Drug Addiction & Denial—What Can You Do?

How to help someone who won’t admit they have a drug or alcohol problem

Photo by lechatnoir/iStockphoto.com

Millions of Americans are addicted to drugs and alcohol. And for every person who uses drugs and alcohol, there are family members and loved ones who are adversely affected by their loved one’s addiction. In reality, tens of millions of Americans know someone who uses drugs and alcohol.

Sadly, though millions of us have a family member or loved one who is addicted, very few of us may feel fully competent and capable of convincing our addicted loved ones to get clean. Thankfully, anyone can achieve the necessary knowledge and skills to convince a loved one to enter treatment and stop using drugs for life. It’s just a matter of learning how to help someone who doesn’t necessarily want help at first.

Words Matter—What to Say & What Not to Say

When speaking with someone who struggles with addiction, some experts recommend using “Person-First Language.” As the name implies, this form of speech puts the individual first—for example, stating that a person “has” a condition, rather than saying they “are” a condition. The goal of using person-first language is to remove language that equates the person to their condition—it’s to remove language that stigmatizes, stereotypes, or that generally implies a negative connotation.

Here is an example of some words not to use when talking to a person with an addiction:

  • Junkie
  • Alcoholic
  • Drunk
  • Habit
  • Disease

Why not use these terms? “Junkie,” “alcoholic,” and “drunk” are all terms that could be used negatively to refer back to someone who is struggling with an addiction.

While not as critical or negative, “habit” is still a poor word choice, because a “habit” implies anything that is a continuous activity, such as drinking coffee daily. An addiction to drugs is much more severe than a coffee habit. Calling an addiction a “habit” may serve to lessen the severity that is correctly associated with addiction.

“Disease” is a poor word choice when referring to addiction because it implies that a drug problem is permanent or incurable. Worse, it assumes addiction is something that happens to them, something they have little control over. It is neither. People can get better from drug and alcohol addiction, and no one has to be an addict for life.

When speaking about drug and alcohol addiction, it's important to avoid terms that serve as a negative label for the individual. Also, it's important to avoid terms that don't grant the problem the severity it warrants.

Here are some examples of terms that should be used when talking about addiction:

  • Alcohol addiction
  • Drug use
  • Drug addiction

Tips for Talking to an Addict  

Get educated
                                      Photo by fizkes/iStockphoto.com

Get educated on addiction. Education is the ultimate advantage in helping someone get off of drugs and alcohol. When you invest the time and energy in understanding addiction and in learning about the physical and psychological aspects of addiction, you are effectively equipping yourself with the necessary tools for convincing your loved one to get clean. You are seeking to better understand their predicament, which will ultimately make you more able to help them.

Family members and loved ones of addicts often feel lost when trying to talk to their loved ones about getting help. The following are some tried and true strategies. Give these a shot, and be willing to try them more than once. Remember, persistence is critical in helping a loved one get clean.

Don't accuse, incriminate, or make the conversation about how “wrong” they are. Instead, validate what about them makes them great, and point out how drug use is not only hurting them, but it's also preventing them from being as great, successful, talented, healthy, supportive, and fulfilled as they could be.

Point out how addiction is hurting them, but also show how addiction is hurting those around them. This requires getting them to consider how life currently is as a result of using drugs. Ensure they see that it’s not just they who suffers as a result of drug and alcohol use. The whole family, loved ones, friends, and co-workers suffer too.

Invite them to consider what their life might look like if they continue using drugs and alcohol. Talk about the different ways in which they've already been harmed from drug use. Ask them to honestly consider what their life will look like in a few months or years if they keep using drugs and alcohol.

Another approach is to get the individual to consider what life might look like if they stopped using drugs. They might not yet be to a point where they are willing to admit that their addiction is incredibly harmful. But could they consider that life might be better if they weren't using substances? Getting them to consider this could be the first step towards getting them willing to seek help.

Keep trying. Sometimes, it takes a while for an addict to arrive at the willingness to get better. It may take several conversations and several efforts to convince them to get help before they finally admit that this is something they need to do.

Tips for Taking Care of Yourself While Helping a Loved One

Helping a loved one get to the point of just being willing to seek help can be challenging. While most people who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction do inherently know that what they're doing is wrong, many addicts are unwilling to seek help at a qualified drug and alcohol rehab center. This can make for some difficult, draining, and even emotionally traumatic conversations.

Loved one
Photo by Punnarong/iStockphoto.com

Here are some tips on what you can do to take care of yourself while helping an addicted loved one:

  • Set boundaries. Sometimes, in an effort to help an addicted loved one, family members will actually enable them. Enabling occurs when a family member does something that makes it easier for the addict to use drugs. Examples of enabling include: Giving the addict a place to stay, giving them money or possessions, letting them use the car, etc. Set boundaries so your efforts to help your loved one do not backfire.
  • Practice self-care. If you run yourself ragged trying to help a loved one get better, you will be less effective at helping them simply because you are no longer paying attention to your own needs. Make sure to care for yourself so that you can help your loved one get better.
  • Seek outside help. You're not in this alone, and you do not have to do it all yourself. It's wise to seek advice from addiction experts, other family members, interventionists, and rehab center staff. Not only will it be more conducive to getting your loved one help, but it will also take some of the burden off your shoulders.
  • Be patient. Do not set expectations for yourself or assume that your loved one is going to agree to go to rehab after the first conversation with you. It might take a few conversations. But with that being said, never stop trying to get your loved one help. Please make an effort every day to get them into treatment.

Drug Treatment – Getting Rid of Addiction for Good

When someone you care about is using drugs and alcohol, helping them seek treatment is critical. Drug and alcohol addiction does not just “go away” on its own. Treatment is required to help the individual get the drug toxins out of their body. Treatment is also necessary to help them address the underlying issues and struggles that caused them to turn to drugs and alcohol in the first place.

Over the last half-century, Narconon has helped thousands of addicts from all across the world free themselves from drugs and alcohol for life. Narconon delivers a unique program that helps recovering addicts find themselves again, improve themselves, and step into a better place in life than they were in before they became addicted.

If you require assistance in getting your loved one willing to seek treatment, call Narconon today. We can help you.


Reviewed and edited by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.