How to Initiate a Recovery Conversation

Opening a dialog with a person struggling with substance use can be challenging—but it’s less intimidating if you plan the conversation.

Having a conversation with a loved one about their substance use can be one of the most difficult things you ever do. But it can also be one of the most important because it can represent the first step on the individual’s road to recovery.

Even just thinking about having this conversation may make you anxious. After all, there are multiple unknowns in bringing up the subject to your loved one. Will you say the right things? Will you be able to get through to your loved one? How will they react?

While having a substance-use conversation is never easy, the good news is that, if you plan, and use positive communication strategies you can have some control over how it goes.

Taking Control of the Conversation

Here are some tips for planning a successful substance-use conversation with your loved one.

Do Your Homework

An effective conversation begins with having the facts and understanding what you’re dealing with. Research the short- and long-term effects of the substance or substances you believe your loved one is using, as well as the signs of problem use. Helpful resources include, but are not limited to, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

In addition to aiding you in having a more informed conversation, this knowledge can help you determine the best treatment options for your loved one.

Choose the Right Time and Place

When and where you have the conversation matters. To make sure you’ll be at your best and are likely to have their full attention, don’t initiate the conversation while your loved one is under the influence of a substance. Also, find a quiet and private place for the conversation to avoid embarrassing them and to help put you both at ease.

Ask Questions

While you will have one or more messages you want to convey to your loved one, you are more likely to have a productive conversation if you initiate a dialog. Asking questions will improve the likelihood that the individual feels heard, as opposed to being “lectured to.”

Be Prepared to Listen

Engaging in a dialog with your loved one can also help you learn more about their situation and their substance use—information that might help you make sense of your loved one’s troubling behavior. You don’t have to agree with what is being said and still understand.

But you only get this information if you ask questions and listen—really listen—to their responses.

Anticipate Their Reactions

Depending on the individual, they may react to the conversation with denial, anger, volatility—or a combination of these. Expecting a negative reaction can lead to your postponing or avoiding having the conversation. However, negative reactions are easier to accept and navigate when you have planned for them in advance.

Prior to the conversation, think through what you plan to say and anticipate how your loved one will react. Then plan how you will respond in turn. Mapping the conversation out on paper, with the messages you want to get across, anticipated reactions, and your responses can help you feel more in control of the conversation and its outcomes. It can also make you more confident in delivering your message.


Once you have planned the conversation, you can further boost your confidence and effectiveness by practicing. You can do this by yourself (repeatedly running through the conversation out loud or in your head) or by roleplaying the conversation with someone you trust. By taking a turn playing the role of your loved one, you can gain additional insights into how they might react.

Get Help

As with all aspects of dealing with a loved one with a substance use issue, one of your greatest strengths is your support network. Families Strong WV can help. We offer free support groups based on years of experience assisting the loved ones of substance users.

To sign up for a Families Strong WV support group, go to our “Join A Group” page and select the best option for you.


Families Strong WV is a free, 8-week support group for the families and friends of individuals who are using substances. It is designed to help reduce the negative effects of substance use issues on West Virginia families. The program is developed and guided by Mosaic Group, nationally recognized experts in behavioral health, with financial support from the West Virginia Department of Health & Human Services.


Contact us at the Mosaic Group. We would be happy to answer any questions you may have about this program.

Tel: 681-378-2086

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