Talking to a Loved One Recovering from Addiction

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It can be tough to know what to say or how to approach a loved one who has just completed treatment, no matter the strength of your relationship. While you may want to express support, it’s also important to recognize the private and personal nature of recovery. On the other hand, you may feel uncomfortable discussing your loved one’s treatment at all.

No one’s experience with addiction and recovery is the same. However, there are a few general strategies that can make it easier to communicate with a loved one who is pursuing sobriety.

Ask open-ended questions about their treatment and recovery.
By asking open-ended questions, such as “How’ve you been?” or “What’s going on?”, you give your loved one the opportunity to respond in the level of detail they’re most comfortable with. Their response also provides a good clue as to how willing they are to discuss the details of their treatment and recovery. Open-ended questions allow you to express support without pressuring your friend or family member to discuss their new sobriety.

Avoid setting expectations.
Setting expectations for your loved one in recovery may actually be setting them up to fail. Only they know what goals and expectations are reasonable, and setting expectations may imply that your support is conditional. Let your friend or family member develop their own goals and celebrate with them once they achieve them!

Offer new ways to spend time together.
Your loved one’s addiction may have prevented them from spending time with you, or your previous bonding experiences may have centered on sharing drinks at happy hour every Friday. Regardless, offering new ways to spend time together can help rebuild that relationship and give you and your loved one the chance to find new and healthy hobbies, like biking, hiking, visiting museums, making crafts, or taking a cooking class.

Communicate directly and ask for space if you need it.
Addiction can strain even the strongest of relationships. You may still harbor anger, resentment, or pain caused by your loved one’s actions, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you need space, be direct in asking for time apart, although avoid being mean-spirited or punitive. It’s okay to take a break from a relationship or friendship for your own well-being.

Ask how to help.
Ask your loved one what kind of support they need, and be aware of any coping strategies that they’ve developed for tough social situations. Work directly with the person in recovery, rather than assuming you know best how to handle any issues or struggles they face. It’s important to give your loved one autonomy and trust their judgment when it comes to their own path to recovery.

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