participation in family support groups may be beneficial, particularly if you enter drug or alcohol rehab or treatment and also attend support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.
While saying you’re sorry isn’t going to guarantee everything is fine, it is a necessary part of how to talk about your addiction to your spouse. The apology should reinforce your regret for any harm this has brought to your marriage, to your interaction with children, family, and friends, what damage it may have caused to finances, health, career, and other important aspects of life.
7. Seek Support
If you’ve already begun attending support groups, or have gone to rehab or treatment for addiction, include these details in how to talk about your addiction. Stress your personal commitment to seeking help and ask for your spouse’s support in your recovery process. What also may be helpful is going to couples therapy, as partners who have a difficult time navigating when one partner has an addiction may need professional help to get through this time.
What are the Next Steps?
If you’re admitting that you know you have an addiction and need help, it can be helpful and reassuring—(for both of you)—for you to have a plan to seek help ahead of the conversation. Another option is to ask for your spouse’s help in seeking treatment and recovery. When you’re worried about how to tell someone about addiction, specifically your addiction, it always helps to have a plan, familiarize yourself with the parts of your plan, craft what you want to say, choose a time and location to have this discussion, and enlist their support in your recovery efforts.