How to Tell Others You're an Addict | Palm Beach Institute
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How to Tell Others You’re an Addict

When you admit to yourself candidly and honestly that you are an addict, you are taking the first crucial step toward sobriety and, ultimately, long-term recovery.  Whether you have experienced tragedy, the death of a friend or loved one due to addiction, or you just woke up one morning and decided that you “were sick and tired of being sick and tired,” telling yourself that addiction is ruining your life will help pave the way to recovery.  A progressive, chronic, and potentially fatal disease  requires intervention— the help of professionals. While you may be ready to go and enter treatment, telling family and friends that you are an addict and in need of help can be difficult.

Telling others about your addiction can be difficult because your behavior while under the influence of substances may have caused pain and anger.  Along with the pain and anger, people also may not understand the nature of the disease of addiction.  If you’ve isolated from those who love you, they may be resentful of the way in which you’ve cut yourself off from them. Fear, another powerful emotion, could be driving those around you to try to control you, in the same fashion you’ve tried to control your own use. They worry even about your ability to perform the most basic daily living skills.  Some liken addiction to a tornado, running rampant over anyone and anything in its path. Additionally, if there are children affected by your substance abuse, their emotional well-being hasn’t necessarily been a priority, but it can be part of the recovery process. Involving family and friends in the decision to seek help is an opportunity for them to be part of the solution. Although challenging, telling others about your addiction can be easier if you follow a few basic guidelines.

Your Anonymity

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When you approach a family member or friend and tell them of your addiction, you may choose to explain that what you are about to tell them needs to be kept confidential. Anonymity can be tricky because emotions can run high. However, if you are matter-of-fact and sincere in your approach, those who may be resistant to what you are telling them will eventually be respectful of your wishes. Addiction carries significant stigma in our culture and society and admitting fault with this issue can bring with it shame and embarrassment. However, remind the person that you are accepting responsibility, no matter the difficulties, and willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to attain sobriety. Keeping the conversation on a personal and confidential level can help lessen the embarrassment.

As one addict states, “Shame and addiction are Siamese twins. One rarely exists without the other…attached at the heart, sharing the same blood that keeps them alive. Where one leads the other must follow. Both exist  behind walls of denial, growing like cancer, sucking out life” (Stephanie E.). She continues, “Ironically, these very defenses saved us during our darkest moments. They may actually be the reasons we are alive today, and we can think of them as healthy reactions to very unhealthy circumstances. We can admire and respect ourselves for having them, before we lay them down and begin living a new life that no longer requires such reactions” (“Shame Faced”). Revealing your addiction, paradoxically, allows the elaborate defenses you’ve created to be replaced potentially with intimacy, or in the very least, respect for your honest admission. Once you’ve identified yourself as an addict or alcoholic, help becomes possible.

What Details Do You Give?

You don’t need to divulge all of the explicit details, but the following key points can make your conversations more comfortable for you:

  1. Tell them honestly/openly that you are an addict and are seeking professional help.
  2. Explain the underlying reasons why you are seeking help.
  3. Express regret for actions and behaviors while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
  4. Express understanding that friends or loved ones may not understand addiction or believe in the intentions of getting help and being in recovery.
  5. Express resolve in finding recovery and working on repairing friendships and family relationships as you progress in recovery.
  6. Understand that recovery is a process and you understand that it will take time before people come around and know that you are being serious about recovery.
  7. Commit to keeping open lines of communication, particularly if you are in safe relationships.

Prepare for Resistance

Even if you are sincere in your intentions, there can be instances where people will be skeptical or even will dismiss your addiction as a disease. While this can be upsetting, it is important to look at their point of view: your family and friends have experienced the brunt of your behavior and are understandably defensive. Understand and acknowledge their skepticism and anger, but be resolute in your goals.

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Special Considerations for Children

If you have children that have been impacted, there are several suggestions that can help children understand your addiction in terms they can understand. First, listen to your kids and answer all of their questions honestly and at a level they can easily understand. Secondly, establish a support system of “safe people” that your kids can turn to in regards to your addiction. Thirdly, explain your addiction in terms of an illness that is developmentally appropriate. Additionally, it is important to keep the lines of communication open with your children, so they realize that you are and will still be a major part of their lives.

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