It takes a lot of courage to acknowledge your loved one may be a drug addict and even more to confront them. How do you know what to say to a drug addict? Every person and situation is different. We have come up with a guide that can help you understand more about addiction, as well as a series of questions you can ask to help put your loved one onto the path to recovery.
Drug addiction can happen to anyone, but the majority of people start using when they are young. In 2013, there were more than 2.8 million new drug users, and 54.1 percent of these new users were under 18 years old, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Not everyone who uses drugs will become an addict, but substance abuse is still costly. The abuse of illicit drugs results in $11 billion in healthcare costs and $193 billion in overall costs in the United States, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. While the monetary cost of addiction is clear, it is more difficult to quantify the human cost. Drug abuse and addiction not only affect users, but the people who care about them most. We want to help you find ways to understand addiction and help your loved one. Here are 15 questions to ask yourself, the people closest to your loved one and your loved one, to guide your understanding.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Before jumping right to confronting your loved one, stop to ask yourself some questions first. This might be tough. You may want to blame yourself or become angry with your loved one, but you are taking the important first step in finding a way to fight addiction.
What warning signs have I seen?
There may be one particular incident that pushes you toward talking to your loved one about addiction. However, there have probably been many other signs — often subtle — you’ve noticed along the way. Indications of addiction to look for in your family member or friend include:
- Change in Appearance — Is my normally well-dressed loved one neglecting their personal appearance?
- Health Issues — Is my loved one suffering from new health issues?
- Altered Behavior — Have I noticed major changes in how my loved one is acting?
- Different Spending Habits — Has my loved one asked me for money without giving a reason?
- Issues at School or Work — Does my loved one skip school or work frequently or have a dramatic change in performance?
You may not even know for sure that your loved one is using drugs, but these questions can help you determine if your spouse, family member or friend is using and trending toward addiction.
Have I noticed drugs interfering with my loved one’s life?
Sometimes you may know when a family member or friend is using drugs. Perhaps they started out using a drug recreationally, or maybe they had a prescription for the drug. For example, opioids are a common class of drugs prescribed to manage pain. Approximately 2.1 million people in the United States have developed substance abuse disorders stemming from prescription opioid use, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Often, your instinct is to allow your loved ones to make their own decisions. They tell you they can handle the drug, and you think it is not your place to tell them what to do. It can be difficult to break away from that line of thought, but when you ask yourself if you’ve seen drugs starting to affect your loved one’s life, you’ll start thinking about how to speak up. You can ask yourself if you’ve noticed your family member or friend:
- Skipping important obligations in favor of finding or using drugs
- Taking the drug more often and in higher doses
- Continuing to use the drug even though it affects them poorly
- Exhibiting any withdrawal symptoms
Do I know why my loved one began using drugs?
People start using drugs for any number of reasons. It may help you determine how to frame your conversation with your loved one if you have an idea of the root cause of their addiction. A few reasons people begin to take drugs include:
- Enjoyment — No one begins using drugs with the express desire to become an addict. The simplest motive for taking a drug is the way it makes you feel. Drugs can create a feeling of pleasure for the user.
- Curiosity — Drugs can change the way you feel and think. The chance to experience an altered state can be very alluring.
- Peer Pressure — Peer pressure, commonly thought of as a teen phenomenon, persists throughout life. Depending on your loved one’s environment and social group, the pressure to take and continue taking drugs can be high.
- Availability — Again depending on the environment, drugs can be easily available and inexpensive.
- Distraction — Everyone struggles with keeping their thoughts under control at times. Some people will turn to drugs to help distract them from their everyday problems.
- Pain Control — Oftentimes addiction stems from a legally prescribed drug, such as an opioid. Chronic pain sufferers can require more and stronger doses to manage their symptoms. They may even turn to illegal drugs, such as heroin, if they can no longer get or abuse legal options.
- Self-medication — People turn to illegal drugs as a form of self-medication, whether for pain, mental illness or some other health issue.
The original reason your loved one started taking drugs may no longer even matter in the face of addiction, but it can be helpful for you to understand how they have gotten to this point. Later, you can talk with your loved one about what drove them to continue using.
How do I bring up the topic of drug abuse without being hurtful?
You are asking yourself these questions and preparing to talk to your loved one because you are concerned, but that does not mean the conversation will not be difficult. Addicts may not want to hear what you have to say, or might not believe they have a problem. It is important to remember to reserve judgment and show compassion.
If you are not sure how to talk to a drug addict in denial, you can always ask for help. There are professionals, such as drug interventionists, who can help you stage an intervention and guide both you and your loved one through this tough conversation. A successful intervention can mean the difference between starting treatment and the continuation of destructive behavior.
How can I help?
Reaching out is the first step, but ask yourself what you can do next. Are you ready to help your family member or friend seek professional help? Are you ready to listen to them talk about their struggle, no matter how painful that may be to hear? Addicts may feel hopeless, but it is amazing how even one person can start to change that. There is hope for a happy, sober life after addiction.
Questions to Ask People Close to Your Loved One
You may see more or less of your loved one’s struggle with addiction, depending on who they are to you. If you are worried about your spouse or another family member you live with, you’ll see them every day and have a clearer picture of what has been happening. If you are worried about a family member or friend you do not live with, it may be more difficult to see warning signs and decide how to talk about addiction.
You can speak to other people who care about your loved one. Be sure to talk to people who you can trust to have your family member or friend’s best interests at heart. These questions can help you get a better understanding of how to talk to your loved one, and they may get others thinking about how they can help, too.
Have you noticed any changes in behavior or personality?
You’ve asked yourself this question, but you’ll likely get a different perspective from the other people close to your loved one. If you are asking others about someone you live with, it is possible they haven’t seen the changes you do. Conversely, if you are asking about a family member or friend you do not see as often, others may have seen change you have not.
Have you tried to talk about drug abuse?
If your loved one is struggling with addiction, you may not be the first person who has tried to talk to them about it. If you find another person close to your loved one has attempted to help, you’ll gain valuable insight. How did the conversation go? Was your mutual loved one open to the idea of getting help or stubbornly resistant? Knowing this information can help you prepare to confront your loved one.
Are you willing to help?
If you’ve found someone who cares enough about your family member or friend to talk with you about addiction, you’ve probably found someone who wants to help. You can talk about how you can both help and even discuss the possibility of organizing an intervention, which can draw more friends and family together to help the person you all care about start fighting addiction.
Questions to Ask Your Loved One
You’ve thought the whole situation through yourself and talked to other people who care about your family member or friend, but finding the right questions to ask a suspected addict still isn’t easy. There is no single guide for how to confront a drug addict, nor should there be. Every person and situation is different. Here just a few questions you might find helpful or might serve as a starting point for you to brainstorm your own ideas.
Do you know the people who care about you have noticed you are struggling?
It is important not to make this conversation about yourself. Watching your loved one struggle with addiction is, of course, very hard for you, but you’ll want to have a frank conversation with your loved one without making yourself the center attention. Instead of focusing on yourself, talk about how you and other people who care have noticed changes in their behavior and appearance. Ask if your loved one realizes their struggle with addiction is changing how others look at them. Avoid an accusatory tone. Simply explain that you and others are concerned.
Have you noticed yourself struggling?
You and others may have noticed changes, but that does not give a complete picture of how an addict feels. Addicts may be completely unaware of how drug use is affecting their lives and those around them, or they could be struggling even more than you thought. Ask them to talk about their experience, instead of assuming you already know.
Do you know why you started using?
Asking these sorts of questions helps show you actually care about your loved one’s story. You do not see them as a problem that needs fixing. The reason your friend or family member started using could be any of the possibilities you’ve already thought of, or it could be none of those. Either way, it is important to hear it from the addict’s perspective. Your loved one might be surprised by what they learn from sharing with you.
Do you know when drugs began to interfere with your life?
Drug users may show signs of struggling with addiction, but drugs could have begun to interfere with their lives before anyone else noticed. A drug habit could affect a person’s finances, health and relationships. Talk with your loved one and ask them to look back over the time since the drug habit began. How has that person changed? What impact has drugs had on their life? Pushing your family member or friend to examine specific examples can help reveal just how much impact addiction is having. This can be particularly effective when talking to someone who is stuck in denial. It is difficult to ignore concrete evidence, such as losing a job or important relationship.
Have you tried to stop?
Not all drug addicts deny they have a problem. Many people battling addiction know they need to stop using, and will even try to stop on their own. Nevertheless, without the support of people close to them or help from professionals, beating addiction is an even tougher fight. Ask your family member or friend if they have thought about stopping or even tried to do so. If your loved one has tried to stop, tell them how proud you are and offer your support to help them stop for good.
Have you thought about getting help?
Many addicts have probably thought about getting help, either from the people who care about them or professionals, but something holds them back. Ask your loved one if they have thought about getting help and about any fears they might have. Drug addiction comes with a stigma. An addict’s fear of judgment may stop them from asking for help. They may also worry about the cost and the chance of failure. It could be that they don’t know where to start asking for help. Perhaps, one of their biggest fears is being unable to picture a life after drugs.
Ask your loved one to describe any fears. Think about what you can do to allay those fears and get your family member or friend on the path to sobriety. With your unwavering support, you can help your loved one find affordable treatment. Assure the person you care about that you do not judge. You’ll be there before, during and after treatment.
How can I help?
This is the single most important question you’ll ask. You’ve already asked yourself, but your loved one might have a different answer. Your role is to offer support and help your loved one find the right treatment. The best way to do this will be different for every person, and you have to listen. Ignoring what your loved one has to say and thinking you know best is not an effective route. Work together to find the treatment, or combination of treatments, that will help your friend or family member stop using, stay drug-free and regain what addiction cost them in their professional and personal life.
Addition is a tough cycle to break. Starting the conversation is an important step toward sobriety, but it is just the start of a long journey. After you’ve talked to your loved one and shown them you are willing to help, the next step will be to start researching treatment options. Just as the opening conversation will be different for every person, so will be the course of treatment.
A rehab professional should modify treatment for addiction for each person. Generally, treatment includes the following steps:
- Behavioral counseling
- Treatment of any coexisting mental health concerns
- Long-term follow-up to ensure there are no relapses
The fact that you are helping your loved one get treatment gives them a distinct advantage. Approximately 23.5 million Americans need treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction, but just 2.6 million people receive the treatment they need, according to the Defining the Addiction Treatment Gap report. Your love and support ensures your family member or friend will not fall into the treatment gap.
Once addicts seek out treatment and begin to enter recovery, they still need help from the people in their lives. You can still offer your support in a number of ways.
- Praise your loved one’s courage — Addicts need a lot of courage to recognize they have a problem and take the necessary steps to get help. Tell your family member or friend how proud you are of their bravery.
- Offer the chance to apologize — You’ve focused all of your energy on getting the person you care about treatment. This can be an emotionally draining process. You may have a buildup of resentment. Instead of trying to bury those feelings, have an honest talk with your loved one. Explain how you feel without jumping to accusations. With the perspective gained in treatment, your friend or family member will probably be glad of the chance to apologize for all you’ve endured. Afterwards, you can start rebuilding your relationship.
- Continue to listen — Your loved one may have completed treatment, but addiction recovery is a lifelong process. Continue to ask how you can help make the process easier.
You now know how to start the conversation with your loved one, and you understand a bit about how the treatment and recovery processes work. But, you still need to find the right professionals to help your family member or friend find the way to a healthy, happy and sober life.
At 12 Keys Rehab, we have a 12-step recovery model that addresses the body, mind and spirit. Reach out to us today to learn about the ways we provide our clients with a private, compassionate place to heal. There is always hope for a great life after addiction.