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Support System: What Should You Never Say to Someone Suffering From Addiction?

Emotion controls addiction, and every addict needs a support system. Some topics hit those powerful emotions.  Even if you’re well-meaning, there are things you shouldn’t say to an addict. Careless words have the power to cause immense pain to those trying to change. In fact, for those in the middle of the war against alcoholism or drug abuse, the word “addict” can cause them to feel inferior, even less than human. Addiction is an illness that can be overcome; while poor life choices led to the condition, positive choices can bring relief and eventual freedom. If you are an active member of an addict’s support system, a great amount of understanding and patience will be required. Measuring the way you communicate with your loved one is essential to helping him or her recover. It’s not only what you say, but why you say it.

Brain Chemistry and Emotions: The Source of Addiction

Substance abuse comes hand-in-hand with strong emotions. Some begin taking heroin because it feels good. Alcoholics get drunk to fill a void in their lives or to cope with loss. Yet more abuse opioids because of long-lasting physical pain. Once the chemistry of the brain leads to chemical dependence, addicts will do anything to satisfy this need. According to the National Institute of Health, those that are dependent on drugs or alcohol actually lose a portion of activity in the frontal cortex. The option of “stopping” can become physically impossible. These urges can be compounded due to negative life experiences such as physical and mental abuse (during childhood or adulthood), traumatic events, and strong social influences.


This may come as a surprise to many, but most addicts are very aware of how their drug abuse is affecting their lives. Shame is a powerful component of addiction; further shame will never fix the problem.

    1.“I don’t see why you can’t just quit.”

As previously covered, addiction directly affects the chemistry and function of the brain. For the deeply addicted, they can no more stop desiring the drug than a healthy person can choose to stop their thyroid from working. Shame is not effective at rewiring the brain, and the more this statement is repeated, the less an addict will want to rely on you.

    2.“If you love me, then quit.”

There are a few problems with this sentence. First, and completely unrelated to addiction, few people appreciate ultimatums. For addicts, however, they hear:
  • Your love is conditional; you currently do not love them at all
  • They are incapable of loving others while addicted
  • They should feel more guilt than they already do
Even if the intention is somehow well-meaning, using psychological manipulation to stop a loved one from taking drugs will likely drive them further into their addiction to escape the shame.

    3.“You’re being incredibly selfish.”

Whether true or false, this statement is a combination of numbers one and two: the dependency they can no longer control is completely their fault, they are incapable of loving others, and they should not expect any support because of their perceived moral failings.

Denial of Change

Recovering from addiction is 100% possible for everyone willing to change, especially with an understanding support system. This may not appear to be the case, but no matter how hopeless it may seem, denying the possibility of change will not enable change. This sounds rather obvious, but when emotions run high with close friends or family, being rational is not easy.

    1.“You’re not an addict.”

If you love someone more than life itself, your first instinct may be to offer as much comfort as possible during the most difficult moments. Love is a vital part of support and recovery, but not when it enables further addiction. Denying the problem exists, even in an attempt to ease the fear or anger of an addict, is not the answer. If someone you love has threatened to commit suicide because of addiction, for example, this point may sound painfully familiar. Instead of denying the problem, be both honest and loving.

    2.“You’re always going to be this way.”

Of all the phrases mentioned in this article, this has the highest potential to erode the determination an addict may have to recover. In fact, this single sentence can inflict a great deal of pain on recovered addicts as well. The pain caused is twofold. First, that it is true: the chemical and psychological desire to return to the substance will likely exist for the rest of their life. Second, that there is no “returning to normal,” to a state where addiction was not a central part of living. There is no need to say this out loud; anyone struggling to overcome addiction will have thought this to themselves at least once that very day. The reminder of that loss will rarely be appreciated.

    3.“Obviously you haven’t hit rock bottom yet.”

This myth continues to be spread because of the misunderstanding of how addiction works. It is also an easy thing to say, as the depths of “rock bottom” have no solid definition. For some addicts, rock bottom may be the complete separation from family. For alcoholics, rock bottom might be ending someone’s life due to driving under the influence. For others, rock bottom might not exist at all (the worst case being overdose and suicide). Recovery can begin at any time; plunging into the depths of fear, pain, and even death is not a requirement.

Denying a Support System

Not every person who recovers from substance abuse has an optimal support system, and it is heartbreaking for us to hear one of our patients admit that they have no one to turn to once their treatment is complete. Even if you are hesitant or unable to be fully part of an addict’s support system, the following statements will not improve their chances of recovery.

    1.“Just go get help.”

Not only is this statement dismissive of an addict’s entire experience with substance abuse and the pain associated with it, but you have also cut yourself out of the opportunity to help. This statement may make your position crystal clear but will offer no solutions.

    2.“Quitting cold turkey is the only way to fix this.”

While some manage to completely stop their use of drugs and alcohol (the definition of “going cold turkey”), this can be very risky for many different reasons. The primary reason is the pain of withdrawal, the symptoms of which vary from drug to drug. Secondary reasons include the risk of damage to internal organ and brain function due to heavy dependency. In some tragic cases, those that have partially or even fully succeeded in substance abuse recovery may relapse and intake a dose that they once considered ordinary. If the dose is high enough, the possibility of overdose and death is very real. For these reasons, we always recommend medical and psychological supervision when detoxing.

    3.“Just pull your life together and get over this.”

Additionally, you may hear the popular phrase: “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” Besides the physical impossibility of rising off the ground by pulling on your shoelaces, the likelihood of someone overcoming the terrible dependency of addiction without any form of help is very low. The statement may also imply that positive life improvements like working a stable job, getting married, choosing to have children, and other typical “solutions” will end the need for drugs and alcohol on their own. In our experience, this is a prime example of putting the cart before the horse. When the ability to make rational choices has been chemically removed from an addict’s mental capability, those life improvements may not be improvements for long.

Contact Ardù Recovery Center for Addiction Treatment and Support

If you or someone you love is suffering from substance abuse, there is hope for a brighter future. Contact Ardù Recovery Center in Provo, Utah, today and schedule an appointment to tour our facility. Our team of recovery professionals can be part of your personal support system as you recover from addiction..”