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Letting it out: Admitting to loved ones your substance use is getting out of hand.

By Tim Woodley


It’s an old sentiment, but it still rings true: The first step to solving a problem is to admit it exists.

You could have already moved to full-blown dependency. You might simply be worried about how much you’ve been drinking or using drugs recently. You may have found you have tried to stop but can’t maintain stopping – and it’s getting worse. Many adults in the UK are struggling with drug and alcohol use as they self-isolate in the fight against COVID-19. Whatever your specifics, the journey of change starts with accepting you have a problem that you need help beating.

Opening up to your family or close friends is one of the most difficult yet decisive steps you can take. Problematic alcohol and drug use thrive in isolation and the support network that your loved ones can form around you is one of the most decisive advantages you can have in your fight against substance misuse.

Here are our thoughts on how to bravely open up and start that conversation.


Limit the scope

It’s important to be mindful of the fact that some of your friends and family will react better than others to your admission. Stigmas around alcohol and drug use colour people’s perception of those struggling with drugs and alcohol, and it’s important to be careful about who you initially open up to.

You’ll want your first ‘group’ to include those closest to you – and those who can help and support you the most as you quit using the drugs or alcohol that you’re struggling with. This will typically include partners, parents, siblings, relatives and close friends. Begin with these people and consider the personality types of those you admit your struggles to; you may want to avoid anyone at first who has a tendency towards strong or violent emotions or who themselves is using alcohol or drugs problematically.


Pick the right time and the right place

You’ll have a better experience of opening up to those you choose if you pick the right time and do it in the right setting. You want to choose a time when all involved are relatively relaxed and untroubled or stressed by other things in life – the weekend is a common choice for obvious reasons. In particular, do not have the conversion if you are drunk or under the influence of drugs as this will compromise your own reactions.

Next, consider the place you’ll talk to them in. It’s again helpful for it to be familiar, comfortable, quiet and confidential. For many, this usually means the family home in some manner or a place that’s friendly yet reasonably private, such as a park.

Choosing the right place and time ensures your friends and loved ones won’t be distracted by other factors and issues. It’ll help to give a safer and more productive outcome and will mitigate any drama and difficulty that might ensue once you open up.


Educate and inform

Once you’ve taken the leap and started the conversation, it’s helpful to gently introduce material around drink and drug use and the psychology that is involved. Friends and family members, particularly those more elderly, may be uneducated or misinformed on the realities of drug use, although they may have a better understanding of alcohol misuse. Help Me Stop’s blog section is updated several times each week with new articles just like this, all of which are aimed at helping people in your situation and educating those around them.  


Why it’s important to admit your problem sooner than later

It’s scary to consider doing this, we understand! It can feel intimidating and dangerous to open up to those closest to you, but please be aware that it’s one of the most profoundly beneficial things you can do to help your recovery and to free you from drink and drug use.

Not only does admitting your issues provide a cathartic release that will energise you to deal with your issues, but it will also give you the beginnings of a support network that will encourage you when you feel your weakest. Those who choose to support you will empower you to succeed, and those who do not will make themselves known and can be avoided as you focus on freeing yourself from dependency on drugs and alcohol.

Please be mindful that you may try and talk yourself out of admitting you have a problem, especially If you are managing to keep up with your job, fulfil your family duties and maintain friendships while also using drugs and alcohol. This type of behaving is usually known as a ‘functioning alcoholic’ or ‘functioning addict’. One of the biggest issues functioning addicts face is denial. You feel like you’re in control because your life remains normal by all appearances. In truth, however, your use is likely worse than you know. The bottom line is that eventually, alcohol and drug use will catch up to a functioning addict.

Some people can struggle with use for years before the facade begins to fall apart. For others, it can take a life-changing event like an accidental overdose, to force them to address the issue. Instead of waiting for one of these life-changing events to happen to you, it’s better to get help as soon as possible.

Chris Cordell*, Help Me Stop’s General Manager says “Problematic alcohol and drug use is a chronic disease, much like asthma, hypertension, diabetes, cancer and many others. If you were diagnosed with stage 1 cancer, would you not seek some form of treatment to prevent it from getting worse as soon as possible? You don’t have to be at rock bottom to need treatment. Get help before it gets out of hand. If you are at rock bottom or have a severe diagnosis, it’s also never too late to get the help you need”.


Help Me Stop is here too

In can be difficult to face this issue alone. If you’d like to speak to Help Me Stop, please call us on 0208 191 8920. You can also use our contact form to reach out to us.

To learn more about our flexible and affordable non-residential ‘Dayhab’ programme which opens up again on June 15th, visit this page of our site. If you can’t wait that long and don’t live close to West London then don’t wait! To discover the benefits of our online Digital Dayhab programme, please navigate to this page.

*Chris is a senior associate member of the Royal Society of Medicine, Certified International Recovery Specialist, and a member of the International Society of Addiction Medicine.

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