Content Reviewed by Jennifer Wheeler, Clinical & Community Outreach
Empathy does not always come naturally; it often takes awareness and learning to be supportive of others. Sometimes, even well-intentioned statements can be hurtful. In the case of someone in drug or alcohol addiction recovery, words can even be triggering. Educating yourself about substance abuse, treatment and recovery can help you be a better friend, family member, coworker or another supportive person to someone you love who is in recovery.
Some things are better left unsaid, and there are also better ways to say things to someone to show that you care. Below are a few of the things you might think to say to someone in recovery but should NOT say, as well as why you should not say them and some alternative ideas to communicate support.
# 1 “Why aren’t you drinking?”
There are so many different reasons that someone may not be drinking or partying. Being in recovery is only one of them, and asking someone a question like this can be very triggering. Putting them on the spot and asking them to talk about something they may not want to talk about can be awkward or even embarrassing. Instead of asking why not, how about joining them to show support?
Better: “On second thought, I’ll have a cola, too.”
# 2 “How did you know you had a problem?”
The word “problem” has very negative connotations. While you may be interested in learning about their life, they may have no interest in discussing it. The implication that there is something bad or wrong with them can be hurtful, and they may feel judged by your words. Being there for them and listening is more important than anything you can say.
Better: “If there is ever anything I can do to support you, I am always here for you.”
# 3 “You’re not drinking? More alcohol for me.”
There is something called insensitivity, and then there is just plain callousness. This statement may even exceed the latter. When someone does something that sets them apart, you do not need to alienate them further. Why not stand with them instead?
Better: “You want to go hang out somewhere else?”
# 4 “Great! You can be our designated driver.”
Making difficult choices is hard enough without friends trying to take advantage of you. No one wants to be left out or singled out by being a servant. Being the only sober one amongst friends can be especially tempting for someone who has worked so hard to get and stay sober. Consider an alternate activity that does not single them out.
Better: “Hey, why don’t we go see a movie tonight instead?”
# 5 “My aunt is a recovering addict, too!”
While you may want to share that you know someone else in recovery, neither of those people may want you to discuss their personal lives. Addiction is a disease, a physiological medical condition, and recovery is a personal experience. Offering them supportive words allows them their privacy (and your aunt, too.)
Better: “I hope you know that you are not alone.”
# 6 “I know how you feel.”
Every single person is unique, and their experiences are unique, too. Someone’s journey through addiction and alcohol addiction recovery is their own. You do not need to make the conversation about you; instead, you can offer yourself as a supportive confidant.
Better: “Thank you for trusting me. If you ever want to talk, I’m here to listen.”
# 7 “One drink can’t hurt.”
One drink can hurt. When someone has bravely faced an addiction, and they are courageously working every day to remain in their drug or alcohol addiction recovery, the last thing they need is peer pressure to give up on everything they have worked so hard to accomplish.
Your loved one also does not want to be left out of celebrations or social gatherings, but when everyone else is drinking or partying, they are more likely to relapse. To be supportive, you could suggest alternative ways to celebrate special occasions that are drug and alcohol-free.
Better: “Why don’t we celebrate with dinner at my place instead?”
When a loved one shares with you that they are in recovery, offering sensitivity and support demonstrates your love for them. Allow them to share or not share anything they choose when they choose to, but make sure they know that you are there to listen. Learning more about drug and alcohol addiction recovery will help you find ways to be supportive of your loved one. Encouraging friends and family members to find new ways to socialize and celebrate that are drug- and alcohol-free puts that support into action.
DiscoveryMD offers outpatient and intensive outpatient programs for the treatment of substance abuse and co-occurring mental health diagnoses. We are dedicated to educating our patients and their families to empower their recovery process. We want to put you back into the driver’s seat of your life. Contact us today to begin your new life.