Tough conversations: How to Communicate with an Addict
You can rise above anything in life with a positive attitude.
If you have a deep desire to help someone dear to you who is dealing with an addiction the most valuable piece of advice to heed is to keep the door open. What door you ask? Your own one. The way you communicate with an addict, offering much-needed support and appropriate advice can change a person’s outlook on life and may swing an addict towards rehabilitation and the light of recovery. It may be one of the toughest things to do if it has been before (or many times before) and the results have been negative. It is also hard to keep a hand outstretched if it keeps being bitten.
The truth of the matter is that no one can force a person to change. We can, when we communicate with an addict, however, maintain a positive connection and give a loved one the supportive atmosphere in which the seeds of change could be fertilized and grow. The real challenge you may need to face is the ability to rise above negative feelings and use your own strength to offer encouragement and empathy. It’s not an easy thing to ask of a person when they are feeling hurt and resentful. A little bit of digging through the topsoil however and you may reveal buried feelings of affection.
That is not to say or even begin to suggest that all is good and well and the addict is forgiven. It hardly means that the hard work is over and the roots of the relationship have all mended. It also does not infer that you are not angry and hurt. You can feel anger and love at the same time, but it does mean that like a young shoot, you can stretch and dig deeper into the soil to find new paths and restore the natural order of your relationship when you communicate with an addict.
There are a few things you can do to make those roots grow by communicating. Here are tips to better communicate in a way that may yield results.
Communicate with an Addict and Show that you want to help
When you communicate with an addict and say things like, “I’ll be there to support your efforts to change,” you are confirming that when the person with the problem makes the effort, you will be there to back them up. This doesn’t mean you can fix things. By showing that you are still playing on their team and that you believe in them you are inadvertently showing them that they have the power within themselves to make changes, you are offering valuable support.
Let’s be clear here. If you communicate with an addict it probably won’t fix the addiction immediately, but it will remove the negativity of additional criticism which adds another stress to a person already battling an addiction. It will also remove any excuses which could lead to inaction. They will never be able to say things like they only use drugs because they are being hounded by everyone. It will also provide a positive environment for change which in turn allows those with an addiction time to reflect on the situation without expending energy to hold off criticism and other pressures.
Speak in kindness
If you have even a small amount of goodwill and affection in the tank, use it and build on it. If the tanks are empty and you are finished, then you, unfortunately, will not be helpful. You should probably kick into reverse and pull back, all the while avoiding criticism because that would be detrimental to your own well-being and to your struggling loved one. A simple “I can’t help right now” will be good enough. If you do however still have positive feeling left in your reserves then you communicate them to your loved one by letting them know you care and that the door is open. You can express support by offering affection. Saying “I love you” or “I care about you” can do wonders. A good idea is to try to sneak in compliments whenever you can.
Speak with empathy and watch the flowers blossom. For example when you communicate with an addict saying things like “I see how hard this has been for you and I am sorry about it and I am sad to watch you suffer.” This shows perspective towards their plight and more importantly, that you care. In addition, it helps to take a holistic view of the situation. Going beyond the drug use and including an understanding of how the problem evolved can show that you understand circumstances and the causes of the person’s addiction and situation. This also gives you the ability to be sympathetic and feel your own hurt and disappointment without taking it personally.
Avoid being negative
You need to bear in mind at all times that those with an addiction often hear kind words from the people who care about them. Usually, the focus is around highlighting the wrong things they are doing and their character defects. Criticism and harsh judgments are the order of the day along with messages that are internalised and echoed in their own discouraging self-talk: When you communicate with an addict common retrospective questions like “How could I be so stupid? What’s the matter with me? I’m such a loser” are often muttered. A majority of the closest people to an addict are fed up, and quite understandably so. They have the first-hand experience of the bludgeoning effect of drug use. They’ve been absorbing the blows, living on the edge, and waiting for the other shoe to drop. They may want immediate aggressive action taken and say harsh things like “What the hell’s the matter with you? You need to quit right now.” These demands are often followed by warnings about the consequences of continued drug use, and perhaps even threats of retaliation. You may hear yourself or other loved ones say things like “I’ve had it with you. One more time and I’ll….”
Unfortunately, this type of action is a pointless and fruitless exercise. Most addicts more than likely realise that something’s wrong, even if they won’t admit it. Some may even contemplate change. One thing is certain however, they cannot and will not benefit from more threats, criticism or warnings. Instead of motivating them it just fertilises the weeds of defensiveness which are no good in the journey down the path of rehabilitation and recovery.
Communicate with an Addict the currency of encouragement
Nothing beats a word of encouragement when it comes to a battle, a race or a journey like the one an addict undergoes towards recovery. Saying to someone “You can do it. You have the power to change things,” can positively help counter the ideology of powerlessness that all too often dominates thinking about drugs. People can overcome a drug problem, of course, millions of people have done it; it is not some sort of ‘dark art’ shrouded in mystery. We do however need to believe in our friends and family. Remember that an addict almost always has a back-story that is behind the origin of the drug abuse. You don’t necessarily have to pinpoint the specific origin but it’s enough to realise that what might have started as an escape eventually evolved into a detrimental habit. In addition, by encouraging a person to find other ways to deal with their issues you can help them visualise and create a better life. Finally, remember that understanding causes and circumstances does not for a second excuse anything. It explains the situation in a sympathetic framework which gives you the opportunity to view the person you care about in the most positive way possible.
For more information on dealing with alcohol or substance abuse and getting yourself into rehab to start a new life, call Houghton House now:
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