You’d be surprised at how harsh and thoughtless people’s words toward addicts can be. Here are some phrases people inadvertently or unwisely say to addicts, that fail to understand the disease of addiction.
“Come on, you don’t have a problem. Everyone has a drink sometimes.”
Normalizing someone’s addiction like this makes it so hard for them to want to admit they have a problem and seek help. I get it, we all want to make our loved ones feel like there’s nothing wrong with them. Like they don’t have to be ashamed of anything. But if you normalize alcohol abuse and drug abuse, you are dealing with life-threatening addictions. It is better to be supportive than try to dismiss addiction as normal.
“Why can’t you just stop abusing drugs and alcohol?”
Addiction is something that is hard to understand if you don’t suffer from it. It is a condition where your body cannot function the way it used to without providing it a certain substance. If you take that substance away, it will start going through withdrawal symptoms and your body will begin to detox. When you stop using drugs and alcohol, you should seek out a medically supervised alcohol detox program. It is dangerous, and indeed, can be life threatening with certain addictions, to go through detox without a certified expert on hand.
“You can’t possibly be addicted to drugs, you’re still so functional!”
Kind of like the first one, this one excuses your friend from being concerned for their wellbeing by seeking help. Admitting that you have an addiction to drugs or alcohol is a really scary thing already. You tell your friend that they’re “too functional” to have a problem is counterproductive. It is absolutely a myth that being an addict necessitates that you are a logistical mess. It is true that often the first part of an addict’s life to be affected by their struggle is their responsibilities and the everyday logistics of their everyday lives. But not everyone experiences addiction in the same way.
“Just exercise and you won’t feel so depressed”
An exercise is a wonderful tool for fighting depression and anxiety. The dopamine released in your brain from heavy exercise can echo the effects of drugs or alcohol. This is a wonderful way to deal with malaise or mild depression. It is even a great way to work on making your life a well-rounded healthy life. But exercise cannot cure addiction.
“What do you have to be so depressed about? Stop being so negative all the time.”
Telling an addict to stop being so negative is far from helpful. Almost every addict you’ll ever meet is wrestling with thoughts and feelings that are so much more complicated than a feeling or mantra you fake until you make through. It is obviously true that if you can have a positive outlook in life, your life can feel lighter. Maybe those decisions feel easier or maybe you just find it easier to make it by as an optimist. But do not assume your loved one is suffering from addiction due to a negative outlook. It’s so much more complicated than that.
“Your life is fine. You’re just feeling sorry for yourself!”
First of all, this is never a great way to approach someone who is depressed. Walking someone deeper into the whole of depression by convincing them that they are just feeling sorry for themselves can do a lot of harm. Addicts often suffer with shame. Indeed, that is often the emotion that they were dealing with when they first started looking to self medicate. Telling someone that they’re just feeling sorry for
“You just need some perspective so you won’t feel so sorry for yourself.”
As soon as you go through medically supervised alcohol detox and drug rehab program, you won’t have to worry about working so hard toward sobriety.
“Why are you hurting me like this?”
Though their drug abuse and alcohol addiction may be hurting you, it is most likely that the addict in your life has no intention whatsoever of hurting you. People experiment with drugs and alcohol for many reasons but it is very unlikely that they started using to do anything but make themselves feel better for even a temporary amount of time.
“I’ll never feel sorry for you until you take responsibility for yourself.”
The fact that your friend is talking to you about their addiction means they are working on taking responsibility for themselves. Admitting you have a problem is really hard. You know the mantra “admitting you have a problem is the first step” and it’s true. If that’s what they’re trying to do, don’t question it. Tell them you’re proud of them for taking responsibility for themselves. Tell them that you appreciate them feeling like they can talk with you about it. But don’t reject their first steps toward recovery by diminishing how difficult that step is.
“You can decide to stop anytime. You just refuse to do it.”
No. This is just completely untrue, and not at all fair or safe to say to an addict. There is a reason why people go to drug rehab centers, and alcohol treatment centers to go through detoxification and alcohol and drug rehabilitation treatment. It can be dangerous to do these things without being medically monitored by a licensed professional.
“If you really wanted to stop you could do it. You just don’t want to.”
Addiction is no respecter of will. Which is to say, people who are addicted cannot stop on command. Addiction is a physical condition. The body changes the way it responds without a substance. Sometimes a body will stop working altogether if you go cold turkey when you are trying to get help for your addiction.
Never encourage an addict to stop using drugs or alcohol without the help of a doctor or rehab clinician. Without the proper care and tools, withdrawal and detox can cause problems and wreak havoc on internal systems.
“If you tried harder you could get clean. You’re just not really committed to it.”
Do you know an addict that has been in and out of rehab and therapy? Don’t tell them it’s their own fault. I don’t know their situation, but I can guarantee it’s not for lack of wanting to be healthy. It is never the right choice to drag someone down as a strategy to get them to deal with their problems. When you tear down someone’s morale, they are substantially less likely to believe in their own ability to withstand treatment.
“You would never do this if you really loved me.”
This is one of the most hurtful things you can say to someone. It’s likely that the addict in your life is already filled to the brim or overflowing with shame, guilt, and self-hatred. Indeed, it is even likely that they know you feel this way. That they love you the best they can from the very complicated place, they are struggling from right now.
It’s hard to feel generous when someone’s addiction is affecting our lives for the negative, but try to maintain a sense of compassion and generosity. It’s important and good to have open and honest conversations with your loved one or friend who has an addiction to alcohol or drugs, but it needs to feel like a safe conversation. This kind of accusation will make it hard for them to hear you because they’ll be too busy beating upon themselves.
“You’re just so selfish. Don’t you ever think about the way this hurts everyone around you?”
This one hurts just reading it. Of course, they think about it. Every day. I guarantee they brood about and obsess about and are miserable thinking about the way their addiction is hurting or affecting other people’s lives. The addict you know is taking the steps to talk to you about their struggle because they desperately want to take responsibility and work toward a sober life.
**If you know someone who suffers from drug or alcohol addiction please support them. The easiest steps to take are these: bring compassion to the table when you talk with them. If they approach you asking for help, sit down with them and help find a drug and alcohol rehab program that works best for their needs.