It’s hard seeing someone you love suffer. It’s painful and frustrating; it drains us mentally, physically and emotionally. We wish we could say and do all the right things to help them. But how can we help someone who is in denial of their addiction?
Unfortunately, this is very common.
I was in denial for years about how severe and unhealthy my drinking habits really were. I used excuses to justify my drinking and its consequences while ignoring the advice of my family and friends.
It’s challenging getting through to someone who’s using heavily, especially when they’re denying their addiction.
Fortunately, there are ways you can still help.
What to say to someone in denial
It’s never easy to talk about something as personal and sensitive as drinking or drug use. It’s important not to try and approach your loved one while they are drunk or high to have this conversation.
They might not be able to devote their attention to you, and they may become angry if they are under the influence. When the right time comes, try not to worry about saying the exact right thing.
The most important aspect of the conversation will be expressing concern for your loved one in a caring and honest way.
Anytime you can talk to your friend or family member when they have a clear head is ideal. It might be more productive if you can talk to them when the consequence of their substance use is fresh on their mind and they feel remorseful.
You may want to consider taking someone with you who shares the same concern you have for this person, or, leveraging someone who understands sobriety, like a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, or similar recovery group.
How to approach their denial
No matter what the person’s behavior has been like, it’s important to remember that your loved one is not a bad person; he or she has an addiction and is in deep denial.
Addiction can cause our loved ones to act in negative ways and cause hurt to those around them. It may be difficult, but it’s important not to blame or criticize them.
- Be specific when you talk. Bring up specific incidents that they know about and have participated in like canceled plans or broken promises.
- Use “I” phrases such as, “I was worried,” or, “I noticed.”
- Talk about the negative effects your loved one’s using has on the things he or she cares about most, such as their career, family, sports, or other commitments.
- Don’t be discouraged or surprised if your loved one continues to deny they have a problem. Unfortunately, denial is one of the symptoms of the disease of addiction. Don’t take it personally and remain supportive of your loved one.
- Keep in touch with your loved one even if they aren’t open to help right now. You never know when you may have planted the seed of recovery.
How to help them recover
It’s possible your loved one may have already been thinking about getting help, or deep down inside they’ve been waiting for someone to show they care. And maybe you’re not the only one who has expressed concern over their drinking and drug use.
Provide your loved one with contact information and schedules for local AA or NA meetings. If your loved one is in agreement, you may want to suggest a formal evaluation by a substance abuse counselor or medical professional.
You may also want to have the name of a treatment center handy in case your loved one shows interest in attending inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment as a solution to their addiction issue. If they want professional help at a treatment center, offer to be there for them during every step of the process.
Recovery is an ongoing process, and overcoming denial is just one of many steps towards restoration.
Being there for your loved ones during their hardest times shows them that you not only care, but you also understand them. Several people close to me mentioned they were worried about my drinking, and although it didn’t get me to stop immediately, it helped me to consider sobriety when I was ready.
Use your words for good, and tell your loved ones how you feel about them whenever you can.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.
Written by: Kelly Fitzgerald
Kelly Fitzgerald is a sober writer based in Southwest Florida. She currently serves as the Content Manager for Advanced Recovery Systems and is best known for her personal blog, The Adventures of a Sober Señorita, where she writes about life as a former party girl living in recovery.