Living and Communicating with Someone Who Has an Addiction or Mental Illness

If someone you love was injured or ill, you would do what was necessary to help them get better. You should approach a loved one suffering from addiction and mental disorder in this same way.

It’s easy to react to the knowledge that someone you love is addicted to drugs with anger unless you realize that it is an illness. You might also be very confused about behavior that could stem from mental illness.

First, it’s very helpful to educate yourself about addiction and mental disorders. This will help you navigate how to live with and communicate effectively with the person while they’re not feeling like themselves.

What is Addiction?

In order to communicate with and support an addict, it’s important to fully understand what addiction is.

This condition isn’t a character flaw or something that can be overcome only by the user’s sheer determination. It is a serious disease of the brain. It occurs when a patient persistently consumes alcohol or illicit drugs despite the negative effects they produce. Addicts often consume substances because of the feelings of euphoria or relaxation they offer, believing that this altered state is better than their normal lives.

Addiction can be caused by a variety of factors, including social influences, genetics, and family background. (Although it’s important not to blame yourself and internalize guilt – this isn’t healthy or productive for the addicted person or you.)

To properly recover and prevent relapse it’s recommended that addicts seek behavioral counseling and ways to effectively deal with stress. Many addicts suffer with mental illness alongside drug dependency (known as a co-occurring disorder), and counseling can help treat both.

Before achieving recovery, addicts often develop denial and deceitful behaviors. Because of the nature of addiction, communicating and living with an addict can be difficult due to these behaviors. The following is a guide for communicating and living with a loved one who’s suffering from addiction and possible co-occurring disorders.

Communicating

Communicating with an addict can be difficult. You don’t want to offend them by saying too much or ignore the issue by not saying enough. It is difficult to find a conversational balance that makes both of you feel comfortable.

It’s also incredibly hard to address concerns with someone suffering from mental illness. You might find that they are overly ‘negative’, aggressive, withdrawn or paranoid, and don’t respond well to you asking them what’s wrong. This puts you off communicating with them but ultimately can leave their condition to worsen.

Consider these following tips for communicating with your loved one:

Have a one-on-one conversation

Don’t address issues over a family dinner or in public. Set time aside to speak in a calm, private environment and make them aware of your concerns.

Be open to learning more about their struggles and their condition itself. It’s common for well-intentioned family members and friends to inadvertently belittle and criticize addicts. This way of communicating is ineffective and could potentially hinder the recovery process.

Display empathy

It’s difficult to know what dependence on a substance feels like if you have never experienced it. The same goes for suffering with a mental illness.

Try to empathize with your loved one. Listen as much, if not more, as you speak when talking about how they feel. Accept and love them as a person, but make it clear that any destructive behavior won’t be accepted and requires help.

Focus on them

Experts suggest avoiding phrases like:

If you keep using, I’m never speaking to you again!

Can you stop drinking, for me?

Why haven’t you been texting me back? Is it because you were drinking again?

This type of language centers the conversation on you. With these statements and questions, you are essentially telling the user, “I need you to stop using drugs or consuming alcohol because it negatively affects me.”

Even though this is likely true, avoid phrasing your concerns in this way. Instead, focus on the person. Show them how their substance abuse negatively affects their personal life, career aspirations, and health. Express your worries without framing the conversation around yourself.

Be mindful of what you say

It is acceptable, and even encouraged, to talk with an addict about their problem. Broach discussing their feelings, struggles, and possible treatment options.

It’s important to maintain a sense of normalcy in conversing with your loved one. For anyone, communication is essential to feeling a sense of belonging and importance. Addiction can make it difficult for someone to communicate in a productive and meaningful way. Facilitate everyday conversation to diminish a user’s feelings of isolation or shame.

Be mindful in what you say when doing so. In everyday conversation, don’t refer to their past drug-induced shenanigans. Don’t talk about your recreational alcohol consumption if you know that will make them long for a drink.

Living with an Addict

Whether it be a sibling, roommate, parent, or significant other, living with an addict can be difficult. If you aren’t cautious in your words and actions, your mental health and your loved one’s recovery process can suffer. Here are some tips for living with an addict. 

Accept the reality of your situation

Even if your loved one has always smoked or drank, their recreational habits could have developed into an addiction. It’s important for you to address their addiction as a serious problem that requires intervention. If you recognize and accept their condition, you’ll be able to more effectively encourage them to seek professional treatment.

Manipulation may ensue. Those who abuse drugs and alcohol are notorious for tricking themselves and others into thinking they don’t have a problem that requires treatment. Kindly but firmly combat these manipulations, help them recognize their problem, and encourage them to seek help.

Learn the signs of enablement

If you are allowing the user in your household to continue their drug or alcohol consumption, you are enabling them. Become familiar with these signs of enablement:

  • Lying to your loved one’s family, friends, school or place of work to cover for their behavior
  • Providing money to your loved one that you know they will spend on their habit
  • Blatantly ignoring or denying your loved one’s problem
  • Giving priority to your loved one’s needs over your own

Recognize if you are enabling your loved one and work on stopping these behaviors.

Practice self-care

Living with an addict can take up a lot of your mental energy. Be sure to set aside time for yourself. Resume hobbies you once enjoyed and go out with friends. If you are comfortable with it, consider joining a support group. Speaking with others who are dealing with similar circumstances will help you learn how to navigate living with an addict. 

Allow Clear Recovery Center to Help

Clear Recovery Center offers assistance to users and their families. We have different programs to meet patients’ needs and family therapy to educate loved ones of addicts and those with mental health disorders. Our team makes the recovery process easier for all parties involved. Get in contact with us today to start the recovery process for both you and your loved one.

Sources

Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (third edition): Is there a difference between physical dependence and addiction? (2012).  drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/there-difference-between-physical-dependence

Understanding addiction: How addiction hijacks the brain. (n.d.). 
helpguide.org/harvard/how-addiction-hijacks-the-brain.htm

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