It’s Friday afternoon. Natalie is going around the office, making sure that all of her colleagues know about the department happy hour at the bar down the road. Although most people excitedly accept the invitation, one person tells her that he’s sorry, but he can’t attend – he’s a recovering addict.
This is not an infrequent occurrence. An estimated 23.5 million Americans are in recovery for drug and alcohol addiction. That’s a whopping 10 percent of the population.
For recovering addicts, admitting their illness to a stranger – or even a friend – can be a terrifying experience. How will people react? What if they aren’t taken seriously? Identifying themselves as recovering addicts in the workplace can be especially frightening. What if it affects their future career?
Here are 10 things a person should never say to a recovering addict:
1. “But you don’t seem like a drug addict.”
Addiction is a disease that can affect anyone of any race or social status. It affects people who are highly intelligent just as frequently as it affects people who are not. In fact, the only trait addicts reliably share with each other is addiction.
2. “We’re all addicts, when you get right down to it. I’m totally addicted to the Internet.”
Although there is still some debate as to whether Internet addiction is a clinical condition, most people who claim to be addicted to something benign are simply enthusiastic – not addicted. Drug abuse, meanwhile, kills 200,000 people worldwide every year. Alcohol is responsible for 2.5 million deaths every year.
3. “Antidepressants? Aren’t you just substituting one addiction for another?”
Many people who are suffering from addiction also have a co-occurring mental illness such as depression. It’s possible that the mental illness contributed to the drinking or drugging in the first place, or that chronic drug use shifted the chemical distribution in the brain. Antidepressants are also not addictive – they are a necessary medication for a serious illness, not unlike insulin for diabetes.
4. “Why did you start using?”
For many recovering addicts, this is a deeply personal question. Some people began using drugs or alcohol because of a traumatic experience such as abuse or neglect. Others start as a way to self-medicate for a serious physical or psychiatric illness that they would rather not discuss.
5. “What was your rock bottom?”
Like the previous mention on this list, this is a deeply personal question to ask someone who has suffered from addiction. Asking people to disclose the worst moment of their life would be rude in any scenario. Similarly, a person should never ask recovering addicts if they’ve been to jail or prison.
6. “You just need to control your habit. I can use drugs and stop whenever I want to.”
For people who suffer from addiction, it’s not “only” a matter of control. Addicts are not simply people who lack the sufficient willpower to tell themselves no – they are people who have a disease. Using drugs is not enough to turn someone into an addict, which is why some people can stop using whenever they want to.
7. “You poor thing!”
Although it’s important to have sympathy for someone with a serious illness, no one likes to be pitied.
8. “I can’t believe you used drugs. Everyone knows they’re dangerous.”
Most addicts are familiar with the risks inherent in taking drugs – in fact, they were probably aware of those risks even before they started using. Addiction, like other compulsive disorders, involves being unable to stop doing something harmful despite knowing that is harmful.
9. “You can still drink though, right? You were a heroin addict, not an alcoholic.”
Both alcohol and weed are more socially acceptable than other kinds of drugs, but they still contain the potential for abuse and addiction – especially alcohol. Just because individuals were in recovery for one drug doesn’t mean that they won’t have a problem with other drugs. In general, people who have recovered from one addiction should stay clear of anything else that can become addictive.
10. “Once an addict, always an addict. It’s only a matter of time before you relapse.”
Even though relapse is common – 40 percent to 60 percent of recovered addicts eventually relapse – it is not inevitable. Many recovered addicts are able to quit drugs and never use again. Even if they do relapse, people can re-enter recovery and remain sober for the rest of their life. When a person treats recovering addicts like a ticking time bomb, they can lose faith in themselves and might start using again. In addition, people don’t like it when other people refuse to trust them.
So what should you say?
Drug and alcohol addiction are both highly stigmatized illnesses. When people confess to their addicted past, they have little to gain and everything to lose. For this reason, the best thing people can do for recovered addicts is to let them know that they accept them and understand that they’ve suffered. They should also do what they can to accommodate the recovered addict’s needs – for instance, the next work outing could be at a pizza place rather than a bar.
It’s important to remember, however, that everyone is different. The best thing a person can do for a recovered addict is to listen.
Sovereign Health Group is one of the best treatment centers in the country for alcohol addiction and drug addiction. Before admission, all patients receive a thorough assessment so that Sovereign can treat every aspect of their brain. For further information, please contact 888-530-4614.
Written by Courtney Lopresti, M.S. neuroscience, Sovereign Health Group writer