If, When, and How You Should Talk To Others About Your Addiction

By The Fix staff 12/02/19

No matter what type of openness you decide on, you’re likely to encounter some questions that you feel are too intrusive. 

Young man discussing his sobriety with a young woman
Although not all Americans drink, it sometimes seems like all of us are expected to. © Innovatedcaptures | Dreamstime.com

“Oh, you don’t drink? Why not?”

It’s a question most people in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction have heard at least once. Although not all Americans drink, it sometimes seems like all of us are expected to. When you pass on a drink (or a drag, for that matter), it can prompt unwanted questioning. 

This is a situation that you’re almost guaranteed to encounter at some point in recovery, so it’s best to prepare ahead of time. If you’ve thought about how you want to talk to other people about your substance use disorder and your sobriety ahead of time, you’ll be better able to handle (or deflect) questions as they come up. 

Reflect On Your Comfort Level

The first step in deciding how to talk to others about your addiction and recovery is to reflect on your general comfort level talking about addiction. Some people prefer to keep things private, while others enjoy the support they get from sharing milestones on social media and with wide circles of people they know. 

Both of those responses are fine; you just have to decide which one is right for you. This is a time to be honest with yourself. You might want to become an advocate for recovery eventually, but some feel that in early recovery it’s best to keep things private. It can be helpful to talk with your sponsor or other people in recovery as you decide what you want to share, if anything at all. 

No One Size Fits All

Consider that different people in your life might warrant different information on your addiction and recovery. The people closest to you, like your partner or children, were likely deeply impacted by your addiction, so you might feel that they deserve more insight into your recovery process. These people can likely benefit from understanding the disease of addiction and the process of recovery. Talking openly with them can help them understand your recovery process. 

Other people, like an acquaintance who notices that you aren’t drinking, aren’t owed an explanation at all. It’s completely fine to not discuss your addiction and recovery with these people at all. Remember, choosing not to discuss your addiction and recovery with strangers doesn’t mean you’re ashamed. After all, you likely wouldn’t discuss any other personal medical condition with someone you barely know. 

Then there are people who you don’t want to be particularly open with, but who were impacted by your recovery. This might include your colleagues. For these people, address the issues that need to be spoken about, without going into extra detail. You can assure your boss that you are reliable and able to do your job, without getting into the nitty gritty details about your addiction. Boundaries are always ok. 

Practice Deflecting Questions

Sometimes, it seems that people forget their manners when discussing addiction and recovery. No matter what type of openness you decide on, you’re likely to encounter some questions that you feel are too intrusive. 

Consider ahead of time how you’ll respond to these. “Why do you ask?” is a simple and polite response that puts the onus back on the person you’re talking too. Most likely, they’ll realize what they’re asking about is none of their business, giving you a chance to put the conversation back on grounds that you’re comfortable with. 

Check In Over Time

Like most aspects of recovery, how you discuss your addiction and sobriety will likely change over time. As you reach more recovery milestones and become more confident in your sobriety, you might want to share more of your story with people close to you and with strangers. Periodically check in with yourself, and think about your comfort level in sharing your story.

Many people who deal with stigmatized conditions like substance use disorder find it empowering to speak out or advocate for changes that can make the road easier for those coming behind. Speaking out gives you the opportunity to control the narrative, and tell your story how you want it portrayed. After the disempowerment of living with active addiction, it can be powerful to feel in control. 

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