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How To Tell Your Family About Your Addiction

While some stages of substance use disorder can be hidden, after a while it becomes quite obvious—as much as we like to think we’re great at covering our tracks. Whether your family know or not, telling them can be daunting.

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Whether your family knows you’re struggling with addiction or not, talking to them about it can be daunting.

Some stages of substance use disorder can be hidden for a time, but after a while, it becomes quite obvious, no matter how much we like to think we’re great at covering our tracks. Whether your family knows or not, telling them can be daunting. At this point in your addiction, you may be riddled with shame and guilt that only exacerbate your fears of speaking up.

However, that fear is often unnecessary. Many families and friends are really supportive when we take accountability and ask for help. And even if some loved ones do not understand or lack the ability to support you when you tell your family about your addiction, there are tons of other resources to help you on your journey of recovery.

Sometimes your loved ones have no idea about your substance use.

The insidious nature of substance use disorder means that—depending on the drug—you may have become a master of deception, silently taking increasing amounts of substances under the radar. Usually others only begin to take any serious notice when patterns of behavior emerge, or when there is an incident—like a DUI. I’ve heard some people be completely surprised to learn that a loved one is in rehab. But they seemed so together, so normal. Are you sure it’s them?!

Sometimes those around you are all too aware of your alcohol or drug use.

Over time, family and close friends may start to put together the pieces. They see the tell-tale signs of someone excessively using substances—isolation, turning up late, flaking altogether on responsibilities or commitments, excuses, depression, health decline, moodiness, hysteria, instability, and, in some instances, being drunk or high all the time.

My close family knew. They painfully watched my slow decline into substance use disorder. They witnessed my declining mental and physical health. They heard my calls of desperation and the total despair and disconnection in my voice. I had totally detached from the world. I had one purpose: obliterate all of my senses and numb my experience in the world. This must have been very difficult for them to watch. They tried to help. They restricted money, stopped speaking to me, tried to control me, and even took me to meetings. I eventually reached a point where I couldn’t go on. It was then I asked for help and started my road to recovery.

Why is it important to tell your family about your substance use?

Whether people have suspicions or have no clue, there is no shame in asking for help, or in telling people that you have been struggling. As I began to recover, I needed to tell close friends and other family members. I had to get as much support as possible. I also needed to explain my erratic behavior. Some friends and family were very understanding and supportive. Others struggled with words like alcoholic, addict, addiction, and disease (at least, applying those words to someone they cared about). They believed that obsessively and compulsively taking drugs, despite the negative consequences, is a choice … but that’s a whole blog post in itself!

Whether your family knows or not, it is important to try and tell them what is going on for you.

This communication benefits us greatly. It goes a long way toward developing healthier behaviors and building a supportive network for our continued recovery.

How to approach telling your loved ones about your substance use disorder:

  1. Consider beforehand which family members are likely to be supportive, and choose to tell those people.
  2. Assume they already know.
  3. Be prepared for a difficult conversation. Plan to do something supportive afterward, like calling a friend in recovery, going to therapy, or hitting a recovery meeting.
  4. Plan what you want to say. Be honest, acknowledge your problem, tell them what steps you are taking to get help, and be clear in asking for the help that you need from them. What you need might be supportive phone calls/texts, help getting you into treatment, or just love and compassion.
  5. Understand that you may have hurt people as a result of your behavior, and be conscious of that when asking for help. Part of recovery is rebuilding from that hurt. You may have to accept that some are not willing or able to support you at this time.

Speaking up, while difficult, is cathartic. You’ll feel like a huge weight has been lifted off your shoulders. And even if you don’t receive the support you would like, there are tons of resources available. There are providers, rehabs and treatment centers, recovery groups, therapists, mutual support groups, and many other people in recovery walking the same journey as you. Family support is great, but it isn’t the only help available to you in your recovery.

Olivia Pennelle (Liv) has a masters in clinical social work from Portland State University. She is a mental health therapist, writer, and human activist. Her writing has appeared in STAT News, Insider, Filter Magazine, Ravishly, The Temper, and Shondaland. She is the founder of Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, Life After 12-Step Recovery, and Tera Collaborations. She lives near Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Instagram @Livwritesrecovery and @teracollaborations

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. Workit Health, Inc. and its affiliated professional entities make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.

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