Eleven Things NOT to Say to the Addict in Your Life

By Brian Whitney 09/19/16

Watching a loved one live with addiction is difficult, but there are things you can say that do more harm than good.

Eleven Things NOT to Say to the Addict in Your Life

When someone close to you is living with addiction issues, it can be a pretty frustrating experience. Watching someone suffer because of their substance use and addictive behavior—whether it be your lover, your child, your friend or your coworker—is not easy. 

So, what to do? Of course you want to help, right? Because that is what good people do. You probably read a few books, or Googled a couple of articles that told you just how you should act when it comes to dealing with the addicted person in your life, that let you know exactly what you should say. Or maybe you didn’t need to do any research at all; because you already know just what your friend or loved one needs to hear. As soon as your buddy starts listening to you, he or she is going to be clean in no time!

Well I am here to tell you that a lot of the things you said to your favorite addict didn’t help at all. Some of them are just plain old mean, while others are just trite clichés from the “Things You Say to Addicts” handbook. Of course maybe you got lucky, and said something on this list and it actually helped just a little bit. But for the most part, if you said anything on this list to the person you were trying to help, at the least you made them feel ashamed, and at the most pissed them right off.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t talk to the addict in your life about their problems though. I can tell you from personal experience that the only thing worse than someone in my life saying something ridiculous to me was them ignoring my problem and pretending it did not exist. So give it your best shot, but avoid the following 11 statements.

1. What are you talking about? You aren’t an addict.

Let's get this one right out of the way. Whether it be booze, drugs, gambling or sex, the very last thing that someone with a problem wants to hear is that they actually don’t have a problem. You might think you are soothing your loved one's anxiety, but in reality you are making them feel like it is pointless to talk to someone about what they need help with and how they are suffering, or maybe even dying. If someone comes to you and puts themselves out there and tries to talk to you about what is going on, for God's sake, don’t tell them that their problem is all in their mind. 

2. Why don't you get help?

This one is just awful. There are a myriad of reasons why a person who is suffering with addiction does not get help. These could be mental health or emotional reasons such as depression, anxiety or shame, or they could be logistical problems like poverty, lack of insurance, or no access to services. Instead of throwing a shame bomb at your loved one or friend about why they have not gotten any help, why don’t you just ask them what help they might need? If you do so and don’t act judgmental while you do, what you find out might surprise you.

3. I am so ashamed of you.

This one is a classic. So the odds are that your loved one already has some issues around self-worth and accepting themselves, which is probably why they started getting all messed up on their drug of choice in the first place. So then when you show up and tell them how pathetic you think they are, it just wraps everything up in a perfect little package. Drop this on your loved one and odds are they are going to head back to whatever they are using at warp speed.

4. Why don’t you just try to use in moderation?

Oh wow, really? Why didn’t I think of that? I will start doing that right away. 

The thing is, maybe this can happen down the road—maybe. But right now, your friend needs to be working on staying away from what is hurting them all the time. If the person could use in moderation, they would be. No one wants to be completely out of control. (Not for long, anyway.)

5. You need to hit bottom.

This one fails on every level. It is possible that he or she actually does need to hit bottom. Who knows, really? But when you say it to an addict, it sounds like you are saying ”Just keep using, sooner or later something will happen that will turn things around.” Even worse, what does that mean? What are you saying? Because a bottom can mean a lot of things. Is your bottom having your girlfriend of six months leave you and getting fired from your job at the insurance company, or does it involve killing someone in a drunk driving accident and going to prison? It makes sense to encourage your friend to get help now, not to wait for something horrible to happen in their life first.

6. You have no ambition.

Well maybe, maybe not. Maybe your loved one has so much ambition that it causes them anxiety, and using is their way to cope. Maybe your coworker is so depressed that the only way he can get out of bed and go to work is to indulge in his drug of choice. There are a lot of very successful people with all sorts of ambition that struggle mightily with substances. The bottom line is, you have no idea how little or how much ambition a person has by whether or not they are clean or sober. 

7. You contribute nothing to society.

One does not have to be Columbo to see how this one could blow up in your face. It is fairly likely that your buddy already doesn’t feel like they fit into society, and they think they are a failure in relationships, in academics and their career. When they get drunk, use drugs or act out sexually, it is to mask how out of place they feel in society—and you saying this to them just made them feel way worse about all that, and thus more likely to use. Were you trying to make them more likely to use? No? Then don’t say this.

8. You are weak.

Addicts aren’t weak. Not at all. Most people that suffer with addiction are fighting all sorts of issues that have to do with all sorts of things every day, things that you could not imagine dealing with. Despite this, most of them don’t quit fighting, ever. What is “weak” is making blanket statements around people struggling with addiction. 

9. You will never change.

Oh, but they will. They actually are changing all the time, you are just not noticing. All human beings have the capacity to change—some will change a little and some will change a lot, some will get worse and some will get better. To point at your friend or loved one and tell them that this is it, that their life will never change, is shortsighted, mean-spirited and not at all productive. This is a great thing to say if you are trying to insult someone—otherwise, not so much.

10. Why can’t you hold it together? I drink/drug as much as you do, but I am not an addict.

This may or may not be true. It kind of sounds like you might have a problem, but hey, who am I to judge? The issue is not, nor should it be, “why” your loved one or friend's life has fallen apart and become unmanageable because of using. The issue is that it has, and that they are in pain. If you can drink and drug to excess and hold it together, then cool. Good for you I suppose.

11. No one else I know has these types of problems.

Oh yes they do. Really? You honestly think this? All sorts of people you know have these sorts of problems. Your professor in college, your best friend's wife, your neighbor. You have absolutely no idea how many people are suffering with addiction all around you. Telling your loved one that he is the only one that is this big of a screw-up not only makes you look like a jerk, but an idiot as well.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix