When someone you love is addicted to drugs or alcohol, sometimes it’s hard to know what to say. You’re likely to be feeling a range of emotions yourself, from sadness, fear, and anger, to empathy and compassion. Ultimately, you want your loved one to get help and on track to recovery, but it feels like you’re walking in a minefield where if you say the wrong thing, you could do more harm to the relationship, or even drive him or her into a deeper downward spiral, even when your words are coming from a place of love and support.

The right things to say to an addict depend in large part on your relationship with the person, and your history and experiences together. That being said, there are some things that you should never say to someone struggling with addiction. Avoiding these statements and choosing your words carefully can help keep your relationship intact, show support to your loved one, and might even help spur them to seek help.

What Not to Say

Many addicts are already dealing with a great deal of shame and frustration. Saying things that indicate a lack of support or faith in them is likely to only increase their spiral. For example, statements like “You are never going to get better,” or “I give up,” are likely to discourage them from ever getting help, or from continuing to try and get healthy. Recovery begins with an addict believing that they have the power to change, and saying things that make them think they can’t isn’t going to support that.

At the same time, you don’t want to downplay their addiction or deny that it’s a problem, especially if they admit that they are struggling. Telling someone with an addiction to just stop using, or only use in moderation, isn’t helpful. If that were possible, they would have already done it. And denying that the problem is real can only make your loved one feel more embarrassed and ashamed, causing a deeper spiral. You’re likely to have strong feelings about your loved one’s problem, but projecting them in the form of denial may increase their feelings of denial as well.

It’s also important to avoid making judgments about your loved one’s recovery process. Offering information about drug rehab centers in California can be helpful and supportive. Saying that he or she is doing recovery “wrong,” or that there is only one way to treat addiction isn’t. Everyone’s journey to sobriety is different, and no matter how many books you’ve read, meetings you’ve attended, and therapy sessions you’ve had, you aren’t in someone else’s shoes, and can’t definitively say what will and will not work. The same principle applies to comparing someone’s addiction and recovery journey to something you’ve experienced your life. Unless you have experienced addiction yourself, it’s almost impossible to honestly say “I know how you feel,” and even then, it may not be entirely true. If you haven’t experienced addiction, comparing their experience to something unrelated can feel belittling and insensitive.

What to Say Instead

With so many caveats about what not to say, you might be tempted to not say anything at all. Fortunately, there is a lot you can say that shows support and encouragement. Some things to try:

  • “How are you?” Ask sincerely, and avoid coming across like you pity them.
  • “I believe in you.” Show your support by reiterating your support and belief that they can overcome this.
  • “I love you.” Many addicts feel unloved or unlovable. Don’t be afraid to express how you feel.
  • “I’m here for you.” Sometimes people just want someone else to listen to them. Be that person, and listen without judgment or providing unsolicited advice.
  • “What do you need?” Don’t assume you know what someone needs. Ask. Maybe they just want to take a walk and talk about anything but their recovery. Maybe they need some advice. Being supportive means putting your feelings and desires aside and focusing on what your loved one needs to get healthy.

When your loved one is struggling with addiction, it’s easy to let your own feelings color what you say to them. You might not always get it right, but if you try to focus on being supportive and encouraging, you’re likely to maintain a stronger relationship and help him or her be more successful in recovery.