What not to say to a loved one about addiction

By Dave Jansa, program advisor & peer coach

Published July 29, 2017

Language plays an important role in the work we do. Most of the time, this means rejecting words like “addict,” “clean” and others. These words have no scientific meaning and feed the stigma and shame people suffering from addiction are all too familiar with.

At Face It TOGETHER, we’re committed to using words that are grounded in science and medicine.

Stigma has undoubtedly permeated the loved one language as well. Labels applied to concerned loved ones of addiction sufferers can do just as much damage and fuel the psychological barriers that keep people from seeking help and getting well. They also suggest that concerned family and friends are complicit and should be blamed for their unwell loved one's addiction. 

The two labels I come across most often are “enabler” and “codependent.” In my work with loved one clients, I’m constantly asked questions like, “Is what I’m doing enabling?” or “Does this mean I’m codependent?” Often, my response is, “No.” Loving someone, wanting the best for them and helping them get well are all normal behaviors.

Another phrase I come across often is “tough love.” Research shows that respect, not conflict or confrontation, decreases resistance.

The words “enable” and “codependent” and confrontational nature of “tough love” paralyzes people who are already struggling to help their loved one through this challenging disease. The reality is there are behaviors that are healthy, and there are behaviors that are unhealthy. As a loved one, achieving this balance can be difficult.

A big part of the work I do with loved one clients is evaluating their behaviors and helping them determine which ones may be poor or unhealthy, and the ones that should be continued. This conversation alone often provides immense relief to concerned friends and family.

Being a loved one of someone who is suffering from the disease of addiction is an incredible challenge. Working through this illness – and everything that it encompasses, like dealing with crises or navigating the treatment system – isn't easy. It's time to stop using these stigmatizing words.

Face It TOGETHER’s peer loved one coaching is offered for any length of time.

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