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How to Tell Someone You’re Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol

by Demarco Moore

July 1, 2022
A woman telling a man she knows about her addiction

Recovery Boundaries: Admitting you Have a Problem

Most people have probably heard a version of the phrase “admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery.” It goes hand in hand with the complicated nature of addiction. Overcoming addiction requires a person to first assume responsibility for how they became addicted in the first place. Once they accept their guilt, they can let go of the shame and stigma that society often attaches to addiction and work towards recovery. 

The first step is admitting it though, and that can happen simply by feeling empowered to let someone know what the experience of having an addiction is like.

Benefits of Telling Someone You Have An Addiction

There is great power in telling someone you’re struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction. Depending on who you tell and when you tell them about your substance abuse, you could be provided with the resources you need to reverse the effects of the addiction. Dr. Bryan E. Robinson, an author and psychotherapist, puts it this way:

“Even sharing a mistake or failure (with confidence, not self-condemnation) with a close friend, support group or team reflects strength, honesty, and integrity, not weakness.”

Not only will you gain a better understanding that addiction is a disease, but you also free yourself from trying to overcome your addiction with willpower alone. Not to mention, telling someone about your substance abuse problem has health benefits. You could be protecting yourself from mental disorders that sometimes accompany addiction, like anxiety or depression.

Ultimately, you get to win because you let go of shame and control, using the responsibility that follows guilt to get addiction treatment and live a life of long-term sobriety.

An older man realizing how strong he is for telling someone about his addiction

There is power in accepting responsibility and telling someone about a drug or alcohol addiction.

Dealing with Guilt vs Shame

In 2010, a TED Talk titled “The Power of Vulnerability” by Brené Brown went viral. Two years later, Brown was invited to do another TED Talk, this time about the “unspoken epidemic” of shame.

“The thing to understand about shame is it’s not guilt,” said Brown, now an acclaimed researcher, author and speaker. “Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is ‘I am bad.’ Guilt is ‘I did something bad.’”

Brown made another important distinction between guilt and shame as the emotions relate to addiction, violence, aggression and other behaviors. Society and social stigmas often contribute to the shame someone feels when they develop an addiction. Many people attribute addiction to a person’s choices or lifestyle. So people experiencing an addiction often feel shame as they’ve been told by others that they have a moral failing.
Instead, Brown explains that we should focus on guilt rather than shame. Guilt gives a person struggling with drugs or alcohol a redemptive and adaptive quality. Guilt allows you to say, “I’m sorry.” Shame is a feeling that something is wrong with you. 

Through guilt, a person can change his or her behavior to match who they want to be.

“The ability to hold something we’ve done or failed to do up against who we want to be is incredibly adaptive,” said Brown. “It’s uncomfortable, but it’s adaptive.”

If you’re struggling with substance misuse, here’re four empowering ways to tell someone about your active addiction.

4 Empowering Ways to Tell Someone You Have an Addiction

1. Be Honest With Yourself

Step one of the 12 Steps Program of both Alcoholic Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous reads this way: 

“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol [our addiction] – that our lives had become unmanageable.” 

In other words, admitting weakness over drugs or alcohol is the first step toward breaking the cycle of addiction. No one cares to admit complete defeat, as step one continues, but entering a 12-step program for drugs or alcohol gives feelings of guilt a different perspective. 

Step one says “Only through utter defeat are we able to take our first steps toward liberation and strength. Our admissions of personal powerlessness finally turn out to be firm bedrock upon which happy and purposeful lives may be built.”

There is no benefit to denying a drug or alcohol addiction. You only risk prolonging the treatment you need. Because repeated drinking or drug use causes physical, mental and behavioral changes, especially when you try to stop, it can be difficult to hide these signs long-term from your loved ones.

2. Forgive Yourself

“Admitting your imperfections allows you to forgive yourself,” said Dr. Robinson. 

We’re all human and will at some point make a mistake. The good news about addiction is that you can recover with professional treatment. However, it’s hard to start your recovery journey without releasing the burden of self-pity and self-condemnation.

Holding onto feelings of unforgiveness can actually cause your body to become stressed. So rather than telling someone about your addiction, you continue abusing substances in order to feel normal and avoid any internal conflict.

Forgiveness is a difficult, but necessary step in addiction recovery. We wrote about several steps you can take to forgive yourself. Click here to learn the power of forgiveness in recovery.

3. Tell a Psychologist/Therapist

Licensed therapists and psychologists provide an outlet for people to share thoughts and feelings they wouldn’t feel comfortable telling someone they know personally. Therapists and psychologists represent neutral parties. Plus, they are sworn to confidentiality, unless patients are: 

  • a threat to themselves (have suicidal/homicidal thoughts or actions)
  • a danger to others
  • a wanted criminal (theft, abuse, etc.)

At Landmark Recovery, we offer patients individual and group therapy sessions as part of our residential treatment, outpatient rehab and partial hospitalization services. Patients have the opportunity to speak with licensed therapists to address specific and personal triggers that led to substance abuse.

4. Write a Letter

There is power in admitting you have an addiction. Sometimes that power can be gained through writing to tell someone about your substance use problems. Writing is not exclusive to authors, poets or musicians. 

The activity of writing is known to be therapeutic and helps people with “the ability to observe our thoughts and feelings,” says Elizabeth Sullivan, a psychotherapist. 

Writing helps keep a person’s thoughts and feelings on track. For those in addiction recovery, it could lead them on a path toward discovery and revelation. Therefore, if you’re thinking about telling someone you struggle with drugs or alcohol, Sullivan recommends writing them a letter about “unfinished business without sending it.”

The Next Step is Addiction Treatment

If you or someone you know is suffering from or at risk of alcohol or drug addiction, call a Landmark Recovery specialist at 888-448-0302 or visit our website for more addiction information.

About the Author

Demarco Moore

Demarco Moore

Demarco is a Middle Tennessee State University graduate. He focuses on addiction recovery-focused content writing and search engine optimization (SEO) at Landmark Recovery.

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