How to Explain Your Addiction to Loved Ones

Man explaining Addiction to Loved Ones while drinking coffee

When attempting to explain addiction to another person, it’s best to first accept that they may not fully understand. And more importantly, in order for me to be well and strong in recovery, I don’t NEED them to understand.

Hopefully, the recovering person’s support system does work toward understanding and gaining information about addiction, in order to best support the addict, but it is not required for healthy recovery.

Guidelines to Consider to Explain Addiction

When talking with loved ones about addiction, there are 5 guidelines to consider to help keep healthy boundaries and keep the situation as simple as possible.

1. You must know first!

Man thinking about how to explain addiction treatmentThe most important thing in recovery is to gain knowledge, understanding, and awareness of self-FIRST!

Due to the denial that accompanies this disease, the addict must come to self-awareness and understanding one’s own condition before attempting to explain addiction to another person. Research and gain knowledge about the disease process, how it works, what you need in order to recover.

This information becomes what you share, not just emotions and personal experiences which are easy to misunderstand and misjudge.

2. Be ready for resistance, ignorance or just plain denial

When talking to the addicted family system (which includes anyone in close relationship to the addicted person) it’s important to give grace and understanding as denial (the chief protective factor and defense mechanism) gets broken down.

It’s common that the addicted person comes to awareness and acceptance of their condition before their loved ones do. I have sat with many clients and their loved one(s) as they attempt to explain addiction and discuss their condition and the family member scoffs, gives a shoulder shrug, eye roll and says “oh please, it’s not that bad” or “it’s no big deal, just stop using”.

Sometimes, the denial stays intact long after recovery starts. It’s also common that the loved one is or has been hurt by this disease, and understanding those wounds are present may help with understanding the denial or other defense mechanisms that are in place.

It’s critical for each person in the addicted person’s support system to eventually come to a clear awareness and understanding of the disease and recovery process. But everyone is allowed the grace to do this in their own time and process. No one can force another into recovery, and that goes for everyone in the addicted family system.

3. Pick your audience wisely

Not everyone needs to know! You do not have to explain addiction to everyone. Isn’t that a relief! No one needs to walk around with a billboard or scarlet letter announcing to the world one’s condition or state.

However, there are some critical people the recovering person needs to be honest with right away.

Guy driving a pickup truck to addiction treatmentHere’s the list:

  • All healthcare providers,
  • Therapists,
  • Spouse or significant other,
  • Recovery group and its members.

One can add to this list as it’s appropriate and is suggested by one’s professional support like a therapist. This list should eventually include close family and friends, but may not right away, depending on the situation and relationships.

It’s important to gain professional support and insights as you seek familial and friendship support. Like aforementioned in #2, it’s very likely those closest to you may not be as accepting or aware, which can lead to resentments and relapse in early recovery.

4. Let go of expectations, ulterior motives, and resentments

What are you attempting to accomplish by sharing your condition with others? Ideally, the reason for sharing is to gain support for recovery and meeting environmental needs like (not keeping mind or mood altering substances in the home).

One common trip up for the recovering person is sharing as means of seeking acceptance, affirmation, and clarity about one’s condition. It’s possible but incredibly uncommon that in sharing information about one’s addiction the loved one will be able to do this.

Honestly, it can be a real set up for the loved one and the addicted person. The addicted person may be use to looking to other people for these type of emotional needs. However, now in recovery, it’s time to look to one’s Higher Power to meet those needs.

5. Works if you work it

Couple hugging and watching sunset on the beachNow is the time to just focus on working the program. It takes time, so be patient with loved one’s ability to understand and become aware.

In working a 12 Step program, there will be many opportunities to gain and share understanding with loved ones. It’s now time to look inward and gain more understanding about self and one’s highest potential. And that actually what the recovering person as to share with loved ones and the world.

About the author:

Brie MorzovAbout the author: Brie Morzov, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Oregon. She has worked in the field of addiction treatment and prevention for the past decade and continues to work as a therapist and author. She has a passion for helping hurting people heal and find their highest self.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on March 14, 2016
Published on

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.