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The Language of Recovery: 5 Tips for Talking to A Newly Sober Person

Language matters. The right (or wrong) words can completely transform a person’s day. When that person has just entered recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, these words can be especially uplifting or destabilizing. Every interaction, however brief, can leave a lasting impression of how someone thinks the world sees them. Friends, family, colleagues, and even passing acquaintances of people in recovery may have more power than they realize in helping them feel supported or making them feel like they’re unworthy of a fresh start. With that in mind, here are some helpful tips for talking to someone who is in recovery.

Let Them Do Most of the Talking at First

While recovery is nothing to be ashamed of, sober people are often uncomfortable talking about their active substance use’s less dignified and flattering moments. By allowing them to share as much or as little as they want, you can get helpful cues about their level of comfort and candor about their past.

Be Conscious of Body Language

A picture is worth a thousand words, and a gesture can be worth a million. Try not to wince, shake your head, grimace or gasp in a judgmental way. While some of this information may be alarming, if someone is trusting you enough to tell you, it’s because they think you can handle it. They expect and deserve your support.

Leave the Past Where It Is

This can be a tough one. Active substance abuse creates all manner of problems in family, social, professional, and romantic relationships. It can be hard to separate the person who’s talking to you today from the way they were talking to you yesterday. You’re certainly entitled to your feelings, but keep in mind that they’re trying to make a fresh start.

Watch Your Words

Sometimes knowing what not to say is more important than knowing what to say. Avoid words like “failure”, “criminal”, “lost cause” and other more profane pejoratives. These words are LOADED with judgment and can be emotionally traumatic to someone trying to put their past behind them. Even the term “addict” can be objectionable.

Do Some Homework

Educate yourself on the disease of addiction and what people often go through when they’re new to recovery. This will help prevent you from making assumptions about behavior and be more empathetic. One of the most common and dangerous things people say to someone who is recovering from drugs, for example, is something like: “But you can still drink, right? Alcohol wasn’t your issue.” These sentiments are not only insensitive, but they’re also dangerous, but they can be avoided with a little due diligence.

Other Tips for Talking to A Person in Recovery

Remember to be positive and affirming when talking to someone in recovery, but don’t be afraid to give your honest feedback. Qualify any potentially difficult feedback with disclaimers that you’re not judging. Let them know you’re there for them and that they have your full support. People who are new to recovery want to feel normal and stable again; one of the most immediate ways to feel this way is by relating to others not as an “addict”, “problem”, or “failure” but as a human being.

Loved ones and friends of people in recovery can often mean the difference between ongoing sobriety and relapse, and this starts with how we treat and talk to the person. If you or someone you care about is struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, Recovery Unplugged is ready to help you reclaim your life. Contact our staff today to start your treatment.

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