When individuals go into treatment, their friends, co-workers and loved ones have a natural desire to make contact and be supportive. However, some questions and comments are not helpful and can, in fact, have a detrimental effect on the process of recovery. Although you may only be asking out of concern and want the individual to know you care, you should avoid questions that only serve to peel a scab off a wound that is still in the process of healing.
“I know how you feel.”
Unless you have dealt with addiction yourself, there is no way to actually feel the struggle the individual is going through. Although you may wish to show empathy with the person, it is more helpful to say something like, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but I’m here for you and I’ll help in any way I can.”
“How long have you been sober?”
Although this may seem like a natural question, it can open up questions of self-worth and shame. Relapses are common in the recovery process and often threaten to derail a hard-fought recovery. Calling these relapses to mind within a time frame can bring up negative emotions. Keep your inquiries to, “How are you doing?” This vagueness allows the person to decide on their own how much or how little they want to say.
“Joe is in recovery, too.”
Issues of addiction and recovery are often private, and being talked about or being the subject of gossip can be an unnerving prospect for anyone in recovery. Always help to maintain individuals’ privacy and allow them to mention the addiction, recovery or related issues if, and when, they wish.
“Can’t you have just one (drink/hit)?”
The feeling that they might be in control enough to enjoy just one lapse is an ever-present danger that can pull them back into addiction. It’s better to simply say, “I know you can do this,” as an expression of support and allow them the space to work out the deep issues involved in addiction and recovery.
“Why did you get into that stuff?”
The reasons why someone becomes addicted can be complex and sensitive. Asking for this kind of intimate information only produces more stress for the person trying to avoid laying bare his or her soul or delving into issues they may not fully understand themselves. Unless they bring it up themselves, the whys and wherefores don’t matter at this point, because the individuals are on their way back to full recovery.
“I never thought you had a problem.”
The essence of addiction is hiding the problem from the people around them. This question only calls to mind the many evasions, deceptions and outright lies they told to cover up their addiction.
A simple, “I am proud of you,” is often all that’s needed to tell the person you are aware they have been struggling and you support them in their fight to stay sober. As your friend or loved one feels comfortable sharing more, they likely will. In the meantime, do not feel that their need for privacy is a sign of a strained or difficult relationship – it most likely is not.