If you look up "addiction," on Wikipedia, the definition will tell you that it's a "brain disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences." Addiction. Substance abuse. Recovery. Clean.
We have all heard these terms, but sometimes it's hard to understand the facts behind them. When we live in a society where so many people are impacted — a society where every single day, more than 130 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids — it's important to dispel any confusion surrounding addictions and its far-reaching consequences.
However, it's also important to understand though the conversation about addiction is an important one, it's one that needs to be respectful especially when discussing addiction with someone either in active addiction or who's in recovery.
With that in mind, here are things you shouldn't say to someone who is an addict or in recovery.
1. "You don't look like an addict" or "I would have never guessed"
This is not a compliment. No disease or disorder of any kind will ever look one particular way and this statement feeds into the stigma surrounding addicts. The media tends to portray addicts as disheveled, pale and empty-eyed, unhealthily skinny, filthy.
Addiction crosses all socio-economic lines.
Addiction doesn't care who you are, what you look like or where you have come from.
Addiction affects all manner of people, from someone who is homeless and begging for change to your next-door neighbors' son and all the way up the social ladder to your local pediatrician.
For many people, being told they don't look like an addict just encourages their own insecurities in regards to reclaiming the title as an addict. It comforts those pretending to themselves and the world that they do not have a problem and it discourages those who have found comfort in reclaiming the title of addict and in reclaiming their journey.
It requires strength and bravery to tell people about being an addict. Focus on that and not the physical attributes of the individual that may confuse you due to the stigma surrounding individuals who may have struggled with substance abuse.
2. "So you can never get high or drink again?"
I fully committed to a life of sobriety when I was 17 years old. By deciding that I was going to fight to get and stay sober, I was acknowledging that I was committing to a lifelong fight. No addict just wakes up and decides to become addicted to substances, just like no addict wakes up and decides they are no longer addicted to substances. However, I feared the longtime influence this decision would have on me, not in the way most people would think, though.
When I decided at 17 to get clean it, meant that my 21st birthday would not be spent at a bar.
It meant I would always be the "straight edge" friend.
It meant I would never have a blowout bachelorette party, that I would never chug champagne at my wedding, and that I would never have a glass of wine at dinner.
A huge factor in my own recovery was mourning the loss of what I thought would be my life. Before I became an addict, I had a difficult time trying the fathom the fact that I could no longer drink or use drugs like a "normal person."
But I had to grow to realize that all anyone has is today.
And today, I know I will not drink or use drugs.
So for me at least to answer this question, no I do not plan on ever drinking or getting high again. But I would prefer to not to be asked about that at all. This question can be anxiety-provoking for anyone. Recovery is not about just the drinking or using, someone who is fighting to remain or get sober is often trying to work out deeper emotional issues and is attempting to undo years of habitual behavior.
Recovery is not just abstinence.
3. "So, like, if I offered you a drink right now, you wouldn't take it" or "can't you just have one?"
Usually, this question is almost always asked in social situations and it is by far one of the most mind-blowing questions. I personally have no issue going anywhere that serves alcohol, I also have no probably being around others who are drinking or even making drinks for friends.
I do, however, have an issue when people try to get me to drink.
Most people usually get the hint when I say, "I don't drink." However, on multiple occasions, I have gotten the responses, "You can just have one drink, it won't kill you," "You won't even have one?!" "You're such a buzzkill," and even "Well, why not?" as if I owe anyone an explanation on why I choose not to partake with them in drinking.
Sober people don't owe you any explanation whatsoever for our perfectly valid choice. Whether they make this valid choice because they are in recovery because they don't like the taste, because they have a medical condition, or maybe just because they don't want to, you should not give unwarranted advice about how to moderate. And don't — unless you're close — ask them why they're not drinking. Yes, they've got their reasons, but that's really none of your concern. And at the end of the day, what does it matter anyway?
We don't care if you drink. So why do you care if we don't?
4. "Does this mean you can be my designated driver"
If you are ever drinking and you contemplate driving under the influence, by all means, give me a call. I will pick you up. However, I did not get sober purely to become your personal Uber driver. So, even though I am sober, it does not mean that it is my obligation to get you home safely if you decide you want to drink.
5. "You have to hit rock bottom"
So many people have heard that addicts have to hit rock bottom in order to not only receive help but to really achieve and maintain sobriety, which isn't anything but wrong. This one fails on every level.
What even is "rock bottom"? What could be the factor that leads one person to get sober, may not be the deciding factor for another. For me, it was getting pregnant and having my son.
However, for another person, that may not be the case. "Rock bottom" can be different for everyone.
For one person, it may be losing their job.
For another, it could be losing their children or their partner.
For another, it may be their fourth prison sentence.
Telling someone they have to hit rock bottom is basically telling them that they can keep using as if recovery will just happen for them sooner or later, which it won't. If you are not recovering, you are dying. Every time someone uses is another chance for them to overdose.
Waiting for rock bottom is waiting for their death.
6. "You are the ONLY addict I know"
Nearly half of Americans have a family member or close friend who's been addicted to some kind of substance. America's drug addiction epidemic is a crisis. So many people know someone with a drinking or drug problem — a family member, a friend, a coworker. Just because they may have not disclosed their struggles with substance abuse with you doesn't invalidate their experience.
Everyone can know an addict.
7. "How long have you been sober?"
Some people do not mind being asked this question. I personally do not mind. I have my sobriety date tattooed on me for people to see and to ask about if they decide to.
However, not everyone feels the same way.
Asking this question can come across as invasive even if you have the best of intentions. For people in recovery, it is essential to focus on one day at a time, even if someone is "only" one day sober.
Before you say to someone in your life who is either in active addiction or active recovery any of these things (or others I haven't addressed in this) — here are some things you can say to them (which a lot of us love to hear):
"How is it going."
"I can't imagine what you are going through, but I am here for you in any healthy way I can be."
"I am proud of you."
"You deserve a life free of pain, free of suffering and free of substances."
"I believe in you."
"Thank you for sharing your story with me."
"You are not alone."