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How do I relate / talk to an addict?
Seeking Treatment - Freedom From Addiction

I live in the Rust Belt area and a lot of people I know suffer from deadly addiction. I’ve tried to help friends and family but it seems like this is a true disease. How do you recommend relating to them so they can be open to seeking treatment?


First, I want to remind you that whether someone seeks treatment or not is completely out of your control. That is a lot of pressure to put on yourself. However, there are some things you can do to help support a loved one.

Talking to a loved one about their alcohol or substance use and treatment can be uncomfortable, challenging, and scary. Many fear they will upset their loved one, that it’s not their place to say anything, or that they might even make the situation worse than it already is. All of these are actually realistic possibilities. You cannot control how someone responds to your concern, and they might not be open or ready to hear what you have to say. Denial is not uncommon. However, if you are noticing signs of your loved one abusing drugs or alcohol it is important to address it as soon as possible. If you care about someone, it could be worth it, as you could be the catalyst for your loved on getting the help that they need.

How Do I Approach Them?

It is important to schedule a time to talk with your loved one and ask permission to begin a conversation. Designate a good time with limited distractions. Be sure that the person you are addressing is not impaired, hungover, or preoccupied when you are going to begin your talk. Remember this will likely be an ongoing conversation, but starting it as soon as possible is important. Limit distractions by turning off the television and putting away electronics. Use “I statements” in communicating how your loved ones’ what you have observed and how their behavior or use has impacted you. Don’t be a parent, cop, or teacher, but instead be a friend and listen. Come from a place of caring and concern, rather than preaching. Don’t talk at them, but instead have a two-way conversation.

Here are some helpful suggestions:

  • Approach it as a problem of your own by using “I Statements” and feeling words. For example you can say “I’m worried,” “I’m concerned,” “I’m afraid.”
  • Continue to use “I” statement to show your support, such as “I care about you, I love you, and I’m worried about you.” Avoid using “you” statements like “you need help” or “you have a problem.”
  • Anticipate that your loved one may retaliate with hurtful words such as tell you are the one that needs help, put you down, or say other hurtful things. This is a common response because they are on the defense and scared.

Keep in mind that your role is to provide support. You cannot fix your loved one or the situation. Avoid using statements that are judgmental or trying to tell them what to do. The conversation you are having with your loved is very important. Use this opportunity to listen and respond, when appropriate, using encouraging words.

Helping Someone With Addiction:

There are several options for helping your loved one to get the help that they need.

  • Find a mental health professional who has experience with substance abuse. The mental health professional can help guide you and support you. Your loved one can get evaluated and provided with a specialized plan for treatment.
  • Find local support through Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Al Anon groups. These groups provide a community of support, encouragement and camaraderie for those who are trying to overcome their addictions.
  • Help your loved ones follow through with treatment. The changes your loved one will be making can be challenging, so your support can be incredibly helpful.
  • Find support and treatment near you. Al-Anon Family Groups/ Al-Anon offers support for family and friends of individuals who struggle with alcohol or substance abuse.

* All responses provided by a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

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