Recovering from drug or alcohol addiction is a long-term, daily process. Those who are in recovery struggle with temptation and negative emotions every day. If you know someone who is recovering from addiction, there are certain things you want to avoid saying to them.

10 Things to Never Say to a Recovering Addict

  1. “You should have just stopped.”

    Many people believe that addiction is just a problem with willpower, and that the person could have stopped if they’d just put their mind to it. The truth is that some addicts started using drugs or alcohol because they have a mental health illness like chronic depression or bi-polar disorder. Others suffer from chronic pain brought on by injury or disease. Perhaps their physician prescribed pain medication or anti-depressants to help with their problem, and somewhere down the line they abused the medication. Perhaps they just started using on their own to self-medicate in an attempt to treat their problems.

    Some problems may stem from abuse or neglect in childhood. Suffering a traumatic event or suffering with feelings of worthlessness can lead to drug abuse and dependence. When people suffer from physical and mental pain, they will do anything to escape from it. Substance abuse causes structural and functional changes to the brain that affect cognition and rational decision-making ability. It also causes the addict to become physically and psychologically addicted to the substance of their choice. Both the body and the mind will begin to experience intense cravings for the drug in an attempt to feel “normal” because normalcy has become altered. Addiction is a complex brain disease, and not just a matter of willpower.

  2. “You don’t look like an addict.”
    How should an addict look? Not all addicts are homeless drunks hiding their bottle in a brown paper bag. Neither are they all holed up in an abandoned building in a bad area of town. Some addicts are highly functional and may run their own company or be public figures. Sometimes addiction isn’t always so obvious, and not every addict is a disheveled mess. This type of statement rudely suggests that the person is being stigmatized as something less than human.
  3. “I’m so sorry.”
    Save your pity. The last thing a recovering addict wants is your pity. Instead, offer them your friendship and support. Be there for them when they need you most. Provide encouragement and help them maintain their sobriety by actively helping them follow their relapse prevention plan.
  4. “How bad was it?”
    Don’t delve into the individual’s past or expect them to offer up their worst experiences. They are trying to move forward with their life, and you should support them in this by focusing on the future. Stay positive and encouraging when you’re around them, and let them know how much potential they have now that they are home.
  5. “We’re all addicts in one way or another.”
    Not true. If it isn’t killing you or destroying your life, it isn’t addiction. We all have interests that stir up passion and enthusiasm, but in many cases, we are not addicted to them. Trying to empathize with someone who has worked hard to overcome addiction does not work unless you have been through it yourself.
  6. “Addicts always relapse.”
    Don’t treat the person like they are a ticking time-bomb, ready to explode. Relapse is common among a percentage of recovering addicts. But many do eventually stop using drugs and alcohol. This comment undermines the person’s ability to stay sober and may cause them to lose faith in themselves. Be positive in your speech and encourage them instead.
  7. “I can use and stop whenever I want to.”
    Then you aren’t addicted and should not be comparing yourself to this person. This comment undermines all of their hard work and determination. It is about their ability to overcome their struggle, not yours.
  8. “Just one drink or hit won’t hurt.”
    Yes, it will. Having just one drink or snorting a line of cocaine will prompt an addict to slip back into relapse. Addiction is not something that can be cured. The person remains an addict for life, whether in recovery or using. Never tempt a recovering addict to try any substance “just once.” It can be a fatal choice for them.
  9. “How long has it been since you last used?”
    This may be a difficult question because the person may have relapsed once or twice, and now they are trying to stay clean. This type of question can affect their self-esteem and stir up feelings of shame, so tread carefully.
  10. “I know how you feel.”
    Unless you are a recovering addict yourself, you cannot understand how this person truly feels. Keep that in mind when you are about to make a statement such as this.
  11. Sometimes it may be hard to have a conversation with a recovering addict because you don’t want to say the wrong thing. Just relax, be supportive and positive, and talk about other things not related to addiction. The person will be so happy and grateful if you do. Eventually, when trust is built, they may volunteer some of the above-mentioned pieces of information on their own, letting you know they are ready to have that conversation.

    If you have a friend or family member who is in need of drug treatment, call the addiction professionals at White Sands Treatment Center today. We have the treatment programs and supportive environment needed to fight addiction and maintain lifelong sobriety.

    If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

    About the Author

    is a proud alumni member of WhiteSands Treatment. After living a life of chaos, destruction and constant let downs, Mark was able to make a complete turnaround that sparked a new way of life. He is serious about his recovery along with helping others. At WhiteSands Treatment, we offer support to you in your homes or when you are out living in your daily lives.