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How Should I Speak to Someone in Recovery?

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Language can carry a lot of power, and those in recovery can be significantly affected by how words are used. Even with good intentions, knowing the right words to use or avoid is crucial for maintaining an air of support. Doing so can streamline effective communication while avoiding stigmatizing language. 

Communication is a core component to sustained success in one’s sobriety. As a result, both those in recovery and their supports should treat language as another essential tool in one’s recovery toolkit, challenging the typical way one may speak in order to maintain a positive atmosphere both inside and outside the recovery sphere. 

From “Addict” to “Addiction”

While saying that one “suffers from addiction” or “is an addict” can seem to carry similar messages, there are significant differences between the two ways of speaking. While those in recovery may have suffered from addiction in the past, saying that someone is an “addict” can be an overly judgemental notion, boiling down much of one’s identity into a single, stigmatized word. 

While suffering from addiction can be a part of one’s daily struggles, labeling an individual as an “addict” at any point in their recovery journey can do a great deal of harm by ignoring the progress made towards their sobriety. This can also delegitimize or minimize all of the other aspects of one’s identity. Words like “addict” dismiss the other aspects of one’s identity or interests, creating an air of judgment and making it incredibly difficult to mentally or emotionally move on from such labels. 

Similar notions can be derived from more specific terminology, such as a “drug addict,” “junkie,” or “alcoholic.” These words carry heavy negative connotations, even when used within an intended positive context. While asking “So you aren’t an alcoholic anymore?” may seem like a positive question to ask, it can still label years of one’s life under a single, negative umbrella. It can even reframe the ways in which one sees both their past and current identity. 

Listening vs. Talking

Communication is a powerful tool, and for those supporting loved ones in recovery, it can be more powerful to listen rather than say something. Addiction recovery is incredibly complicated, and there may be times where an individual needs to speak without looking for advice. Letting those in recovery talk and work through their thoughts and emotions is essential, and listening is much more important than having all the answers. 

Listening to those in recovery talk about their experiences can clarify the kind of support they need at any given moment. Avoiding assumptions or interjections when all that is needed is a supportive ear can set the groundwork for a healthy and supportive environment. Not only does this help prevent supports from overstepping boundaries or compromising aspects of one’s relationships, but it can also continue to challenge those in recovery to identify and articulate their needs throughout their process. 

Putting a Positive Spin on Language

Language is incredibly versatile, and there are a staggering amount of different ways that each person can vocalize each thought they have. However, focusing on positive, affirmative language can be the best way to approach a dialogue while maintaining its supportive connotations. 

While asking questions such as “Are you still feeling bad?” and “Do you feel better today?” can carry similar sentiments, they can also invoke different thought patterns in an individual. “Are you still feeling bad?” can cause an individual to look back on how they have been feeling negatively recently, and thus potentially resurfacing difficult thoughts or emotions. On the other hand, asking “Do you feel better today?” can instead allow an individual to continue situating themselves in the present moment where they may be successfully processing a more positive mental state. 

Focusing on the present and future-focused language, rather than the past, can help each person further detach themselves from past memories. This process can help to avoid unnecessary feelings of guilt, shame, or regret, helping those in recovery be seen for the transformations made rather than past mistakes. 

Get Used to the Specific Lexicon

Educating oneself on the unique vocabulary of the addiction recovery world can further aid in communication. Addiction recovery has its own language with specific terms carrying specific meanings that may feel ambiguous to those not involved in the recovery sphere. 

Educating oneself about addiction in general and being an active member of another’s recovery can introduce the nuanced terminology used. This can then help those in recovery feel more understood and supported throughout the recovery process. Attending familial recovery programs and doing one’s own research can introduce supports to the unique language and terms used, streamlining effective communication at every stage of the recovery process. 

Communication is a core part of the recovery process. Each person may need to revisit how they approach language to support those in recovery and create a feeling of understanding. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction or mental health disorders and are ready to take the first step towards healing together, we at Everlast Recovery Centers can help you today. Located in Riverside, California, we offer an array of personalized programs designed to address your unique needs and goals. With art, yoga, music, writing, and much more, alongside our supportive and inviting community and family programs, we are prepared to help you tackle how you approach healing in your life. We also offer education throughout our detox or residential programs to further help you understand and overcome your healing milestones. For more information on how we can help you, call Everlast Recovery Centers today at (866) 388-6925.

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