Talking About Substance Use

Talking About Substance Use

When our lives spin out of control, it can be challenging to know what to do. Sometimes, what is even more challenging is to know what to say. While it is not necessary to broadcast personal details about our lives, it will likely be necessary to talk to our families, friends, and possibly employers about our substance use.

Because there is so much stigma still surrounding substance use, talking about it can seem much more difficult. Combine that with the self-confidence that is often damaged by our behaviors, it is difficult to even think about talking to the people who matter in our lives. However, it does not need to be traumatic. We can communicate openly and with courage and not only share our experiences but help to break down stigma at the same time.

Honesty is the Best Policy

When we start to talk to others about our experiences with substances, it is important to have the willingness to be open and too completely honest with them, particularly those closest to us. In order to do that, however, we need to be willing to be completely honest with ourselves.

We need to be willing to look at our substance use realistically: Have we acknowledged to ourselves how much control we have given to our substance use? How has our drinking or drug use impacted our lives? Who are the people that we have affected with our substance use? What are the areas in our lives that we need help with? When we are completely honest with ourselves about these questions and more, we can be completely honest with others, too.


Our family is perhaps the most aware of our drinking and/or drug use. They are the most likely to have been impacted by our behaviors, too. This can make it seem more difficult to talk to them. Yet chances are that they also love us the most and will want us to be open with them about everything we have been going through. These are the people we will need to lean on most during our recovery, too, so we need to be willing to ask them for their strength and encouragement.

Spouses, siblings, and parents deserve to know how we are feeling, what it is like to have an addiction, and what we are doing to make changes in our lives. They deserve to know our emotions, and they deserve to have authentic and heartfelt apologies if we have hurt them. Look them in the eyes, and talk about your pain and your struggles. Have a real conversation with them. Share information with them about addiction and why it is not just a simple choice we make. Be honest, be straightforward, and be informative.

If there are children, use age-appropriate language when explaining your feelings. Be very honest with them about addiction and substances, but at a level that they can understand. Be loving and reassure them that you still love them, even if your behaviors in the past may have been confusing to them. Children are resilient, but they also know if you are condescending or not telling them the truth. You can empower them and help them to grow up as empowered adults when you are willing to be honest with them.


Your conversations with your friends may be similar to your conversations with your family, depending on how close you are with them. You will obviously want to ask for their support as well. You know who you can really lean on, and you also know the friends you may need to wean out of your life if they have been part of your substance use. Those conversations may be difficult, but they are very important.

Friends who are not as close may not need as much information or any information at all about what you are going through. If you suspect the gossip cycle to impact them, you may choose to tell them first person about what you are going through rather than wait for them to hear it from someone else. Then you control the conversation, and you can educate them about what addiction and recovery actually are. When you show people what substance use and recovery look like from an authentic point of view, you are breaking the stigma.


Employers and co-workers can be more of a delicate situation. Your human resources department can help you to determine how much information needs to be shared and with whom. Obviously, you will need to discuss a leave of absence for your treatment. Beyond that, this is a private, medical issue, and you can determine how much if any information is shared.

Substance use can make us raw, and it can feel difficult to face the people in our lives. However, when we use our voice to share our experiences from the heart, we begin the healing process and we break stigmas and empower other people to help us and others. Don’t look at this as a dreaded task, look at it as an opportunity to free your heart and clear your mind with the people in your life. You cannot control their reactions, but you can empower and inform them. Be brave. Be powerful. Be you.

Talking about your recovery can seem frightening, but your voice is powerful. Call AToN Center at (888) 535-1516 now to start your journey of empowerment.

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