The experience of having an addicted loved one presents challenges for a number of reasons, such as continuous denial of an addiction that he or she cannot hide, pushing family and friends away, and exhibiting behaviors that have ever greater implications for those around him or her. For the loved ones of an addict, the experience is frustrating, tiresome, worrying, concerning and extremely emotional.

There’s a wealth of information for the family and friends of addicts, offering guidance and occasionally encouragement to intervene in the addict’s downward spiral. But there’s often little focus on the addict’s perspective in this situation or consideration of the reasons an addict would want to hide alcoholism or drug addiction in the first place. In many cases it’s denial that fuels the secrecy and deception, but that’s not the only plausible explanation. In some instances, the person who becomes addicted feels ashamed and doesn’t want to hurt his or her loved ones, or perhaps the addict doesn’t think his family and friends could handle the truth and chooses to shield them from his self-destruction.

Staging an intervention is often a go-to strategy for the loved ones when the addict continues to deny the addiction or resists help. However, the repercussions of substance abuse — deterioration of physical health, damage to or destruction of relationships, loss of career or job, financial instability — are enough to make some addicts want to recover. They just may not know how to go about it. Therefore, knowing why they should come clean and how to do it could help a lot of people seek treatment for addiction before they become the disease’s next casualties.

Why Come Clean?

Virtually all addicts will have considered admitting their substance abuse problems to their loved ones, but for one reason or another they often talk themselves out of it.

While coming clean may be the right thing to do, that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to do.

The many reasons why addicts don’t admit their addictions have been well documented, but the reasons to admit a substance abuse problem — though somewhat obvious — have been less explicitly laid out.

Especially if one’s loved ones reside within the same household, it’s likely that they’re already aware that there’s a substance abuse problem. This will depend on the amount of time the addict has been struggling with alcohol or drugs, but addicts tend to think they’re much better at hiding their addictions than they really are. Therefore, an addict’s family and friends will appreciate the honesty and the confession will show them that the addict is ready and willing to change. Additionally, talking to one’s loved ones about being addicted will help a lot with regard to the conflict that one’s deception and behaviors have caused.1 Admitting an addiction will also show that the addict isn’t a lost cause, and the conversation could give them ideas as to how they can be helpful to one’s recovery.

Preparing for “the Talk”

While coming clean may be the right thing to do, that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to do. It requires a certain level of responsibility and accountability that many addicts avoid while in active addiction. In fact, having the talk with one’s family and friends almost violates the addict’s mentality, which is to protect the addiction by whatever means available and necessary. Even when an addict chooses to give up substance abuse, the idea that he or she always has the option to return to the drug of choice in the future often remains in the back of his or her mind.

Many recovered addicts admit to having to quell the occasional thought of using “one last time” because, in short, addiction is a disease that warps the mind and one’s ability to behave rationally,2 but this is also why it’s beneficial to include family and friends in the recovery process. However, instead of sitting them down and laying everything out in the open, there are ways to prepare for the discussion ahead that can help a person be much less likely to backslide into defensiveness.


Attend Support Groups for Practice

Support groups have remained an essential recovery tool since the genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935. These recovery fellowships offer addicts communities in which they’re aided in recovery by the support, encouragement and examples set by others who have gone through the same process. There’s been much evidence to suggest that support groups reduce a person’s chance of relapsing, but support groups can also be used as practice for coming clean to one’s family.

The only requirement for membership to most support groups for addicts is the desire or willingness to get sober.

A common misconception is that one must be recovered to join a support group, but that’s not the case. The only requirement for membership to most support groups for addicts is the desire or willingness to get sober. Therefore, people in active addiction can join support groups as long as they use their membership in their journey to sobriety. When it comes to preparing for talking to one’s family about being addicted, support groups provide an opportunity to observe others as they speak openly to a group of people. Speaking to the group oneself can even be great practice, and the promise of anonymity and a nonjudgmental audience take away much of the pressuring, allowing a person to become more comfortable conveying his or her message.3 Additionally, online support groups and message boards offer an even greater level of anonymity and the opportunity to solicit advice from other members who are happy to offer their feedback and advice.

Take Time to Map Out Everything You Want to Say

In addition to practicing the delivery, a person who intends to come clean to loved ones may want to take the time to plan everything that he or she wants to say during the discussion. This is a step that’s easy to overlook because many assume that sitting down and admitting the addiction is all there is to it, and that’s likely why so many addicts are daunted by the prospect of admission. Instead of simply blurting out a two-word confession, it’s important to give one’s family and friends a little more contextual information that will help them to be more understanding.

In particular, one should consider their point of view and how being addicted to alcohol or drugs — and the behaviors that resulted from that addiction — must have made them feel. It would be beneficial to explain the circumstances that led to the initial substance abuse, whether the alcohol or drugs were being used to cope with physical or psychological pain, how shame and fear of rejection contributed to the secrecy, and the fact that a substance use problem was never meant to bring any of one’s family or friends harm. In other words, help them to see the addiction as a disease and form of suffering. Otherwise, they’re likely to see it as the conscious choice to be hedonistic, deceitful and self-destructive.

Tell Them How They Can Help

Rather than admitting an addiction to loved ones and leaving them to wonder how to respond or proceed as the situation moves forward, tell them how they can contribute to your recovery. This will show them that time has been spent considering this exchange and that you’re serious about getting sober. Additionally, if any family or friends enabled the substance abuse they should be informed so that the enabling won’t be an issue in the future. If there is anything that loved ones can do to facilitate or expedite treatment and recovery, allow them to help. By encouraging their involvement, it will give them hope for the future, which is important during what’s surely a very emotional time. In essence, after a period of separation during substance abuse, having “the talk” with loved ones should be seen as the point at which one is reunited with family and friends and takes the first steps toward addiction rehabilitation.

While it’s not necessarily easy to overcome an addiction, we can help you or someone you love get the support and treatment necessary to become healthy and sober once again. Call us at 855-317-8377 anytime, day or night, and one of our admissions coordinators can talk with you about your questions and concerns or help you begin the recovery process today.


Written by Dane O’Leary