Addiction is one of the most harshly misunderstood diseases on the face of the planet. Unlike cancer, heart disease or rheumatoid arthritis, individuals who suffer from a substance abuse disorder are very often met with harsh judgement and skepticism. Many people assume that because drinking and drug use is initially a choice, it stands true that individuals who use chemical substances excessively can effectively stop any time they want to. This could not be farther from the truth. Addiction is widely recognized as a chronic and relapsing brain disease – one that devastates the lives of everyone it touches and can be successfully managed – but never entirely cured. What is widely known as the “Disease Model of Addiction” was first developed in the year 1956 by the American Medical Association. Despite this official classification, the dispute regarding whether substance abuse is a diagnosable and treatable medical condition or simply a matter of compromised will-power continues to rage on throughout the country. Anyone who has lived through addiction firsthand will likely tell you that after a while, they lost all choice in the matter. This is because addiction is a progressive and relapsing brain disease, one that strips individuals of the luxury of choice while continuing to worsen if left untreated.
The development of an addictive disorder depends on a variety of factors, including genetic predisposition, the presence of any undiagnosed or untreated mental health conditions and environmental factors – including upbringing. It is not like someone picks up a drink one day and thinks to him or herself, “You know what? I think I’ll be a heavy drinker. I’m going to suffer as many consequences as I can before finally agreeing to go to rehab. Once I’m out of rehab I think I’ll struggle immensely to stay sober, finally experiencing a relapse that pushes my family and friends far, far away and destroys any semblance of the trust I was beginning to rebuild. Fun!” Even if you have not experienced addiction firsthand, it is important to educate yourself on the disease model if there is someone in your life who has been battling substance abuse. Once you have an introductory education, you might be wondering the best way to communicate with someone who is in addiction recovery. What are the classic “do’s” and “don’ts?” Here are a few.
How to Talk to Someone in Addiction Recovery
First of all, keep in mind that everyone who is in addiction recovery has a different personal preference. Some people feel entirely comfortable discussing the finer details of their active addictions – other people prefer to remain anonymous and keep their past struggles private. Some people will readily confirm, “I don’t drink because I’m in recovery” whenever they are offered an alcoholic beverage at a social gathering. Others will say something like, “No thank you, I’m driving.” The most important thing is that you avoid prying – no matter how curious you are. Here are some examples of things you should probably avoid saying to a friend that is in a program of addiction recovery:
- “Hey, I know you’re sober and everything, but I kind of miss how much fun we used to have when we were partying all of the time.”
- “Are you sure you can’t just have one?”
- “So, I heard that you went to drug rehab. Everyone is talking about it. What was that like? Were you basically locked up with a bunch of crazy meth heads, or what?”
- “Doesn’t Alcoholics Anonymous require you to believe in God? Gross.”
- “What’s the craziest thing that ever happened to you while you were intoxicated?”
- “God, don’t you miss drinking? I definitely would.”
Basically, be sensitive. Remember that if your friend is in early recovery, he or she might still be experiencing drug or alcohol cravings, and might get triggered by certain things that you say. Try putting addiction into the context of another life-threatening disease. If you had just been diagnosed with diabetes, for example, would you want a friend to approach you and say something like, “Damn dude, I can’t believe that you got diabetes! Why did you do that? I would totally hate to have diabetes, that would suck so much.” Always come from a place of empathy and compassion. Here are some examples of things you can safely say to a friend regarding his or her recovery, on the other hand:
- “Hey, your mom let me know where you were for the past month. I’m sorry that you were struggling, hopefully you have had a positive experience in recovery so far. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to make the process any easier, and know that I will always support you on your path to self-betterment. If there is anything I can do to help, just let me know.”
- “I understand that recovery is a personal experience and I want you to know that I don’t expect you to share anything that you don’t feel comfortable sharing. I do, however, want to better understand your current situation. Would you mind if I asked you a couple of questions about your personal experiences with addiction and recovery?”
- “I have no idea what exactly you’ve been through, but I do know that it must have been tough. While I can’t relate based on my firsthand experiences, I want you to know that I support your recovery and I would love to help in any way that I can. I’m completely fine doing anything you want to do that doesn’t involve drugs and/or alcohol. We can go to the movies, go mini-golfing, have a beach day or hang out by the pool. I am completely onboard for whatever you want to do. In fact, I’ve always been interested in taking salsa lessons – maybe that’s something we could do together.”
- “I’m so proud of you.”
- “I can tell that you’re a lot happier than you used to be, and seeing that makes me so, so grateful. You have seriously come so far. I hope you know how inspirational you are, not just to me, but to everyone who knows you. I really admire your strength and your willingness to do what you need to do in order to have the best life possible.”
Overall, offer support knowing that your friend has recently gone through an unimaginably difficult time and made it through to the other side. It can be difficult to grasp the ins and outs of addiction, but even if your friend does not feel comfortable openly discussing his or her personal experiences, there are steps you can take to get informed. Reach out today for a list of available resources.
Chapel Hill Detox – The First Step on the Road to Recovery
Chapel Hill Detox provides men and women of all ages and walks of life with the clinical care they need in order to begin their own personal journeys of healing. If you have a friend who has been suffering at the hands of a substance abuse disorder and you feel as if you are stuck between a rock and a hard place, we are available to help. Simply give us a call and we will gladly give you a list of resources while doing everything we can to help point you in the right direction.