What Are 7 Things I Shouldn’t Say to Someone in Recovery?

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Recovery is a time for healing after treatment. However, people in your life – such as their loved ones or peers – can sometimes say hurtful things that make the process harder. It’s important to try to avoid saying these things to your peers or loved ones in recovery.

Here’s a list of phrases that can hurt someone’s recovery and how they are harmful.

#1. “You’ll Never Change.”

As the saying goes, “Once an addict, always an addict.” Being told “You’ll never change” can eliminate a person’s motivation to get better. Why even try? The problem with a statement like this is that it claims the person has no identity outside of their addiction. It also spreads the false idea that people with addiction can’t get better and can’t recover. The truth is that plenty of people can have a successful treatment experience. Instead, try to be supportive of a person who is in recovery. Tell them that you support them and believe they can change.

#2. “You Should Try to Go Cold Turkey.”

For many types of addictions, going cold turkey can actually be harmful. For example, if someone is addicted to alcohol, quitting cold turkey can actually cause alcohol withdrawal syndrome, a condition that may cause the person to experience anxiety, tremors, agitation, or even worse symptoms like seizures and hallucinations. Withdrawal symptoms of other drugs can be extremely severe, sometimes leading to relapse. Those who want to become sober should enter a detoxification facility where they will be safely monitored by healthcare professionals as the substances leave their system.

#3. “Let’s Grab a Drink.”

If a person is in recovery, it isn’t a great idea to invite them out somewhere that might lead to a relapse. Even just one drink could be enough to affect their ability to stay sober. Instead, find other ways to spend time with your friend who is in recovery. Go out for coffee or make “mocktails” at home. Asking them to grab a drink with you despite being in recovery can also make you an enabler. An enabler is someone who encourages dysfunctional behavior. If your friend has gotten help for drinking or using drugs in the past and is in recovery, it isn’t okay to put them in a position where they could risk using again.

#4. “You Don’t Look Like Someone With an addiction.”

There are plenty of stereotypes in the media about what someone with an addiction looks like, but in real life, addiction doesn’t have a look. Saying that someone doesn’t “look” like an addict can be harmful to a person in recovery. Enforcing stereotypes often causes people to internalize those stereotypes, especially if they are negative. Furthermore, hearing a statement like this can make someone with an addiction doubt their need to continue recovery. They might feel like that because they don’t look like a typical person with addiction, they must be wrong about being addicted. Addiction is not usually visible, and many people hide their addiction from others out of shame. If you’re surprised about someone’s addiction, it’s best to not express it. Instead, take the time to learn about addiction on your own. You will likely learn that addiction can look many different ways.

#5. “You Should Be Ashamed.”

Shame is a major reason why people wait to seek recovery. People with addiction often feel afraid or embarrassed to admit they have a problem. The stigma against addiction reinforces these feelings of shame and embarrassment, which keep people from seeking treatment. They worry about what their friends and family might think. They worry that people will judge them if they find out about their addiction. Telling your friend or loved one that they should be ashamed only reinforces these stigmas, hurting their self-esteem when they are most likely feeling low. Instead of kicking them while they are down, try to support them. Encourage them to seek help. Tell them that you believe they can get better and that you are on their side.

#6. “You’re Selfish.” 

This can be especially damaging to hear because it reinforces the idea that someone is choosing to have an addiction. A person doesn’t choose to become addicted. Addiction is a disease that develops from using substances. Many people who become addicted often use substances as a way to self-medicate for mental health disorders. Addiction can also be hereditary, which is something else that cannot be controlled. A person might have done selfish things before treatment because of their addiction. However, having an addiction is not selfish.

7. “You’re Too Weak to Get Help.”

Telling someone they aren’t strong enough to get help can be extremely damaging to someone who needs your support. Perhaps it was said during a time of frustration or even as a form of reverse psychology. But telling someone that they don’t have the strength to get the help they need can cause them to lose hope. Battling addiction requires a strong support system of people who believe in you.

Words are powerful and can greatly impact how your loved one recovers. If they aren’t receiving the appropriate support, this can damage their healing process. Many of the things that are commonly said to people recovering from addiction feed off of negative stereotypes. These stereotypes reinforce harmful stigmas that can keep someone from seeking help out of shame, fear, or even denial. When a person is in recovery, be empathetic. Try to understand their point of view. Taking the time to learn the right things to say could make a life-changing difference. Even clients who have completed treatment still need loving support from their friends, family, and counselors who believe in them. At Jaywalker Lodge, the language used by our healthcare professionals and our recovery community is meant to provide unwavering support. To learn more about what to say and what not to say to a person with addiction, call us now at (866) 529-9255.

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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