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How to Say No to an Addict You Love

Photo of a couple, woman being upset, don't know what to do with her addict loved-oneIn 2020, 40.3 million U.S. adults (Aged 12 and older) struggled with a drug or alcohol use disorder. With 6.29% of the U.S. population struggling with drugs and alcohol, 3 out of every 50 Americans has a substance use problem. That means 1 in 5 Americans has a close friend, family member, or relative who has a substance use problem. Millions of Americans struggle with addiction, so it’s extremely likely that you and the people around you have loved ones with a problem.

Importantly, that substance abuse affects how that person thinks, acts, prioritizes, and reacts. People with substance abuse problems often abuse the people around them, often accidentally – as they lie, manipulate, and try to get more of the substance they’re addicted to. The people taking care of them can harm their own mental health, can cut into their own wellbeing, and can accidentally engage in enabling behaviors without even realizing it. Learning how to say no to the addict in your life is the only way to protect yourself and your loved one from that addiction.

Unfortunately, saying no is never as easy as it sounds. That’s especially true when you have someone with a substance use disorder who will try to manipulate, wheedle, or even get angry at you when you say no. If you’re trying to set boundaries with your loved one, this guide should help.

Avoid Enabling Behavior

If your actions allow your loved one to continue using, to get drugs or alcohol at that point, or to otherwise maintain their addiction, it is “enabling”. Here, your actions might be as benign as paying their half of the rent. It might be as simple as letting them go to the store instead of you. It might also be you taking up more and more of their slack as they drop responsibilities. E.g., if you find yourself doing their chores as well as your own, without repercussions to them.

Some enabling behaviors, like giving money, dropping them off/picking them up when they go to drink or use, turning a blind eye, etc., are very obvious when you stop to think about them. In other cases, enabling behaviors can be much more insidious, because you might not realize that the thing you’re doing is allowing someone else to use. E.g., calling their boss or school to inform them they’re sick when actually your loved one has a hangover.

Saying no means assessing your behavior and refusing to participate in enabling behavior. Can you cover their half of the rent? No, not unless they move out. Can you do their chores? No, not unless they pay you the money to do them or pay someone else to do them. Can you drop them off somewhere? No, not unless it’s a doctor or to work, etc.

Refusing to be Manipulated

Substance abusers often rely on manipulative tactics like lying, gaslighting, twisting the truth, and using emotional blackmail to get their way. That may involve offering excuses, telling you they’ll change, or actively deceiving you in some other way.

It’s important that you set a hard boundary and refuse to be manipulated. If someone is using emotionally manipulative tactics on you and you recognize that, stop the conversation. Tell them you won’t talk to them or participate in the discussion unless they behave fairly and honestly. Of course, depending on your loved one and their addiction, this kind of response can result in anger and even violence. It’s important to gauge their response and react in a way that will be safe for you. At the same time, it’s important to remember that their substance abuse is never your fault. They will never magically recover. They will never get better without intensive therapy and treatment. Anything they say to the contrary is just manipulation.


Get Your Questions Answered

Add Conditions to Your No

a wife practising tough love, talking to her addict husband setting things straightIt’s hard to say “no”. Sometimes, saying no is even the wrong thing to do. For example, cutting people out of your life and practicing tough love is proven to be detrimental to people’s chances of recovery. Saying no, with conditions can help. For example:

  • “I won’t pay your half of the rent unless you go to rehab”
  • “I can’t help you unless you agree to get treatment. If I keep doing things for you, I’m just helping you to hurt yourself and I don’t want that”
  • “I can’t give you money. However, I can help you get into treatment’
  • “I won’t fight with you but I’m here if you want to talk”
  • “I am not willing to be talked to like this, but if you want to ask later in a calmer way, I will listen”
  • “I’m not okay with you using drugs in the house, but please take Naloxone with you so you can stay safe”

These conditions achieve a dual purpose of letting your loved one know that even though you’re saying no, you still care about them while also creating room for a “yes” in the future.

Best Practices for Saying “No”

Saying no is difficult. It can feel wrong, it can feel mean, it can feel like you’re letting your loved one down. And that’s only made worse by the fact that your loved one probably leans on those emotions to get you to change that to a yes. Learning how to say no and to stick to it is important.

  • A no means no. If you say no, don’t ever change it to a yes unless your loved one meets a condition you set on it. If you change your mind, they will abuse that and will continue using the same tactics to get you to do what they want. Addiction changes people.
  • Don’t get involved with fighting. Addiction can make people emotionally volatile, upset, and angry. They can start arguments. They can use personal information to try to hurt you to get back at you for saying no. It’s important to stay calm, to detach where you can, and to avoid being pulled into fights.
  • Always make a “no” about health, wellbeing, and caring for your loved one. If you start using things about what others will think or feeling ashamed, you’ll start pushing them away. Focus on the real reasons you want your loved one to get better. “I can’t do X because you’ll use it to hurt yourself”.

Eventually, saying no will always be difficult. But, if you know you’re doing it for a good reason, with potentially good outcomes, you can focus on that goal. That’s especially important if your current behavior is enabling your loved one to continue using. Learning how to say no isn’t easy, but it is important for your and their health. And, that also means setting boundaries around your comfort, wellbeing, and emotional and mental health.

If you or your loved-one struggles from substance abuse please contact us today to learn more about our detox and residential treatment programs. We’re here to help you recover.