A Friend Tells me about the Struggle of Having an Addicted Family Member. How do I React?

It often requires great strength to speak out about one’s struggles with an addict. Should this conversation be experienced as negative, it could handicap the management of such a struggle. The friend often feels guilty about “speaking out”, responsible for the addict’s behaviour, ashamed to admit these problems exist and scared of being rejected.

Therefore don’t break the trust-situation. Don’t be too nosy or adopt a “shame poor thing” attitude. Don’t compete over who’s situation is worse. Don’t blame or look down on the person. Don’t look too shocked and don’t dish out advice too quickly.

There are a few things that you can do and say which are constructive:

  • Try to listen actively by reflecting the emotion behind the person’s words. For example when the person says that you are the first person they have told, you could mention that it sounds as if they are scared of what might happen if other people know. Or even that it sounds like it took great courage or effort to speak out.
  • It is good to convey the message that you will never know precisely how things are at home or how the person feels.
  • Confirm whether the conversation is confidential and respect their wish.
  • Mention that you are available should the person want to speak again.
  • You may share from personal experience if it is relevant, especially if it can be linked to how the person is feeling.
  • Say that no one can take responsibility for a family member’s addiction and that no one can cause, control or cure it.
  • Mention that it is acceptable and a good thing to love the person, but that it is just as acceptable and good to hate their behaviour.
  • In situations where the addiction continues, it is important to provide hope through showing that addiction is a manageable condition. Rather encourage him/her to be patient.
  • Leave the suggestion that the person could look into professional help (such as a psychologist) to cope with the effects of the addict’s behaviour.
  • Give a relevant book to your friend to read (the AA might be able to suggest good titles).

About thatpsychologist

Clinical Psychologist in private practice in George and Mossel-Bay Kliniese Sielkundige in privaat praktyk op George en Mosselbaai.

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