Questions You Shouldn’t Ask A Recovering Addict

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The journey to recovery can be very challenging, for both addicts themselves and their loved ones. It’s physically and mentally draining, and requires patience, diligence, and support. If your loved ones are going through rehabilitation, you likely know this well. You may be trying to support them as best you can, but nobody teaches us how to. There are questions you shouldn’t ask a recovering addict, for instance – but this rarely sees discussion.

At Archstone Behavioral Health, we run a reputable rehab center Lantana residents trust. We have seen many recovery journeys to their conclusion, and deeply understand the need for proper support from family and friends throughout each and every one.

If you need insights and advice on how to best support your loved ones, this article is for you.

Approaching loved ones who are recovering from addiction; what should you ask?

First and foremost, we should note that there are nearly no universal guidelines for such questions. Yes, there are certain questions which tend to help and certain ones which typically harm. But in most cases, phrasing, timing, circumstances, and your relationship with the individual will determine appropriateness.

So initially, let us outline the most notable among these factors.

Evaluate your relationship

A very notable element in all such situations lies in your relationship with the individual. They may be your sibling, child, parent, or your partner. They may be a more distant relative, a close friend, or an acquaintance or colleague.

How close your relationship is should naturally inform what kinds of questions you should feel comfortable asking. If you’re close, and have been on good terms for a long time, they may feel comfortable sharing deeply personal experiences. If you just know each other, or there’s distance between you, you might best give them room. A big part of this is not in the questions themselves, but in your relationship’s depth and nature.

Two friends hugging in front of an embankment.
Questions you can ask a recovering addict will often depend on your relationship with them.

Mind their character and circumstances

In addition, many questions you shouldn’t ask a recovering addict are actually highly dependent on the individual themselves. In this context, you may want to mind their circumstances and their character.

Starting with the former, a recovering individual’s circumstances depend on their substance of use. Different substances have different withdrawal phases and symptoms; heroin detox Florida programs tend to be more challenging than marijuana detox ones, for instance. Addiction severity is also a notable factor; a long-term user with severe addiction may need much more delicate approaches.

Beyond their addiction itself, your loved ones’ character is also a fundamental factor. Some people respond much better to confrontation, so to speak, and productively face their responsibility. Others, however, may prefer to not share personal experiences and respond worse to pressure or questioning.

Consider your involvement in their recovery

Finally, what you and your loved ones discuss about recovery will often depend on your own involvement in it. Put simply, most recovery addicts are much more comfortable with people who actively participate in their recovery.

In this regard, consider the support you’ve been giving them so far. If you are, for example, driving them to group therapy, it may be highly appropriate to ask them about it. They will often likely want to discuss it with you, for that matter, and initiate discussions on their own. If you’re only observing their recovery from afar, however, you may best give them room to approach you as they feel comfortable.

A close-up of two friends shaking hands outdoors.
If you’re actively helping a recovering addict with their rehabilitation, they may more easily accept sensitive questions about their experiences.

Questions you shouldn’t ask a recovering addict

With the above in mind, there are some questions that generally don’t help recovering addicts on their journey. So, unless your relationship and circumstances make them safe, you may best steer clear.

In no particular order, the following 7 are questions we’ve often seen having detrimental effects.

#1 “Why didn’t you quit sooner?”

This type of question may come about out of frustration. You may care for your loved ones and feel angry that they let addiction take its toll for so long. In such cases, whether angrily or calmly, you may ask them about their choice to only seek help now.

While understandable, such a question does not help recovering addicts. It assigns more responsibility to them, when seeking help at all took courage. It may remind them of the toll addiction took on them or you, and kindle guilt. Overcoming the guilt associated with addiction is already a big part of rehabilitation – so this kind of question may only burden them.

#2 “Do you feel like an addict?”

Questions of this type often come up when an individual has made significant progress. Especially if their addiction was mild to begin with, they may not look like what you might expect an addict to look like. In turn, you may feel compelled to ask if they identify themselves as an addict, or if they really are one. For our patients, such questions often come up during the end of benzo withdrawal treatment.

Needless to say, these are the types of questions you shouldn’t ask a recovering addict. Not only do they force them into introspection, but they may also feel intrusive. Depending on their character, they may even be offended that their hard work is not celebrated but only clashed with your conceptions of an addict.

A distressed man sitting on a chair holding his face.
Questions about addiction remind individuals of their struggles, which may harm more than help.

#3 “Are you having cravings?”

This type of question also comes up rather understandably. If you’re familiar with the rehabilitation journey, you may know cravings are a substantial challenge along the way. This is particularly true of specific substances; cocaine withdrawal treatment is a notable example of one where cravings may persist.

Yet, understandable as it is, this question is also best left alone. The individual may feel uncomfortable knowing that you have knowledge of their struggles. It may make them feel scrutinized or judged, and it only reminds them of their hardships. Unless your relationship allows this question, it rarely helps.

#4 “Can’t you have one drink?”

Since alcohol enjoys considerable social acceptance, it’s a unique substance to be addicted to. Unlike most others, it’s far more likely that the individual’s circles openly and socially consume it too. As such, questions around it may emerge more often than most – as can unintended pressure to consume it again.

This question, too, can very easily alienate the individual or sadden them. For a recovering alcoholic, asking them to have “just” one drink feels like you’re ignoring their struggles. It can be an open invitation to relapse, as well, so it can be actively damaging to their recovery.

Of course, fully recovered alcoholics may indeed have one drink if they choose to. However, they should decide that for themselves, in line with their limits.

#5 “Can you be our designated driver?”

Another alcohol-related one, this is indeed among those questions you shouldn’t ask a recovering addict who struggled with alcohol. It may feel fine, since they might be done with their detox inpatient Florida program. You’re not asking them to consume alcohol – quite the opposite. Since they’re not consuming alcohol, you’re only asking to make use of that and have them socialize with you.

A glass of water with a green straw which has car keys hanging from it.
Recovering alcoholics may seem like perfect designated drivers, but asking them to may distress them or put them in stressful situations.

And yet, that they’re recovering is exactly why you shouldn’t ask this type of question. For one, they’ll likely feel pressured into taking up a duty because of their rehabilitation. In addition, especially if they do feel cravings, they’ll still be exposed to a potentially stressful situation. Your invitation may come across as negligent or insensitive, too, depending on their character.

#6 “So you’ll never use again?”

This type of question is more generic, and it may also come up naturally. Whether you fear a potential relapse, want reassurance, or just want to make small talk, you might pose such questions. However, there’s no good answer to them.

For one, even asking might come across as if you doubt them. They know of the danger of relapse, and such questions might have them lose confidence. For others, it might just feel like you don’t have confidence in their strength to remain sober.

And second, there’s really no good answer to such a question. They can’t say they’ll use again, even if they fear they might. And if they feel unable to make such a promise, they can’t say they won’t either. Even if they confidently say they won’t, you’ll only be reminding them they might break their promise.

#7 “What’s treatment like?”

And finally, asking what treatment is like is really one of those questions you shouldn’t ask a recovering addict. This might feel odd to you, and understandably so. Surely, asking about their rehabilitation process is one of the best ways to actively show support. It may feel logical, but no; directly asking is not the way to go.

At our medical detox Florida center, we’ve often had patients mention these questions specifically. In most cases, they liked the intent behind the question but not the question itself. That is to say, many recovering addicts don’t feel comfortable being asked about the specific process they’re going through.

A thoughtful older man sitting on a couch and touching his face.
The process of rehabilitation is not an easy one, so recovering addicts may feel uncomfortable discussing it.

Of course, you might ask if you’re actively involved in it and providing tangible support to them. Your relationship might also allow for such questions. If not, however, you may best just ask them how they’re feeling. Give them the opportunity to open up about it when they feel comfortable doing so, and they eventually will.

Encouraging and guiding a recovering addict

Lastly, having covered what you may best avoid doing, we understand these questions often come from a place of love. Addiction help for loved ones might’ve been your intention all along, and that’s to your credit.

So, knowing what you should likely avoid, here we may briefly outline how you might approach them more productively.

#1 Give them time to open up

First and foremost, give them time. All the questions you shouldn’t ask a recovering addict at first might eventually become appropriate with enough time. You can’t expect them to feel comfortable sharing their experiences until they themselves feel ready to.

#2 Avoid judgment

As you give them time and listen, remember to avoid being judgmental. If addiction has damaged your relationship, it’s understandable to feel wronged. Addiction also has a severe social stigma, so you may respond negatively to your loved ones’ struggles. Being judgmental and confrontational rarely works, however, and will most often only push your loved ones away.

#3 Educate yourself about addiction

One of the best ways to support your loved ones is, of course, to educate yourself on addiction. The better you understand it, the more meaningful and effective your support can become. There are many online publications and official sources where you can begin, like NIDA, the CDC, and NCBI.

A close-up of a person reading a book.
Addiction is a vast and sensitive subject, so research can help you grasp it better and approach your loved ones more effectively.

If you’d like hands-on insights from addiction treatment providers, you may also browse our other content as a starting step. For such challenging drugs as benzodiazepines, you may find our experiences with Xanax detox Florida programs particularly useful.

#4 Don’t pressure them into uncomfortable situations

As you educate yourself on addiction, you may also develop a stronger awareness of an addict’s psychology. Once you do, it will become much easier to avoid causing unintentional stress or bringing them into stressful situations. As we’ve seen, most questions you shouldn’t ask a recovering addict are ill-advised exactly because they can cause such stress. Inviting a recovering alcoholic for “just one drink” might be the most notable example.

#5 Participate in their recovery

Beyond passively helping your loved ones, such as through giving them time, you can also actively participate in their recovery. How you do so depends on you and your means, of course, but you can try to do your best. You may drive them to meetings, attend meetings with them, and so forth. As we’ve seen our marijuana detox Florida programs prove, active involvement of loved ones is invaluable to recovering patients.

#6 Help them build healthy habits

The rehabilitation process itself aside, you can also actively support them outside of their treatment programs. The best way to do so is to encourage healthy habits, helping them make a full recovery and maintain a healthy lifestyle. You may invite them to walks in nature, for example, or join them for meditation classes. Find activities that promote physical and mental well-being, and opportunities to come closer will also arise.

#7 Celebrate their successes

Lastly, and crucially, you can actively support your loved ones by celebrating their recovery milestones. These can be admission or rehab completion anniversaries, months or years of sobriety, or anything else. As long as their milestones feel important to them, you should celebrate with them. For a recovering addict, this kind of support can make a tremendous difference.

Friends having a picnic surrounded by trees.
For a recovering addict, every milestone counts – and celebrating them with you may mean the world to them.

Archstone Behavioral Health is here for you

In summary, there are many questions you shouldn’t ask a recovering addict. Some may do little harm, while others may feel intrusive or get them into uncomfortable situations. Many may just be inappropriate for the moment, and become acceptable in due time. And of course, many of them depend on your relationship and your loved ones’ character and circumstances.

We hope the lists above helped you approach your loved ones more productively, knowing both what to do and what to best not do.

If you need additional insights or help for your loved ones, we at Archstone Behavioral Health are here for you. Please, feel free to contact us today or browse our other content. In both ways, we’ll be more than happy to offer our assistance if you need it.