“Mom? I have a problem.”
Those are the words that so many parents are afraid to hear. Yet, for the family member, loved one, or friend of an addict or alcoholic, they could be the words that save a life. Finding the right words to say to ask for help can be a struggle for someone who is addicted to substances or alcohol—but it can make the difference between getting sober and staying loaded forever. However, you don’t need to suffer in silence or shoulder this burden alone. In fact, speaking up could save your life. And you are worth saving!
Here are three steps to take to break the news to the people you love, that you have a problem with drugs and alcohol.
1. Keep it simple.
Whether you choose to self-disclose your addiction over the phone, by text, or in person, it’s best to keep it simple. It’s okay to just say, “I have realized I have a problem with drugs, and I need help.” You may think that your loved one has no idea that you have a problem. If that’s the case, don’t feel like you need to convince them by sharing stories about what you did while you were drunk or loaded, or by dramatically sharing how much you drank or what you did in order to get loaded. That can be scary to the person you are telling, and harm them. Stick to your own side of the story and keep it simple.
Also, by not elaborating too much or telling a big, sensational story, you can show the person you’re telling that you’re serious and you mean business. Addicts and alcoholics are famous for being theatrical or exaggerating, especially when they want something. If you can tell the truth about yourself in a way that is simple, honest, and clear, it may signal to your loved one that you’re serious and not just be seeking attention or start drama. Remember that you have nothing to hide: you know what’s true for you, and you can be confident as long as you tell the truth.
2. Be ready to apologize.
You never, ever have to apologize for who or what you are. Nobody wants to be addicted, right? When you disclose your problem to a loved one, they may have a strong reaction. Although not many people truly comprehend the nature of addiction, most people do understand that it’s a serious, potentially life-threatening disease. Your loved one may respond to your disclosure with fear, or even anger. If this is the case, the best thing you can do is try to stay calm. Remind your loved one that you are asking for help, and that it’s hard for you to be honest about something like an addiction.
It may be tempting to take responsibility for everything you’ve ever done wrong or everything that upsets your loved one. If the person you’re talking to becomes angry, you may be able to defuse the situation by saying, “I’m sorry I tried to hide it for so long,” or “I’m sorry that I couldn’t be honest. I know that hurt you.” However, until you have some sober time under your belt, it’s best to avoid the blame game. You may be an addict, but that doesn’t mean everything is your fault. One of the reasons we get sober is so that we can live an honest life. Sharing your true self with your loved ones is one of the best gifts you can give them.
3. Know what you need.
Telling your loved one that you have a problem with substances is half the battle. If you’re willing to self-disclose, good for you. You’re taking an important step that will change your life for the better, and maybe even save your life, too. One of the most common questions that family members and loved ones ask is, “How can I help?” Your loved one may ask you this once you self-disclose. Instead of just shrugging or saying you don’t know, do a little research and find out what your options are. Do you need to go to treatment? Would you benefit from counseling or a support group? Are you thinking about getting on methadone? Share your ideas with your loved one, so that they can help you get what you need.
Coming out as an addict or alcoholic can be challenging. For many people, it’s the biggest stumbling block to recovery. “I’m addicted” are hard words to say, especially to our loved ones. However, sharing this key fact about yourself can open the door to long-term recovery. When you self-disclose, what you’re really saying isn’t “I’m an addict.” What you’re really saying is, “I love you, and I want you to know who I am. I’m ready to get help. I want to give sobriety a try.”