How do I tell someone I have a problem with drugs or alcohol?

Choosing to tell someone something that you’ve kept hidden is a brave decision, and it’s the right thing to do for yourself to get better. You will also decide who you want to tell, what you want to say, and finally get a chance to say it. None of this is easy, but it is the first step toward healing.

Decide who you want to tell

Deciding to have an honest conversation about your use of drugs or alcohol can be overwhelming. And it’s okay to be scared or worried about how the conversation will go.

Though this is hard, remember that you are not alone. Many—millions of people have been where you are right now and decided to tell someone about their addiction. And for some of them, it was the thing that saved their lives.

Generally we say our family is a safe place to share or a family member. But sometimes it’s our own family that is contributing to the negative behaviors, mental illness, or addiction….It’s different for everybody.


Kyle, California

I would tend to lean toward someone who I thought was not going to be judgy or non-judgmental. Or someone who has been supportive of me either in the past or in the present.


Crystal, New York

For me personally, as an Asian man, I find that in East Asian cultures there tends to be really a lack of exact language or clinical vocabulary even to discuss mental health. I’m Japanese and depression, anxiety, anxiety disorder are not words we have in our language. So it makes it difficult to speak with parents about stuff like alcoholism or things like that. But there’s online Facebook groups for example with Asian youth who are dealing with the same things. There are actual support groups that are available with people who have similar experiences and backgrounds who can support you.


Kento, 23

When choosing someone to confide in, there are a few things to consider. Think about someone in your life who you trust. Or someone you know who will be compassionate and not quick to judge. The person you decide to tell might be someone who has been supportive of you in the past and makes you feel safe when you talk to them. You may also consider talking to a therapist or counselor, someone in recovery, or calling a warmline.

Depending on what state you live in, some people like teachers, coaches, pastors, etc.— in some states all adults—are mandated reporters. A mandated reporter is someone whose duty it is to report suspected abuse and neglect. Mandated reporters may also report suicidal ideation, self-harm, and drug use. While this often varies by state, situation, and person, there is a chance that they may have to tell your family what’s going on. But if they are someone who has been there for you before, they may help you start the conversation with your family and offer more support.

Figure out what you want to say

Now that you’ve decided who you are going to tell, next it’s time to think about what you want to say. This is going to be a difficult conversation, but it’s one that you can prepare for.

  • Before you start the conversation, think about what you want from the person you’re talking to. It’s okay to communicate what you want to the person you’re telling. Let them know if you want them to just listen, support you, help you, or give advice. Doing this will help you frame the conversation to meet your needs.
  • Prepare for the conversation. How you decide to prepare for the conversation is up to you. This could mean writing down everything that you want to say. You can practice in front of a mirror or record yourself. Taking time to prepare for tough conversations may help you feel better and more comfortable when the time comes.
  • Anticipate questions and reactions in advance. It will help to prepare for the hard questions that will come up during the conversation. Though it may not be someone’s intention, their reaction to the conversation may still hurt. Talking about addictions are conversations with a lot of blame, defensiveness, and hurt. But remember these difficult conversations are the most important conversations. It’s also ok to take time to yourself. You can take a deep breath and say, “I don’t feel comfortable sharing that right now.” The more you think about how you’re going to respond in advance, the better prepared you’re going to be in the moment.

Preparing your words beforehand can help you be ready to tell someone what you are going through. This worksheet walks you through the questions above including working through what your expectations might look like and a space to write out what you might say.

It’s ok to be scared. It takes an incredible amount of strength and courage to ask for help. You have overcome so much to get to this point, and you are capable of having this conversation.

Say it and focus on healing

This is the hardest part, but you can do it! Find a time when the person or people you want to talk to are alone and comfortable. Ask if it’s a good time to talk to tell them something.

While the hope is that the person or people you tell will be supportive, sometimes that doesn’t happen. If they are unsupportive or downright mean, it’s ok to walk away. Unfortunately, some people are uncomfortable with the topic of drug or alcohol use. And that has nothing to do with you. If the first person you tell isn’t supportive, try again at a later time or maybe someone else will be more supportive.

Talking about your addiction isn’t about having the perfect conversation but opening up a discussion and focusing on your decision to get well. It will be difficult at times. But it’s so important to practice what it feels like to talk about addiction and feel less shame or fear over time. No matter what anyone says, try to remember why you are choosing to let go of your addictions and find ways to live a healthier life. This journey is about you and for you. Healing and recovery are possible, and the help is worth it.


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