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How to communicate with people who are in the cycle of addiction – breaking through the communication barriers

Many people dabble in drug use in our community and a smaller number of these people go on to develop serious problems with drugs and addiction. The problem of addiction has obvious health and psychological consequences for the user. Nevertheless, an often under recognised problem is the impact that drug users have on families and partners of the user.

It can be difficult for non-family members to understand why partners and parents stand by their drug addicted loved ones. After all, people in the cycle of addiction might be violent and abusive towards the ones that they love. They might steal, lie, and place themselves and others in dangerous situations. Police might be called and trips to the watch house, court house, or hospital become all too frequent. For family members, they see the person not as a drug addict but as their son, daughter, or partner who has succumb to a terrible medical illness.

Nevertheless, even the most caring and loving family members can have their patience tested. In a desperate attempt to help their loved one, many family members intervene, criticise, and threaten. Such behaviours are normal and an understandable response to a difficult situation.

With time, many people with addictions seek help, undergo treatment, or mature out of addiction with great relief to family members. A small percentage, however, have protracted addictions, relapse frequently, or never recover. Such outcomes are devastating for family members and can provoke guilt and helplessness.

There are no simple answers on how to help a loved one with an addiction. Each case depends on many factors such as the stage of addiction, the type of drug, and the nature of your relationship with the user. People using drugs are often very defensive about their use. In addition, they might be so cognitively impaired by intoxication that normal communication is pointless.

Nevertheless, maintaining some kind of relationship with the user is often one useful tactic in helping a person with an addiction. After many months or years of conflict, it is not uncommon for the relationship between families and the user to breakdown. There are times when maintaining contact is unhelpful for family members, particularly when domestic violence is involved. However, when safety issues aren’t a concern, keeping an open dialogue with the user can be helpful for various reasons.

  • First, if the user develops insight into their condition then you might be able to facilitate their journey into treatment.
  • Second, if the user cannot escape the cycle of addiction then maintaining a healthy relationship with strict boundaries with the individual might reduce their likelihood of deterioration, homelessness, or suicide.

All cases of addiction are different. This is just an outline of general communication problems that occur within families when a loved one has an addiction. If you are having concerns with a loved one who uses drugs or alcohol do not hesitate talking to your GP or Psychologist about the problem. Contact our psychologists today for alcohol counselling Brisbane and other addictions.


Lisa Kunde | CFHP
Lisa Kunde

Lisa Kunde has ten years experience working as a psychologist with adults in both private and public hospital settings (oncology, palliative care, chronic pain, cardio-pulmonary, psychiatric and alcohol and other drugs units).

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