What to Say When Addiction Strikes

Written By

Oh my god, what am I going to say? How do I tell people what’s going on?

Addiction is a horror that begins privately and almost always ends up playing out in public, for the world to see. The emotional trauma that consumes family members is multiplied tenfold when shame and embarrassment are piled onto the burden of pain and fear when addiction becomes known to others.

Mothers are especially vulnerable. Usually the primary caregivers and influence on children, mothers internalize the emotional burden of addiction, blaming themselves for a problem they are sure they caused or contributed to in some way.

But all family members can struggle with what to say when it becomes clear to others that something is wrong, either because of the addict’s changed behavior or because s/he has entered rehab and is no longer “around.”

How much to share is often dependent on your relationship with others. Even those closest to you don’t need to know everything. It’s sufficient to say, “S/he is struggling with some serious issues and it’s very challenging for all of us. Please keep us in your prayers.” Well-meaning follow up questions can be answered with, “Thank for your concern, but I don’t want to get into it further,” and then a change of subject.

However, do not pass up the opportunity to share your burden with someone whom you trust.

Addiction is all-consuming, not only for the addict, and can swallow family members whole without an outlet for the accompanying emotional trauma.

Find a confidant. Reach out to someone you trust and know will react to your crisis with care and concern. Don’t be afraid to lay your problem bare and ask for support. Navigating addiction is a full-time job; no one can do it alone. It’s essential to surround yourself with a supportive “village” consisting of not only experts, but people who have your best interests and emotional health at heart.

During my son David’s active addiction, I often felt the need to go “underground,” managing my pain privately and sometimes suffering more for not opening up to those who cared for me. Yet when the burden became too much and I shared my story, I was overwhelmed with the love of those who did not judge, but loved me and were there to offer support, a kind word, their presence and prayers. Their generosity knew no bounds, as I found when my sister, on vacation with her family, drove up from the Jersey shore with a meal to spend a few hours with me. I will be eternally grateful to them all.

Sadly, the addiction epidemic has left few untouched in some way. What to say and share with others is less important than you think. Give the world a chance to share some kindness; you are not alone.

Mary Fran Bontempo is a 2x TEDx speaker, author and humorist.

Visit her at www.maryfranbontepo.com.