What Not to Say to Someone With a Drug Addiction

Hurtful Comments Can Trigger Drug Use

It's often hard for people to know what to say when you find out someone you know has a drug addiction. Often people mean well but can cause more harm than good. The following five comments are often very painful for someone with a drug addiction to hear, so steer clear of saying anything along these lines.

Remember, someone with a drug addiction may have very sensitive feelings, and if they are hurt emotionally, it could have an impact on their drug use.


Once an Addict, Always an Addict

Young woman talking with her hands

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The statement that people with addictions are incapable of change is completely inaccurate and a display of ignorance regarding what we know about the life course of drug addiction. Many people go through a phase of drug use when they're young before maturing out of it, and many others quit with or without the help of treatment programs. Still, others do not quit entirely but are able to use drugs in a controlled, non-compulsive, and non-harmful way.

Making a comment like "Once an addict, always an addict" only serves to make the person with the drug problem feel alienated and misunderstood, or hopeless about the future. In some situations, this could trigger even more drug use, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. A better statement would be that you are here to support them if they decide to get help.


Going Cold Turkey Is the Only Way to Quit

Again, this is an ignorant comment. There are many ways to quit drug use, and the experience is different for everyone. Although quitting drugs and becoming abstinent overnight might seem like the best solution, giving up drugs suddenly can actually be one of the most difficult and dangerous ways to tackle addiction.

With some drugs, such as alcohol and benzodiazepines, going cold turkey can induce seizures and can even be life-threatening. With meth withdrawal, people can become delusional and violent if they suddenly withdraw from the drug. The best way to quit a drug is under medical supervision or in a detox program.


It's Your Parents' Fault

Drug addiction is a complex condition, and when someone develops an addiction, it's typically the result of the interplay between physical, psychological, and social vulnerabilities. While parents have a huge influence on whether someone becomes addicted to drugs—for example, by role modeling unhealthy behaviors or being abusive—this isn't the whole story. Some people with supportive parents still go on to develop drug problems, and many people with less-than-perfect parents do not go on to become addicted to drugs.

Whether or not an individual's parents played a role in the development of her drug addiction, blaming the parents is unhelpful and hurtful. So although you might think this will make the person feel you are shifting the blame off them, in fact, it is better to avoid blaming anyone and instead focus on what the person needs now to cope effectively.


Let's Go for a Drink

Alcohol is a drug, and although it may be legal for adults, it's one of the most harmful and addictive drugs out there. Encouraging alcohol use will not help someone quit drugs. In fact, alcohol may reduce the person's impulse control, and increase feelings of depression afterward, possibly even increasing drug use. Bonding over alcohol also reinforces the belief that drugs are necessary for socializing with others and for coping with life's challenges.

A more helpful way of supporting someone with a drug addiction is to accompany him in an activity that does not include any addictive substances or behaviors, such as a meal without alcohol.


You Just Need to Pull Yourself Together

If you've never struggled with an addiction or other psychological problems, such as anxiety or depression, you have no idea how difficult it can be for someone to make such a profound change to their way of coping with life. Yet people who haven't had significant problems in their lives often think that the problems of others are easily solved, and a simple matter of down-to-earth advice and will-power.

In fact, the person with the drug addiction is probably well aware of what they "need" to do, whether it is to quit drugs, get a job, meet a partner, or any of the other goals that society imposes on people. Telling her to pull herself together is likely to come across as patronizing, and it may be undermining to her self-esteem, which can lead to the person seeking comfort in drug use. Instead of lecturing, help her "pull herself together" by supportive actions, and letting her know you care about her.

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Article Sources

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