Words are powerful and can motivate a person to work hard. Yet with addicts in recovery, especially those in early recovery, well-meaning friends and family don’t always know what to say. The words you use hold power, the power to encourage or send someone right off the wagon. To someone who is recovering from an addiction your acceptance and support is important, but so is respect for their feelings and their struggle with the newness of recovery.

Here is a list of a few things that you should not say or ask someone new to recovery:

I had no idea that you had a problem. Are you sure you are an alcoholic (or addict)? 

People who drink or do drugs are usually good at hiding it. There is an enormous misconception about what an addict or alcoholic looks like. Most are not homeless with a bottle in a brown paper bag or strung out on heroin in some flophouse; instead, they are more likely to be our friends, family, neighbors and co-workers.  All that statement does is compound the shame and embarrassment that stems from the stigma of addiction. If someone tells you they have a problem, believe them.

I know how you feel because I know someone else who went to rehab.

Only someone who has personally dealt with addiction can really understand what it is like. Saying “I know how you feel” if you are not yourself in recovery minimizes the experiences and feelings of those in recovery. Everyone is unique, and while it is appropriate to empathize with a person in recovery, do not insult them by thinking you know how they feel about such a sensitive and personal experience.

Are you sure, you can’t have just one drink, even for a special occasion?

If someone has trusted you enough to tell you about choosing abstinence-based recovery, support them in that decision. People who can limit themselves to just one drink or just one beer on a special occasion now and then do not end up needing rehab. Staying sober can be hard and added temptations could cause a relapse.  Be thoughtful. Plenty of people don’t drink, even on “special” occasions.

You seem to have it under control now, so how long until you are cured and can party again?

Recovering addicts need to maintain their treatment plan for the rest of their lives. There is no cure for addiction that allows an addict to “get better” and start partying again.

Can you be the designated driver since you do not drink?

Do not assume that someone who does not drink wants to volunteer to be a designated driver. In fact, it is a bad idea for a recovering addict early in their program to go where alcohol or drugs are used. It is insensitive and selfish to ask for a free ride from a person trying to stay sober. You can be a friend by suggesting an alternative evening’s entertainment that does not include drugs or alcohol.

I am so sorry you cannot drink anymore. How do you have fun?

People in recovery do not want or need your apologies. Treat people who are recovering just as you would treat anybody else. Disregard the fact that they are not drinking or doing drugs anymore; just talk to them like there is nothing wrong with them, because there is not. …and if you can’t have fun without being loaded, it may be time to look at your own using patterns.

About the Authors

Richard Taite

Richard Taite is the CEO and founder of the Cliffside Malibu Treatment Center in Malibu, California and co-author of the book Ending Addiction for Good.

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