11 Things You Should Never Say To A Recovering Addict

With the recent news of Demi Lovato’s relapse and other celebrities who have come forward about substance abuse, addiction has been at the forefront of conversations for many people. While addiction can be present in everyone’s life in one way or another, not everyone understands and gets what it’s truly like to struggle with recovery and relapses.

On social media, there are those who stand by people who are trying their best to overcome their obstacles–and, then, there are those who do not personally understand, and therefore say nothing but malicious and hurtful words.

Being an addict is not always a choice, and recovering is not always easy. For many, it takes strength, perseverance, and a lot of setbacks to try and recover. Additionally, not everyone is in recovery “forever.” Relapses do happen, and they do suck for those who work incredibly hard to overcome their addictions–but, it doesn’t mean that their recovery process is over for good.

Being an addict is an ongoing process, and, it becomes apart of your identity and your life. There are some things, according to experts, that you should avoid saying to anyone you know in your own life who is struggling with addiction.

11. “I had no idea.”

The media makes it easy for addicts to hide their problems. For many, addicts look like the type of people we see in movies with problems–messy, disheveled, dirty. Not every addict looks like someone who is homeless on the street (and not every homeless person is an addict, just FYI).

Addicts can look like you and me, and go about their lives pretty regularly for us to see. But, behind closed doors, you have no idea what is truly going on. The statement that “you had no idea,” and they don’t “look like an addict,” makes recovering addicts feel bad about themselves and increase their shame and embarrassment.

10. “We’re all addicts in one way or another.”

Not all addictions are the same. If someone comes to you and admits that they have a problem–with drinkings, drugs, or anything else–it’s important not to minimize their situation. It takes a lot for the person to come clean to you and comparing something menial like a caffeine addiction, or a cell-phone addiction to something like drinking or drugs is disrespectful and rude.

9. “I had this one friend who went to rehab, I get it.”

People decide to use for different reasons. No two people have the same story and recovery process. Comparing two people can make the recovering addict feel stigmatized, as though they are forever going to be bulked into the category of people you knew with problems. According to Constance Scharff Ph.D., author of Ending Addiction For Good:

Only someone who has personally dealt with addiction can really understand what it is like. Saying “I know how you feel” if you are not yourself in recovery minimizes the experiences and feelings of those in recovery.

Everyone is unique, and while it is appropriate to empathize with a person in recovery, do not insult them by thinking you know how they feel about such a sensitive and personal experience.

8. “I’d invite you…but…”

Recovering addicts are still people. If you want to see them, understand that some situations may be uncomfortable for them–but never single them out and make them feel ostracized because of their recovery. There are ways to still include your friends in affairs and events without making them feel like they have a huge sticker on their forehead that says “addict.

Howard Forman, MD, director of addiction psychiatry at Montefiore Health System in New York City says: 

“You don’t have to make it a big deal that they’re not drinking. The most important thing for a host is to make non-drinking an acceptable alternative.”

If you’re throwing a party, including both alcoholic and non-alcoholic alternatives is best so that your friend can still enjoy themselves without the pressure to use/drink.

7. “Can’t you have just one drink?”

For many who struggle with addiction, one drink can trigger an entire relapse. The Alcoholics Anonymous saying is, “One drink is too many, and a thousand are not enough,” for a reason. Only those who do not personally understand addiction believe that it’s possible to have one or two drinks (or even drugs) and be okay to continue their recovery process. Dr. Scharff states:

Recovering addicts need to maintain their treatment plan for the rest of their lives. There is no cure for addiction that allows an addict to “get better” and start partying again.