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What to Say to a Recovering Addict

Eric was a crack cocaine addict for twelve years. He has devoted his life to helping others overcome drug addiction and substance abuse.


The Pain Between Recovery and Relapse

For most recovering addicts, relapse is almost inevitable. What can you say to a recovering addict who craves the substance of their addiction? Finding the right words to say to someone caught between recovery and potential relapse is not easy. This is when the addict is most vulnerable to their substance of abuse and most sensitive.

Anyone who has been addicted to a drug will tell you that the pain associated with the recovery stage of drug addiction is implausible. Words cannot describe it. The recovery stage can be so overwhelming that at times it is almost as if there are two of you, one urging you to take the drug and the other begging—and I do mean begging—you not to take it. So just what do you say to someone who is in recovery?

My Story

I am a recovered crack cocaine addict, and I have been clean since 1994. During the time that I was going through withdrawal, many times I found myself in this precarious position. My friends and family members would try to comfort me, but their words seemed empty. No matter what they said it didn’t register with me.

Many people tried to comfort me as I struggled to recover from a serious crack cocaine addiction. In all honesty, I will say that there were three people whose words had the most profound impact on my recovery and my life: a friend whom I have known since I was seven years old, my son, and my daughter. They are responsible for my recovery.

In the darkest hours of my recovery, when I was on the borderline of once again being swallowed up by the drug that had caused me so much misery, my friend would call as if she telepathically knew that I was thinking about smoking another crack rock. She wouldn’t lecture me like many of my other friends did; instead, she would tell me, “You don’t have to do this alone. I’m here for you." And although I have not craved crack since 1994, those words still reverberate in the core of my being today.

Incredibly, my daughter who was only eleven years old at the time had never given up on me. I was ashamed to face her, and she knew it. But she would often say, “I love you, Daddy, and I know you’re not going to be like this always.” It meant the world to me to know that my baby girl could genuinely love me in the despicable state that I was in.

Then there was my son, who would tell me time after time, “You can do this, Daddy. If no one else believes you can, I do.”

When I faced my demons in recovery I felt I was alone because after all, I had lost everything I owned, including my family. It amazed me to learn that amid the darkest hours of my life, these three people chose to love me unconditionally and that they were willing to stand with me.

When I think back to that time in my addiction, it was their words that gave me the courage and strength to endure the pain of withdrawal.

Finding the Words

The most comforting words anyone could ever say to someone in recovery would undoubtedly be words of encouragement. Drug addicts do not like to be lectured. In all probability, they have already experienced whatever you are lecturing them about. One of the worst things you can do to an addict in recovery is to begin scolding them about their drug use and telling them how their world will end if they start using again.

Even after an addicted person has stopped using, their recovery will take some time. A little love, lots of patience, and a caring attitude form the core of the best medicine for someone in recovery. But above all, genuine words of encouragement will do more to help a recovering addict than you can ever imagine.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Eric Dunbar (author) from New Orleans on January 23, 2014:

Hello Taime,

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If I understand you correctly, you know this guy who is about to turn 20 Your friend is a heroin addict who uses other drugs as well; he was also in rehab for 4 years.

His mother is a drug addict and a whore who sold him when he was 13 to buy drugs.

He married a girl who already had 2 children. Your friend loves both of the children, and he adopted 1 of them, but the father of the other child would not let him adopt the other child.

Your friend's wife had sex with his uncle, who was like a father he never had. Unable to handle his wife cheating on him with his uncle, your friend beat his uncle, told his wife that he didn't want to be with her anymore, and then he divorced her.

Now they are in a custody battle for children and the judge won't let your friend see the children unsupervised because in a rage he almost killed his uncle for cheating with his wife.

Then your friend threatened to kill the judge and his family if he didn't let him see his kids, so the judge denied him the privilege of seeing them at all.

It has been 3 months since all of this occurred and now your friend has relapsed and is using heroin again and has now threatened to kill himself if he is unable to see the children, and as a friend, you don't know what to do and you are looking for answers.

First of all, I hope I deciphered this correctly and if I did, here is what I think about the whole matter:

I feel really bad for your friend because it seems he has had quite a few bad breaks in his life. He is to be commended for his love for the children but love alone will not and cannot sustain those children.

Secondly, your friend has three problems that he has to overcome in this order: (1) he must get rid of heroin in his life forever; (2) he must learn to control his anger, and (3) he must learn that he cannot hold people hostage to his will because he threatens to kill himself and others.

All be it that your friend may have good intentions in his heart but unless he gets some help and stops threatening people to get what he wants he will fail and may even spend considerable time behind bars.

As for you Taime, I suggest that you steer yourself clear of this person until you can get them some long term help, and I do mean long term help.

Taime on January 23, 2014:

Hi im Taime um i know this dude he is about to turn 20 he is a heroin addict and other stuff but he was in rehab for 4 years and was married to this girl who had to kid ever since they where born he adopted 1 but the other 1s father wouldn't let him but he loves those kids and his mother is a hoe and a drug addict and when he was 13 his mother sold him to get her some drugs and he was in rehab for 4 year and his ex wife had sex with his uncle and he was like a father to him cuz he never knew his father and he fliped out on him and his girl and told her that he didn't want to be with her andso they got a divorce and they had a custody battle and the judge said that he wasn't gonna let him see them unless supervised cuz he almost killed somebody aka his uncle and he flipped out on the judge and said that if he didn't let him see his kids he would kill the judge and his family and then the judge said that he wasn't allowed to see them at all. And its been three months and he relapsed 2 days ago and is saying he wants to see them and yea and he tried to kill himself cuz he wanted to see them and was like i will kill myself if i dont see them and yea i dont know what to do any help anybody? :\

Eric Dunbar (author) from New Orleans on January 03, 2014:

I'm sorry for not responding sooner SJ. Thanks for the well wishes also. Let me start by saying that I really love what I do, and that is to help people who genuinely want to be helped.

It seems that you have a real serious problem here but it is nothing that can't be overcome. First you must understand that crack cocaine is one of the most difficult drugs to defeat. It takes years--yes, years--to return to a normal state. Crack has disrupted so many things in your ex bf's life that it makes healing very difficult.

I will apologize for him because I know he doesn't mean to lie to you and hurt you; it's jus a part of what drug addicts do.

I believe you are doing the right thing to support him simply because it is the human thing to do; after all, he is your friend and friends should support friends. However, understand that you cannot change him nor can you do anything about his craving for crack. The decision is up to him now.

Part of his problem is in his past. He must leave his past completely and that means to find new friends, a new job, move to a new area, etc. When I quit smoking crack I bought a one way ticket to Little Rock, AK from New Orleans, LA. I lived there for several years before I returned to my home in New Orleans. Had I not done that I would not have overcome my addiction.

As for you, I think you should concentrate on yourself more. You must learn to love yourself as much as you love others. Don't beat up on yourself because of his mistakes. You are not the cause of his relapse. It's time to get tough with your love. Help him when and if you can but do not enable him to do drugs.

You are right when you said you feel you need him as much as he needs you but you can't live there. Take care of yourself first or you won't be around to help him.

SJ on January 01, 2014:


Eric a very big well done on ur recovery thats something to be enormously proud of.

I came across this page when searching for help with how to support my ex bf with his crack addiction. I didn't know he smoked crack until he stole my belongings, then it came out into the open about his addiction. I cant believe I fell in love with someone that wasn't really him, if u know what I mean.

I explained to him I couldn't be in a relationship with him at the moment as im finding it difficult to get my head round all the lies and the deception. Anyway, I said to him that I would always be here as a friend to support him through the difficult journey ahead as he said he doesn't want that life anymore, he has lost everything, his home, his family, access to his daughter. He now has a drug support worker and goes to 2 na meetings a week, each one he comes out with a beaming smile as tho he is on top of the world, it makes me really proud. Thing is he go to day 14 and relapsed, I partly blame myself as I found out he sold my nans £400 diamond ring for £20 :( I shouted at him asI was so upset :( and then he relapsed. We spoke about it and he said it made him feel disgusted after all the hard work he put in. I said that some people do relapse and that its part of some people's recovery, to learn from it and to move on from it, today he is on day 12 since the relapse. Wemade a book together with what he wants in his future on the last page, each day he writes his feelings or even draws a picture on a page as tho his getting closer to his future. Thing is im putting all my effort in and still things are coming out of the woodwork when he lied about them in the first place. I kno I cant save him, I wish I could but I kno only he can save himself. But nor do I want to be the person that causes him to relapse if u understand what I mean? I love him with all my heart but its breaking watching him go through this :( am I doing the right thing by being in his life? I have recently been diagnosed with lymphoma and know I should look after myself but he has been to all my treatments with me and been my shoulder to cry on since day one, I feel I need him as much as he needs me but I feel so betrayed :(

Eric Dunbar (author) from New Orleans on September 30, 2013:

Thank you BlueOrchid for your comment. Any type of addiction can be difficult to walk away from, but be encouraged and know that it is not impossible.

Four months is like an eternity to someone who is fighting an addiction, however, at that stage the battle is already won. Going forward the fight is in the mind. Your support will be rewarded.

BlueOrchid on September 28, 2013:

Thank you for this great advice on how to be a good support. I am dating someone who has been in recovery from opiates for 4 1/2 months. I am proud of him for working so hard and want to be a blessing to him and not just this person with hollow words. Congrats on nearly 2 decades clean, I am happy for you!

Eric Dunbar (author) from New Orleans on May 04, 2013:

If you can hold on for three weeks you will win the battle. Occupy your mind. Every idle moment will be used against you. Be encouraged, you can do this... I know you can. You're a winner, not a loser; you're the head, and not the tail; you're above and not beneath. You've got to win to encourage others who are suffering like you. It's not all about you.

kat on May 04, 2013:

Thank you for your words. Ive been sick almost two weekeeks now and i can bareley do a thing its so fustrating but i know i dont want to go back to methadone and i want to stick it out but its been over a week and its torture! Ughh god give me strength xo

Eric Dunbar (author) from New Orleans on May 03, 2013:

Here's some advice. Just do it! Don't look back at where you've been, nor should you look ahead. Use every ounce in your body to say no to your addiction in the present. The way you feel right now won't last forever. Convince yourself that you can do it... you must do it for your baby girl.

I realize that crack cocaine is by no means like heroin. The withdrawal symptoms of heroin is quite different. It took me months of saying no to crack before I finally won. Your fight is against yourself; only you can defeat you.

I sense that you have what it takes to defeat your demon. As a total stranger, I can honestly say "I believe in you" so don't let me down. Stay with it kat. fight with all your strength and one morning you will notice that you are not the same person anymore.

I know where you are in your struggle and l love you for honestly facing your demon with courage. YOU CAN DO IT!!!

kat on May 02, 2013:

Hey, im a herion, cocaine addict for over 10 years, im almost 30 and i have a 9 month old girl, she was the main reason i stopped using, i did rehab, did jail time for violations and still on probation, ive been clean over a year due to going to a methadone clinic and just took my last dose last week, i do not have the words, feelings,thoughts,emotions,pain running thru my body. I am trying my damndest to just stick it out but its soo hard i hurt i want to be ok i want to feel better. Hopefully i can overcome my detox. Thanks for letting me share

Eric Dunbar (author) from New Orleans on April 28, 2013:

You should not be angry, instead you should try to convince him to seek help. An addiction to Opiates like heroin is a serious issue.

alex on April 27, 2013:

if my boyfriend is trying to stay clean from a heroin addiction. and he's been clean for four months and he relapsed three times. should I be mad? what should I do?

Eric Dunbar (author) from New Orleans on March 04, 2013:

I would like to remind you lilred, that drug addicts are unpredictable; they are in a constant struggle between good and evil, right and wrong, love and hate, and no one understands them and that is their dilemma. I am speaking from experience. I have been clean now for 20 years, and now that I look back on my life, I too, was unpredictable.

I would say to you: do not be guided by your feelings, nor should you analyze something that you do not understand. You said that you feel like you are being pushed away and it “seems” like this is his way of protecting you from his recovery and relapses. Now I don’t want to offend you, but the truth is, your boyfriend is not seriously concerned about your well being. Please understand what I am saying, before you judge my statement. Deep down he really cares about you, but he lives a struggle that is day by day, hour by hour, and minute by minute and depending where you are on the calendar and clock, your importance is always secondary to his addiction.

He knows that you are not going to leave him and that is why he does not consider your threats. You can never approach an addict with fear. The thing that you fear the most will most certainly overtake you.

Know for certain that his addiction is not just about him, it is about you as well. Addiction destroys the lives of the addicted as well as those who care for them. Be strong, stand your ground, and do not be afraid of what might happen because it is all a deception. What you feel is portrayed in your actions; you can never hide what you feel inside because it will surely be displayed on your face. Let your boyfriend know how you feel and do not be distracted by his behavior, and if he turns violent do not hesitate to seek help and refuge. This I say because of my personal experience and struggle with a serious crack-cocaine addiction. Do not allow yourself to become co-dependent on your boyfriend’s habit.

lilred on March 03, 2013:

What can I do when my bf won't open up? I feel like I'm being pushed away. It seems this is his way of protecting me (is this the right term?) From his recovery and relapses. One day we are close the next so distant. I have tried to reassure I'm not going to run on him.(I have never been into the drug or drinking scene. I tell him how pround I am of his hard work and how I respect him for it. I'm afraid of saying the wrong thing.All the time. Help please

Eric Dunbar (author) from New Orleans on November 29, 2012:

I am hmbled to know that I have been helpful.

what to say to a recovering addict on November 29, 2012:

thanks for the wisdom, I enjoyed the insightful article.

Eric Dunbar (author) from New Orleans on November 06, 2012:

First I would like to say that your comment has nothing whatsoever to do with drug addiction, but because I recognize that you have a serious issue that has a need to be addressed I have decided to moderate your comment.

You must understand my dear that no one... "NO ONE" can earn the priviledge of being your "Savior" but Jesus. I will not go into detail regarding your salvation, but you have been terribly misled.

You have failed to give any relevant information concerning helping someone who has a problem of drug addiction and your comment is unwarranted. Please be considerate of those who are dealing with a situation of life and death as opposed to your personal feelings. I sincerely hope you find happiness and Jesus. on November 06, 2012:

my boyfriend of two years let me for another girl because i accuse him of seen another girl and since then i have been trying to get him but he refuse to come back to me,he was not responding to my call or email and he even unfriend me in facebook and he told me that he is done with me.i was searching on the internet for help and i saw a testimony of how a spell caster help them to get their ex back so i decided to give it a try and i contacted him and i explain my problems to him and he cast a love spell for me and guarantee me of 3days that my ex will come back to me and to my greatest surprise the third day a great miracle fell on me and my ex come back to me on the third day and he beg me for forgiveness shamuspiritualtemple@gamil.comi will continue to publish his name because he is my Savior and we are about to get married.if you need him to help you Email

Eric Dunbar (author) from New Orleans on September 06, 2012:

Addiction is a personal battle and you cannot make your boyfriend be sober. No matter how much you want him to be free of his addiction, the power of freedom is not in your hands--it is in his and his alone. He has to desire to be free of his addiction before you can help him.

Addiction is painful… I took note of the fact that you “told” him to get help. When you use the word “told” it is an indication that you are lecturing, and addicts and alcohol abusers do not want to be lectured to. The person who is battling an addiction is already in a great deal of inward emotional pain and lecturing only adds to the discomfort they are already experiencing.

People who become addicted to any type of substance are generally trying to cover up something. They are trying to medicate some type of pain, either emotional or physical. A good place to begin when helping someone recover from addiction is to find the source of the pain and attack it with love.

Be careful not to let your boyfriend reverse the pain on you by making you the guilty party. Addicts are very good at using guilt to continue using their preferred substance. The more he blames you, the more he will feel justified in continuing to abuse his substance of choice.

Your boyfriend knows that he needs you, but his pride will not allow him to admit it. Use that to your advantage by suggesting to him that you cannot help him unless he helps himself first. Try talking about good things—things that you both enjoyed together in the past; make him want to return to that state of mind by inciting him to dream about prosperity.

Finally, never stop trying to convince him to seek professional help. Guard your own heart and do not allow him to condemn you. You must come to grip with the fact that you are not God and some things are beyond your control. At the first hint of violent behavior, RUN! Tell him that you love him, but let him know that you will not continue to put up with his addictive behavior.

ali on September 05, 2012:

I just needed some advice boyfriend has been sober only 3 months and is now relapsing. I have no idea what to do. I have told him to go get help while its just starting. H he is afraid to admit because he feels, like he is a failure now.. I just don't know what to do.


Michelle on May 06, 2012:

Naranon helps people who love an addict. Thank you for giving me the words to get my daughter through another tigger.

jazmine on April 24, 2012:

this was unbeleiveably helpful. my father is in rehab from meth and through his recovery i want to be there for him but i never really knew what to say. thank u for giving me some insight as to what to say to help my father recover.

Eric Dunbar (author) from New Orleans on April 18, 2012:

That is one good way to defeat your habit. If you think of all the misery and pain that you have already faced, and know that it will return, then surely you will not want to go through that again. You are in control. Believe that and win.

Jeannie on April 17, 2012:

I came here to find answers how to deal with my brother who has had a relapse, he has been doing so well for the last 3 months. My sister informed me that my brother will be calling me to talk about his relapse, he was worried about my disappointment. Reading all your comments I thank you. I will support him and only discuss the positive things he as done in the last 3 months, I don't need to tell him he made a mistake. His punishment of his own guilt is enough for him to handle.

Kirky on April 12, 2012:

I have been clean for 3 weeks now which is a first for me in a LONG time, I usually relapse after 2 weeks but I've managed to push past that and hope to keep going. When I crave I just think of all the bad things to come once the 'high' is over and realise it ain't worth it. I live alone and have no family around me which makes things harder! I'm a fighter though and believe I will not let the drug 'ice' rule my life!!

Eric Dunbar (author) from New Orleans on March 02, 2012:

All things are possible, most especially recovery from drugs. We relaps because we are not willing to die to ourselves because death hurts.

If you are willing to suffer through your delimma you can be free. The pain only lasts a little while. I know... I was a crack addict for 12 years; I have been clean for 18 years... no relapse!

jenny on March 01, 2012:

still amazed at how some people view "DRUG_USERS". As if we're all pimpin' ourselves w no teeth, in and out of jail, incapable of blending in society. I've held jobs,never been in jail,handled bills, and functioned in society---but internally struggled. Stereotypes are not absolutes.Perhaps if more people realized that, addiction would not be the elephant in the room most tip-toe around.

Jenny on March 01, 2012:

@Ashley: I don't believe recovery is possible w/out relapses. Those moments when you ask yourself "Why am I doing this again?" "How did I let this happen?" They teach you how to fortify your walls--where the leaks are And where they are NOT. You are not alone. Focus on your battles and you will win--one at a time. recovery doesn't happen overnight. Anything worth having involves a process and your on that path. I don't believe recovery is a one size fits all label. How I choose 'recovered' to label me won't be yours. Let the slip-ups show you the real demons and focus.

jenny on March 01, 2012:

@Elsie2012: Your feelings are valid. But your son is still your son. Everyone makes mistakes. How you choose to deal with others shortcomings is your choice but I would say go. To forgive and keep trying to move forward is a testament to the power of faith in not just your son but in yourself too. Ask about his days, ask about his good moments--let him open up if he can about the good and the bad. Maybe he's just as confused about what to do as you. Maybe you can start mending somewhere in the middle. Good luck.

jenny on February 28, 2012:

Just thought a gentle reminder to folks who know someone struggling:even those who are 'straight now' have flashbacks. Small things are huge to someone fragile and 'jonesin'. To this day, I can't watch a show where they draw blood--it triggers a reaction in me and I have to look away, I don't go by some places b/c I know what will happen if I even let myself drive by---me and temptation were quite a pair. If you have a friend or loved one still struggling just remember that there are moments that will threaten to swallow them but as long as they have someone there--be it an on-line community, family, or friends--you provide an anchor for that person. And a slip up does not a hopeless person make.

jenny on February 28, 2012:

I've struggled with a cocaine addiction(shooting powder and smoking it)for almost a decade. Then last July 17, I just 'woke" up that it wasn't fun anymore and I was tired of the paranoia, the money issues, etc. So I just quit. I've tried so many times before but I guess it didn't take cuz' I didn't truly want it. Then 3 days ago, as I was walking into work I look down at a baggie in the doorway. To my trained eye, I found ~$200 worth of crack!! I had a few moments of intense soul searching:does is count as going back if I didn't buy it?,etc.I chose to give it to a manager. Who would have thought I could do it. She of course, calls the cops who come and claim it and sat its only about $20 worth. Really?!!! I KNOW better. I know what he'll write in his report and what will happen to the rest of it. A crooked cop just made some money But at least I was able to choose. Maybe a few here will know what a step like that means. People at work said I was an idiot for not keeping it and selling it. As if I could have held on to it without using again. I'm proud of the strength I didn't know I had left.

elsie2012 on February 24, 2012:

My son is in rehab very far from where we live. He has ruined our family and stolen from us many times.

we do still love him and want him to get well. What to we say during our visits with him in the center. Should we stay away or visit? We cannot be there all the time.

I feel guilty and are helpless for what to do.

Eric Bonnevie on February 09, 2012:

Check out my friend's FB page. He is a recovering addict and wrote a book about his struggles about abuse, deppression and drug addiction.

Ashley on January 21, 2012:

Thank you for your story. I had 10 years clean and sober and relaped two months ago. I am struggling to stay clean, and I have to remember that I don't have to do this alone. I have a community of people who love me and want to help me.

A sister on January 18, 2012:

Thank you Eric for giving me a chance to read your story. It really makes a difference knowing that words still have the power to heal. My brother has been clean from crack addiction for a little over 3 months now, it hasn't been easy for anyone but especially for him. I am there for him but sometimes find it hard to encourage his progress. I stumble on what to say and feel like i cant do enough. My heart, love and everything goes out to anyone having to battle an addiction. We need to remember that there are programs out there made for especially for each individual. And like Eric's friend said: You don't need to go through this alone. Lots of love and prayers, A sister out there.

maureen on February 11, 2011:

Upset - my heart really goes out to you - i have only recently found out that my son, who lives 1200km away is a drug addict and alcoholic. I'm experiencing some of his pain, and I really feel bad for you that you don't have any support - but i agree with responsive - go to NA, they're found in all areas - my son in rehab has so much as said to me that if it wasn't for others like him - he wouldn't be able to make it - please don't do anything to yourself - God has a plan for your life - If NA isn't an option, please turn to God - He is you help - good luck child

responsive on January 11, 2011:

Upset go to NA meetings and get a sponser. There are many people just like you whom will care about you and your recovery. You don't have to do it all alone!

UPSET on December 14, 2010:

I have been sober for almost a year but relapsed over 4 months ago, been totally sober since. I have no support, no friends, no family. I m struggling to keep clean from alcohol, and drugs(crack). I bought my own apartment, going to college everyday, having no support at all since.. U will never understand what i m going through.. i m still being abused, still have no support at all, and look at me i m still sober.... but I have been thinking about ending my life or relapsing.. i cant go on like this anymore. I am in so much pain all alone too long... all i know is I m the strongest girl i ever see.... i have overcomed everything.... signs... noone cares.. i had to do it all alone.. i m a crack recovery addict.... gosh i hate this damn world full of heartless people! noone will understand me anyway.. its easy for u because u have loved ones. i have NOONE!!! NOT EVEN 1 SUPPORTIVE PERSON! sighhhs bye

rose56 on May 03, 2010:

Good hub.

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