Lifeline Connections

How to talk to someone with Substance Use Disorder

It can be very difficult for people suffering from substance use disorders (SUD) to confront the problem, and can be even more difficult to explain the situation to people who have not been through substance use disorders before. Instead, it is easier for other people to stereotype those with substance use disorders; however, breaking through those stereotypes is very important in helping others understand the true nature of substance use disorders. It is especially important with family and friends, since they are integral support systems for people with substance use disorders.

Understanding another individual’s substance use disorder can be a very difficult task for friends and family, which can surprisingly affect how an individual’s treatment with substance use disorder progresses. Substance use disorder is often considered a lifelong battle and relatives and friends might not be prepared for the relapses that occur throughout treatment. It is very important to think about the individual who is suffering and to try to approach the situation from the perspective of the sufferer rather than oneself, by framing questions and statements so that they consider the individual with SUD. For example, people often can’t understand why people with SUD don’t stop abusing the substance, not realizing the very real brain and behavioral changes that the drugs have caused. The pressure that is forced upon the individual with SUD is more often framed as a benefit towards others rather than a benefit for the individual’s themselves, which can hinder the process of recovery.

Although the difference between an addiction and substance dependence may seem subtle, it is significant when approaching substance use disorders. Although often used interchangeably, they can indicate different aspects of a person’s struggle with substance abuse. For example, dependence is the body’s response, often referring to withdrawal symptoms, whereas addiction is more about the compulsive use of drugs despite the knowledge of the resulting negative consequences.

The language one uses when talking or referring to someone with SUD is also very important, mostly because of the connotations that is carried by that use of language, as well as the heavy stigma that is associated with substance use disorders. People are used to hearing and using labels like “addicts”, “junkies”, “alcoholics”, etc; however, this often dehumanizes the individual and seeks to avoid the problem.

Many families who are struggling or know someone who is struggling with a SUD, may want to avoid this difficult conversation altogether. However, it is often more beneficial to talk about a substance use problem and tackle it together. This can be mediated properly by attending family therapy sessions, which can be helpful for people with substance use disorders by providing additional support and a better means to express themselves.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a SUD, please feel free to contact the professional team at Lifeline Connections for help! Getting yourself help, whether it is through self-help or by reaching out to professionals is an important part of recognizing that you are struggling and is a good step forward to get the help that you need. You can visit or call 360.397.8246 for more information.

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