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The Best (and Worst) Things to Say to Someone in Recovery

Wanting to support a loved one in recovery is natural, but many people simply don’t know what to say. Individuals struggling with addiction need reassurance just like everyone else, but due to the nature of substance abuse, sometimes seemingly innocent comments or questions can have a negative impact on someone in recovery.

To help your loved ones feel safe and supported, here are some general guidelines you can follow when speaking to a person about their recovery.

DON’T SAY: How Long Have You Been Sober?

If you’ve never struggled with substance abuse, this may seem like a perfectly harmless question. However, it’s a difficult subject for many people in recovery because relapses are frequently a source of shame, even though they aren’t moral failings. A common mantra of people in recovery is to take it one day at a time, and it’s important to make the focus on today. 

DO SAY: How Is It Going?

Though it may seem obvious, it can be helpful to ask a drug addict in recovery about how they are feeling or handling their day-to-day lives. Addiction is like a poison that seeps into all aspects of a person’s life, often unknowingly, so daily tasks may be difficult or at least very different once a person is in recovery. Just asking them how they’re doing and letting them talk can be extremely comforting to someone in recovery.

DON’T SAY: Don’t Worry, I Hid All Our Alcohol

In most instances, access to the substance is not a problem for those in recovery, particularly for those struggling with alcohol addiction. They are aware they have a problem, and the mere reminder of a drink or substance won’t cause a relapse. Don’t pressure them and ensure they don’t feel left out.

DO SAY: Can I Get You a Water, Soda, or Juice?

It’s important to make sure you have other options available for anyone in recovery, and remember not to single them out, as this can make them feel awkward and may even result in making them feel pressured to fit in with everyone else who is drinking alcohol. Offer everyone the same choice, so the person in recovery doesn’t feel like the spotlight is on them.

DON’T SAY: What Do You Do for Fun Instead?

Just because someone is in recovery does not mean they can’t do anything or enjoy life. Activities such as dining out or watching a football game are just as enjoyable sober.

DO SAY: Let’s Hang Out

Addiction is isolating and loneliness is common during recovery, particularly early on, as people may have created their lives, activities, and social circles around their addiction. Suggest a sober activity to spend time with them — in some instances, activities you did together before are just as great sober. Go out for a hike, play a board, video, or card game, or watch the latest movie or TV show together. If it’s sober, the activity doesn’t matter as much as the time spent — so just pick an activity and do it!

DON’T SAY: You Can’t Drink or Get High Ever Again?

This is an anxiety-inducing question for people in recovery, who often must work through deeper emotional issues and unwind years of habitual behavior around the substance. Recovery is far more than simply abstaining from drugs and alcohol.

DO SAY: It’s OK to Struggle, and There is Always Hope

It’s natural for a person suffering from substance abuse disorder to have periods where they struggle, or worse, relapse. This is a reality, but it does not mean there is no hope. Recovery is a life-long process that doesn’t truly end, and it’s likely their treatment plan needs to be re-evaluated. It’s normal for treatments to need adjusting, and it’s OK for people with substance abuse disorders to be human and struggle. Remind them to be kind to themselves and let them know that adjusting a treatment plan or even a relapse doesn’t mean they’ve failed.

DON’T SAY: I Know How You Feel

While often well-meaning, saying this to someone in recovery can diminish their experiences and feelings. Unless you have also struggled with addiction, it’s very unlike you do actually know how they are feeling, and even if you have struggled in the past, no two people ever have the same experience with addiction.

DO SAY: You’re Not Alone

As we mentioned before, addiction and the early stages of recovery may feel isolating, so it can be helpful to reassure an addict in recovery that even though they may feel alone, they have people supporting them. It can also mean sharing a personal recovery story or the story of a sober role model, but simply letting them know you’re there to support them is a far more helpful thing to say.

Addiction Recovery in Cleveland, Ohio

At Prosperity Haven, we are an all-male addiction treatment facility in the Cleveland suburb of Chardon, Ohio. Our retreat-like rehab environment allows our clients to begin their recovery in a safe, comfortable space, and our services include Group & Family Therapy to help individuals struggling with substance abuse to rebuild relationships with those they care about most and help build a strong foundation for their future in sobriety.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, reach out to Prosperity Haven today.

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