Talking with family about addiction will never be easy, and you may not know the right thing to say. Whether you are personally struggling with addiction, or your family is grappling with its effects, it’s important to facilitate open and ongoing dialogue with your family about the realities of addiction.

How can I speak candidly with my family about addiction?

Honest communication is one of the best tools you can have when talking with family about addiction. In many households, the subject of addiction is quietly brushed under the rug or even taken off-limits entirely. When a family is directly dealing with the impact of addiction, it is imperative that the subject is addressed head-on, including everything from the root cause to side effects to ongoing issues.

If you aren’t sure where to begin in speaking with your family about addiction, try these tips:

  • Define what addiction is. Formally known as substance use disorder, addiction is a disease of the brain; no one chooses addiction. This is a key distinction to make when endeavoring to explain and understand addiction.
  • Start small. Addiction is an overwhelming topic, both for the family member struggling with the disease and for every loved one who has been peripherally impacted. Not everyone will be ready to dive right into the potential trauma that addiction has left them, and the conversation will only be more difficult if you try to force it. 
  • Approach the conversation with an open mind. Also make it known that your family members can come to you with any questions, concerns or issues they may have about addiction. If someone in your family finds themselves struggling with addiction in the future, it’s important they know they can safely go to you for help and compassion.
  • Refrain from passing judgement. Stay neutral and stick to the facts about addiction. This is particularly important if addiction has directly affected your family, as the way you talk about addiction could potentially color your family members’ opinions on the person struggling through it. You may not agree with all of your family’s actions, and you may be hurt by their addiction, but focus on uplifting and educating your family members about addiction rather than guilting or shaming them for it.
  • Be honest, and make sure you are also communicating rather than just leading the conversation. If you have struggled with addiction yourself or you are preparing your kids to learn that someone in your family has, be honest about that. It would be confusing for your family if you told them about the dangers of addiction but left out how addiction affects your family unit in particular. This will be an exercise in trust for both you and your family members.
  • Schedule regular family meetings, or even counseling sessions with a family therapist, if that structure will help your family prepare to communicate about difficult topics. Use this time to discuss other potentially uncomfortable topics to break the stigma associated with things like addiction and promote open dialogue, particularly if your family is healing from other issues together.
  • Don’t sugarcoat the conversation or use nicknames for addiction-related topics. Addiction is not a choice and it deserves to be approached with dignity and compassion, but it is also a very real and prevalent issue that can have damaging effects on people and their families. If you are having these difficult conversations with your children or other young family members, teach them the terms to know about drug and alcohol use and addiction. This will help keep them informed and conscientious in case they are ever concerned that a loved one might be struggling with addiction.
  • Use non-judgmental or non-accusatory language. It’s understandable that your family will be feeling pain because of how it has been affected by addiction, but in order to heal and move forward, everyone has to be willing to work together and forgive one another. Cultivate an open and supportive space for working through these issues together.
  • Share personal stories. If you have struggled with addiction, explain how it has impacted your life, acknowledge how it has affected your family, and make your commitment to your recovery known. If someone else in your life has battled addiction, share a story about how they knew they needed help and whether or not they reached sobriety. This helps make the idea of addiction real, and your family will be able to better understand your message.

Pyramid Walden offers family services to help support you through handling the impact of addiction as a family. You can only heal as a family if each person is equipped for it. Reach out today at 301-997-1300 to get help.