Addiction is an isolating disease. If you’re anything like me, you don’t even want to consider the words associated with it. I avoided “addict,” “alcoholic” and “drug user” like the plague. Even having a “substance use disorder” sounded just as bad.
I felt like if I admitted to these things, my life would be over. I didn’t want to admit defeat. Admitting I had a problem, to myself and others, would mean that years of attempting to show I had control of my unmanageable life would be exposed. I wanted so badly for it not to be true.
When the day came that I could no longer go on with the amount of pain I was in, the first person I talked to about it was my mother. After I had accepted what was happening, I had to figure out how to tell my friends and family about my addiction. Here is what I learned.
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How to ask for help and support
The first way to tell your friends and family that you’re an addict, or have alcohol abuse or drug abuse issues, is to ask for help. Your family and friends can be your biggest fans and sometimes, your harshest critics, but ultimately they want to support you.
If you’re looking for help with your addiction, there is no better place to ask than your loved ones, but it may be hard for you to bring up this sensitive topic. Here are a few things to consider when approaching the subject with your loved ones:
1. Be honest.
Addiction is powerful, and it can encourage lies, deceit and desperate actions you might not normally take. If you’re lost, confused, or even unsure if you’ve got a substance abuse problem or not, tell your friends and family that. Tell them how you’ve been feeling and what you’ve been experiencing. Help them understand what you’ve been going through.
2. Express your desire for help.
If you’ve already researched what help is available, bring this with you to the conversation. Be prepared to express your desire for help and what options you have in mind.
On the other hand, if you don’t have any options in mind, ask your friends and family if they can help you research what your next steps should be. They can help you search for addiction treatment centers, 12-step groups or a therapist.
3. Explain why you are seeking help.
Your loved ones may want to know how you came to this decision and why now is the time to get help. This is where you can be honest with them about what brought you to this point and what you want your future to look like.
4. Ask for support.
Another way to tell your friends and family that you might be struggling with addiction is to ask for their support. If you’re looking for guidance, advice or some other action from them, tell them. Let them know it’s important to you that you receive their love and support along the way. If you’ve already decided to go to a treatment center, share with them how their support will be important while you’re there and after you get out.
5. Prepare for resistance.
It’s possible that you could have hurt some of your loved ones during your active substance use. They may not believe you when you say you want to get sober and unfortunately, some people still don’t understand or believe the science behind addiction being a disease. Skepticism, anger and defensiveness could come out in your conversation. It’s best to be prepared for this so that you can stay calm and committed to your goals. Be sure to understand and acknowledge their feelings, whatever those may be.
6. Don’t be ashamed.
Whether this is brand new for you or you’ve already gotten help or have some sobriety under your belt, break the news to your loved ones without shame. Be proud of yourself for facing your addiction head on and making changes in your life. If you accept who you are, what you’ve been through and stay committed to where you’re going, your loved ones will understand.
Resources for families to better understand addiction
I would recommend bringing resources with you to help your friends and family get a better understanding of substance use disorders, especially if this is the first time you or they are facing addiction. If they aren’t familiar with the disease, they might believe common myths they’ve heard.
One great resource for families of those struggling with addiction is The National Institute on Drug Abuse, where they can answer questions like:
- Why can’t some people quit drugs on their own?
- Can anyone become addicted to drugs and alcohol?
- Why is it so hard to quit drugs?
- Can I explore treatment centers for a friend or family member?
- What should I look for in a treatment center?
- What is treatment like and how much does it cost?
It’s beneficial for everyone involved if your family seeks out factual information about alcoholism and drug addiction. They will learn that it’s a brain disease that needs treatment.
However, just like you need them to support you, they may need support too. You might want to point them to attending a support group for family members and friends of people in recovery. This is a place where they can go and find advice, experiences and hope from other people who may be going through the same thing. They may also want to consider a therapist for themselves or even a family session. You and your family do not have to walk this path alone.
Telling your family and friends that you’re struggling with substance abuse can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be shameful or regrettable.
Admitting you have a problem is the first step on the road to recovery— a road that should be full of support from your loved ones along the way. Fortunately, there are many resources available to you and your loved ones to help you understand addiction and the recovery process.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “The Science of Drug Use and Addiction: The Basics.” July 2018. Accessed August 4, 2020.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Step by Step Guides to Finding Treatment for Drug Use Disorders: If Your Adult Friend or Loved One Has a Problem with Drugs.” October 2019. Accessed August 4, 2020.
Parekh, Ranna. “What Is Addiction?” American Psychiatric Association, January 2017. Accessed August 4, 2020.