Recovering from an addiction can be an extremely difficult process and one that can span for months or even years. Unless you have been in a recovering addict’s shoes, you can never know what it’s truly like to heal from being addicted to a substance.
That said, it is important that you be careful about what you say around someone who is in recovery. Alcoholism, in particular, can be very challenging to recover from since temptation is almost everywhere. So to make things easier for someone in recovery, here are the things that you should never say to them:
1. “Just have one. It’s a special occasion!”
No matter what the occasion is or even if they are the celebrant, never say something like this to someone you know or suspect is in recovery. Don’t even offer them a drink if you already know that they are a recovering alcoholic, especially if they are still receiving an alcoholism treatment and recovery program.
If there is one thing that you have to know about addiction, it is the fact that once you start, it can feel impossible to stop. Recovering alcoholics are already facing countless challenges every day–don’t give them another reason to be tempted.
2. “Everyone grabs a drink–except ___!”
Never, ever single out someone in recovery nor let other people know about their addiction. Don’t make a spectacle out of the fact that they are not drinking. Aside from being extremely rude, doing this can make that person feel embarrassed.
If you’re serving alcohol at a gathering and someone is not drinking, offer something else, but don’t make a big deal out of it. Better yet, place both alcoholic and non-alcoholic options in full view and let people serve themselves.
3. “How long have you been sober?”
Apart from being extremely invasive, this question can make recovering addicts feel bad about themselves. If they have relapsed just a few days ago, the shame and guilt can make their struggle even worse.
Keep in mind that relapses in addiction recovery are extremely common, regardless of the substance that a person is addicted to. So instead of asking questions about their sobriety, ask them how they are doing. This type of question allows them to determine how much they want to say, which is especially helpful since talking about addiction can be very hard.
4. “I was addicted to cigarettes once, I know how you feel.”
Every addiction is different for each person. Even though you may have been addicted to cigarettes before, your experience may be completely different from theirs, especially since they are addicted to another substance entirely. Similarly, if you have never been addicted to anything, never say “I know how you feel” even with the best intentions.
Saying this to a person in recovery can invalidate their struggle and make them feel that their experiences are minimized. So, if you want to offer comfort and support, say something like “Even if I may not understand what you’re going through, I am here for you.”
5. “Why aren’t you drinking?”
Alcoholics want to stay anonymous for a lot of reasons, but mostly because of feelings of shame, regret, and guilt. If someone turns down a drink or is drinking seltzer at a party where everyone else is downing shots, don’t ask them why they are not drinking alcohol. They could be recovering from alcohol addiction, or maybe they could be pregnant, sick, or the designated driver. The bottom line is: it’s none of your business.
6. “I would have never guessed it!”
People with addiction are good at hiding it from others, which is usually the reason why a lot of people are surprised when someone tells them that they are recovering from an addiction. Someone could look totally normal and be addicted to alcohol, and it could be anyone around you–your close friend, your neighbor, your co-worker, or even your partner.
When someone tells you about their addiction, it means that they trust you. Reel in your shock and refrain from saying things like “I didn’t know,” or “I would never have guessed it.” It’s not about you, it’s about them. They already know that you didn’t know, there is no need to say it to them even if you mean it as something good.
Recovering from alcohol addiction can be extremely difficult, sometimes even the hardest thing that an addict does in their lifetime. If you know someone that is recovering from alcoholism, be careful of the things that you say to or around them, especially the ones that we mentioned here. Respect their privacy, offer your support, and don’t invalidate their struggles even if they make it look “easy.”