What to Say to Someone in Rehab

When a loved one or a dear friend is undergoing rehabilitation, it can be difficult to know how best to help them. Sometimes, you can’t even find the right words to say.

“What should I tell them?” “How do I begin?” “How do I express my support?” These questions often come up. If these questions seem familiar to you, don’t worry!

According to professionals, the following are the most appropriate things to say and do to someone in rehab:

Meenakshi Joshi, MS (ABA), MA (Clinical Psychology)

Meenakshi Joshi

Practicing Psychologist, Epsychonline

Say things that will give them hope and make them feel good about themselves

Do you know someone who is in rehab? Are you worried sick thinking what to say to someone in rehab? Afraid you might say the wrong thing? You do not want to make things worse. Know what to say to a recovering drug addict!

Related: 7 Best Books for Recovering Addicts

When we talk, we share our feelings and thoughts. So words can be a way to show our inner self. What you say shows what you feel. When you say a kind word to someone, they feel nice. When you say “I care for you,” the other person feels loved. On the other hand, it can hurt when you say something harsh or rude.

Going through rehab is a tough thing. It takes a lot of courage and strength to give up an addiction. It is quite a sensitive time for the person in rehab or a recovering drug addict. So what their loved ones and friends say can hold a great deal of value.

The person can be encouraged to work hard and get better when they hear their loved ones show care and belief on them.

What can you say to someone in rehab?

Here are some kind and encouraging things that you can say to a person in rehab.

“I love you” or “I care for you”

A simple expression of love and care means that you:

  • value that person
  • are thinking about that person
  • will continue to love and support that person
  • want the person to know that they are not alone

Showing your love and care can mean the world to the other person. They might be feeling unloved and scared. They may be feeling guilty and ashamed.

It is easy to feel that everyone has stopped loving them in this situation. They may be worried that no one will love them anymore. Hearing these simple words can make them feel so much better.

It is always a good feeling to be loved by someone and to know that someone cares for you.

“You are strong”

Any person who is in rehab or is a recovering drug addict is in a very emotional state of mind. They may doubt their own strength and abilities. They may become low in confidence. Their self-esteem might go down.

Related: The 32 Best Books on Confidence and Self-Esteem to Read

What you say should increase their self-confidence. In other words, you might need to be a source of positivity and courage. So, you need to say things that will make the person believe that he is not useless and weak.

Recovering drug addicts need all the support they can get. So, be patient and kind when you are talking to them.

Focus on the present

When you are talking to someone in rehab, it is best not to bring up the past. Especially, do not recall anything bad from the past. Instead, talk about being in the “present moment.” Talk about what the person is doing now and how great their efforts are.

Also, do not talk much about the future. It might worry the person. They may think:

  • “What if this goes to waste?”
  • “What if I go back to my old habits when I get out from here?”

It is best to talk about focusing on the present. You can talk about all the good things that the person is doing.

“I am with you, always”

You have to reassure the person that you will be there in the future. The person might be feeling worried about how they will manage after they come out of the rehab. Knowing that there is someone who will be there to help them adjust back to routine life will give them a needed boost.

Things to remember when talking to someone in rehab

Remember these few pointers whenever you are talking to someone in rehab or is a recovering drug addict.

Only say things that you mean

The person is already in a very bad state of mind. They are feeling low and scared. When you say things that do not actually mean, the other person can see it. Your lies will be seen no matter how good an actor you are.

So, speak only what you mean with all your heart, or better do not say anything at all!

Say only the things that you are planning to do

Lying or empty words will only make things worse.

For example, if you say that you will come to visit the person every day and you do not go visit him as you have said, it will negatively affect the person’s recovery.

Giving false hope to a person in rehab is the worst thing you can do. Do not make their journey more difficult.

Do not preach

You want to support and help the person and not teach the person a lesson. So when you say things, try to be friendly and mild. Your tone and voice can matter as much as your words.

What not to say to someone in rehab

  • Do not ask why the person cannot give up their habits.
  • Never ask how the person ended up here.
  • Do not tell the person how they can recover or give up their habit.
  • Do not list out what can go wrong.
  • Never compare the person to anyone else. So, don’t tell stories about others.
  • Your suggestions might come from your care, but they are not needed right now.
  • Finally, don’t say that you had told the person that they will end up in rehab. No one wants to hear that.

In conclusion, what you say to someone in rehab can make a huge difference to them. So, be careful while choosing your words. Say things that will give them hope and will make them feel good about themselves.

Also, say words that are true and said from your heart!

Matt Glowiak, PhD, LCPC

Matt Glowiak

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor & Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor | Writer, Choosing Therapy

Honest and supportive affirmations and statements

It can be difficult thinking of the “perfect” thing to say to someone in rehab. The truth is that there is no “perfect” response, as this is a difficult situation. Making the decision to enter rehab means that your loved one is in a vulnerable, difficult position.

That said, it is important that whatever you say is both honest and supportive. Anything that affirms one’s decision to participate in rehab while offering support goes a long way.

Comments may include or be amended along any of the following:

  • “I am so proud of you for making this decision. Though I realize it is a difficult one, this is the beginning of a whole new life for you and everyone else. Know that I fully support you.”
  • “If there is anything you need at all, please know that I am here.”
  • “Is there anything I can do to support you through this time?”
  • “I truly love you and always want what’s best. Know that the time spent now is an investment toward the rest of your life.”

What shouldn’t you say to someone in rehab?

It is important never to say anything discouraging. We do not want to place blame on the individual in rehab or make it come across as an inconvenience.

Although loved ones experience significant hardship throughout one’s addiction, this is not the time or place to air dirty laundry. Rather, we want to be affirming and supportive.

Know that entering rehab is always a difficult decision and a period of life that one considers a low point. When a loved one takes accountability to own up to what was done and is ready to move forward, we never want to pour salt into the wounds.

Some things to avoid saying may include the following:

  • “You do realize that by going to rehab, everyone else is going to have to take care of everything you are leaving behind.”
  • “Rehab is expensive. Don’t you think that you can tough it out and spend your money on something more worthwhile?”
  • “You really don’t have that big of a problem. Can’t you just resolve this yourself? Here, I’ll help you.”
  • “Of all the things you’ve done to this point, this is the lowest. How can you think for a moment that it is okay to take time to yourself after putting us through all this?”
  • “Rehab doesn’t work. Most people relapse anyway. Don’t waste your time.”

What are the best guidelines for communicating with someone who is in recovery?

When attempting to communicate with someone in recovery, it is important to meet the needs of the individual as well as protocol specific to the rehab organization.

Oftentimes, rehab involves distancing from loved ones for a period of time to work on oneself. Anything outside of that might be a distraction.

Many facilities limit communication for a period of time until the individual is ready to begin interacting with others. As, if not more, important is following what the individual wants.

If one does not want any distractions, then communication should be limited until ready. Intentionally forcing oneself upon the individual when undesired can backfire.

Remember, rehab is an opportunity for one to escape everyday life to focus on one’s own recovery. Any distractions, even if well-intended, can yield negative results.

That said, if one is requested not to communicate with someone in rehab, it is recommended to seek one’s own counseling. If unwilling to participate in outpatient sessions with a counselor, group support offered through Al-Anon and Nar-Anon, which provides relief to those with loved ones struggling with recovery, may prove fruitful.

Related: 15 Best Books on Addiction and Recovery

Dr. Howard Rankin Ph.D.

Howard Rankin

Coach | Host, How Not to Think Podcast | Author, “Falling to Grace: The Art and Science of Redemption

Assure them that nobody is perfect and that everyone makes mistakes

One of the issues in rehab is that people very often have low self-esteem and are beating themselves up for their addiction and some of the consequences thereof.

While an honest appraisal of one’s behavior is important, it can sometimes be accompanied by a very negative mindset that won’t help recovery.

Related: How to Get Rid of Negative Thoughts?

They need self-compassion. The ability to accept and acknowledge mistakes and realize that no one is perfect, and use their experiences as motivation to change, not negativity that will seriously inhibit their journey.

What you say:

  • “Give yourself a break.”
  • “No one is perfect. Accepting where you’ve been and making a decision to move forward is the greatest commitment you can make to yourself.”

To focus on the present rather than dwelling on the past

In a similar vein, we need to respond to people where they are at, not where they have been. This applies to people in rehab. They shouldn’t focus on what they did wrong in the past, but what they are doing right in the present.

What you say:

  • “Focus on the present, not the past.”
  • “You’re on a new path, don’t bring old thoughts with you.”

Their recovery will pave the way for a brighter future

Withdrawal and rehab can be uncomfortable in many ways:

  • Physically
  • Socially
  • Emotionally

They shouldn’t focus on the pain but see it as their friend, a partner in their redemptive journey and recovery. It might be uncomfortable now, but it will lead them to a much greater future.

What you say:

  • “Embrace the discomfort, and you will beat it.”
  • “It might be uncomfortable now, but think how worse it would be if you hadn’t made the decision to change.”

Encourage them to see the bigger picture

People in rehab are transforming their life. Tell them to connect with the life that they can now envision, and to see themselves:

  • living a drug-free life
  • achieving goals
  • living out their purpose, authentically and joyfully

What you say:

  • “The greatest experience is overcoming life’s difficulty and coming back wiser and stronger than ever.”
  • “The lower you went, the higher you can go.”

Joanne Ketch, LPC-S, LMFT-S, LCDC

Joanne Ketch

Licensed Professional Counselor | Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

“What can I do to help so you can focus on getting better?”

It’s very common for people in rehab to be distracted by concerns about their “life at home” while they are in rehab.

They (understandably) worry about their:

  • Home
  • Partner
  • Kids
  • Job
  • Property

If you are in a position to help at all, one of the most supportive and helpful things you can do is offer to do something to reduce that worry.

“Is there part of the programming you’d like me to be involved in?”

Quality treatment planning in rehab will include the client’s network. Many have family and friend programs that involve “intensives” in which issues can be presented, and if not completely processed, at least healing can begin.

Encourage them to be open to what works for them and their intuition

While addiction research has identified some common areas of shared causality and treatment, what “works” is still an individual endeavor based on each person’s:

  • background,
  • preferences,
  • interests,
  • the severity of the problem,
  • and what’s known as their “recovery capital

Encourage the person to be open to possibility.

Refocus the person on their healing and the worthiness of that healing

It’s common for a person in rehab to focus on peripheral issues – people at home, work, other people in their rehab cohort, whether or not “this is going to work.

When they seem to wander with their focus, it might be appropriate to redirect them that this is their time for healing and care.

Affirm them that treatment works

Encourage them that treatment is based on best practices, science, and research that help guide the professionals in assisting them in making choices to set them up for success while they are in rehab and as they step down to a lower level of care and discharge.

Treatment has helped many millions of persons realize a happy, productive sobriety.

Derwin K.K. Nunes III CSAC

Derwin K.K. Nunes III

Lead Counselor, The Ohana Addiction Treatment Center

You don’t need to get too heavy

It’s so easy to place pressure on ourselves to say “the right thing” when someone we care about enters rehab. This person is already in the middle of so many heavy things. My best advice is that you don’t need to get too heavy.

While you may feel compelled to share some wise words and grand gestures, the truth is that the person you’re talking to simply wants to know that you’re in their corner.

How can you communicate that? Stop for a minute to think of what you would want to hear if you were in your loved one’s shoes.

Simple expressions of “I love you” would be appreciated

This is sometimes all that’s necessary. You may just want to voice your love when you don’t know another way to approach the situation. You have no idea how appreciated this simple phrase can be when a person is so convinced that they are “unworthy of love” due to their addictive behaviors.

Let them know you want to enjoy things with them

Something that most people who have never struggled with addiction don’t realize is that getting sober is an isolating experience.

In addition to the pain of losing many friends after breaking away from toxic relationships, there is the issue of always feeling like you are the “person in recovery” to all of the people in your life.

Let this person you care about know that you want to hang out to enjoy things with them.

“Tell me how I can support you in this journey”

It’s so important to be available to help without trying to tell the other person what to do. Unsolicited advice is unhelpful for people going through rehab. Make it clear that you’re there for the journey.

Boris Mackey

Boris Mackey

Recovery and Mental Health Advocate, Rehab 4 Addiction

Deciding to go to rehab isn’t an easy decision. If you have a friend or loved one who is currently seeking treatment, you may be wondering what you can say to offer your support.

Below I have compiled a list of supportive words to share with someone in rehab:

Remind your loved ones that they’re not alone

The stigma surrounding substance use disorder can cause lots of people to suffer in silence. Remind them how far they’ve come in their recovery journey.

It’s okay to reach out for help

Addiction services are in place for a reason. It is OK to reach out for professional help. Doing so can help you to improve both your physical and mental health.

“What can I do to help you?”

You could offer your support by setting plans in place for when your loved one has completed treatment. This could include arranging accommodation and helping to run errands.

Most rehab facilities also offer visiting hours for family and friends to drop in. Visiting your friend or loved one can help to keep them motivated and encourage them on their path to sobriety.

Jod Kapilakan

Jod Kapilakan

CEO, Abundance No Limits

Avoid saying anything that may make them feel horrible about themselves

Being a part of rehab is itself a hard, and heartbreaking experience. Saying something that will hit someone differently and badly can break the moral support.

There are many things to be neglected before saying something to a recovering person in rehab.

A list of a few things that can be said to someone who is in rehab are:

Try to be empathetic

Say kind words as you love them; you are there for them. Make them feel they are a part of your family. Care for the one recovering in the rehab. Spend time with them and understand their feelings.

Encourage them positively

Positive support from family and friends can always be helpful. Help them out in any way you can, maybe family or financial. Tell them that they are not alone in their journey and this fight can be won easily. Stand as their backbone.

Small love and support can increase the healing and recovery process.

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