How to Talk With a Loved One about Their Substance Use

Starting a conversation with a family member who is showing signs of substance use or a problem with alcohol can be daunting. You might worry about saying the wrong things, hurting your relationship, or causing your family member to become angry. Fear might cause you to decide that it’s best to not bring up the issue, but if you think that your loved one might have a problem with drugs or alcohol, having a conversation could be the impetus that ultimately leads your family member to accept help.

Trish Todd, Program Manager for MCF’s substance use family peer support program, says if you see signs of a substance use problem, you definitely need to bring up the topic with your loved one. “It’s best to have all of your thoughts together beforehand and then aim to have a two-way conversation.” she says. “Don’t go into it when you are angry. It’s not helpful to be confrontational or lecture — these approaches can cause the person to shut down.”


Instead, talk about the changes that you have observed, express that you care and are concerned, and then ask questions about their thoughts to promote conversation. “Use phrases to get them talking to you,” Trish suggests. “Ask questions like ‘Do you see this as a problem?’ and ‘What can I do to help you?’”

Trish stresses that you need to keep in mind that you can’t force anyone into treatment. However, if your loved one does not want to stop using drugs or alcohol there are still things you can do to support them — and it is important that you set boundaries for yourself.

A family peer support specialist at MCF can coach you on starting a conversation with a loved one, as well as understanding addiction and setting boundaries. To learn more, call 410-730-8267 or email us at [email protected].