For Loved Ones

How to Talk to a Loved One About Addiction

It is never easy to start a conversation with a loved one who’s showing signs of substance abuse. You might worry about saying the wrong things, hurting your relationship, or causing your loved one to become angry. You might even convince yourself that it’s best to avoid the subject altogether and pretend it isn’t happening. However, if a loved one is addicted to opioids or alcohol, it’s important to face the issue as soon as possible. Starting a conversation could be the turning point that spurs your loved one to seek help.

While it may be uncomfortable, bringing the problem to light can provide a path to healing and reconciliation within the family. Denial, on the other hand, only creates further barriers to recovery.

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Talking to Your Loved One About Addiction

In most cases, the person struggling with addiction won’t be the one who initiates a conversation about seeking treatment. That means it’s generally up to loved ones to approach the subject. Whether your loved one is a husband or wife, a child, or a parent, there are some dos and don’ts you can rely on in order to make this conversation a little easier.

The goal of this conversation is to let your loved one know that you care, you’ve noticed some concerning changes, and you want to help. Below you’ll find examples of productive language to get the conversation started, along with some counterproductive language to avoid when talking to a loved one about addiction.


  • Be sensitive in your wording and mention the changes you’ve seen. “I’ve noticed you’re taking more painkillers than usual. How are you feeling lately?”
  • Use first-person language to create a personal message. “I feel frustrated when hangovers cause you to miss our daughter’s basketball games.”
  • Have treatment information ready and available before you start the conversation. “We did some research and found a great outpatient medication-assisted treatment program for you.”
  • Stay calm and show compassion. “I know this is hard, and I know you’re scared. But I’m here for you, and I’ll support you the whole way.”
  • Share the family’s plan for recovery. “You’re not in this alone – we all need help. We found a family therapist who can help me, your father, and your sisters.”


  • Avoid making angry accusations or blaming. “You don’t care about your family. All you care about is shooting more heroin into your veins.”
  • Never talk “at” your loved one. “You don’t listen when you’re drunk! You never do anything to help around the house. You’re the problem.”
  • Don’t bargain or make agreements that allow the addiction to continue. “If you promise to stop using opioids in the house, I’ll give you one last chance to make this right.”
  • Don’t act judgmental. “You could stop using painkillers if you really wanted to. You’re just weak.”
  • Avoid making the situation seem insurmountable. “I can’t handle this. You and your addiction are just too much for me.”

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Guidelines for a Productive Conversation

When talking to someone about their addiction – and your concerns about it – it’s important to understand they may not be ready to hear what you have to say. They might say you have nothing to worry about. They might find it extremely hard to ask for or accept your help. Despite their reaction, the best thing you can do is listen, ask leading questions to understand how they feel, and show your loved one compassion when talking about what’s happening in their lives.

By keeping the channels of communication open, it’s easier to help your loved one and work toward acknowledging they need help to overcome addiction.


Here are some guidelines to follow in order to have a productive conversation:

What You Should Avoid During the Conversation

Here are some things you don’t want to do when talking to your loved one about their issues with opioid or alcohol addiction:

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