It can sometimes be awkward for individuals who are not in recovery themselves to broach the topic with a loved one for fear of saying the wrong thing or coming across as judgmental. However, if you have a loved one in recovery from a drug addiction, it’s normal to want to know more and understand what it is they went through and continue to go through.

There are some ways to carefully approach the topic if you wish to know more about a loved one’s addiction. If you adhere to the following guidelines and question suggestions, you’re more likely to get the answers you are searching for, while being careful to consider your loved one’s feelings and potential reactions.

Don’t bring up the past

If an addict has moved forward with their life, it is likely they don’t want to dwell on their past mistakes or choices. It probably isn’t healthy for them to do so, nor is it enjoyable. However, if there is a specific instance you are hoping to discuss, try wording it this way:

“Now that you are in recovery, I was hoping we could talk about _______.”

This approach acknowledges that you know they are no longer in the same state of mind that they were in the past while opening the door to discuss an important topic. This also allows them to make the decision to engage in the conversation. If they don’t feel safe revisiting the past just yet, they have the opportunity to say so and redirect the conversation.

Try not to question their recovery

As previously stated, it may be hard for someone who is not in recovery to fully understand the need for it. However, if you start asking questions such as, “Are you sure you’re an addict?” and “Are you sure you need to be completely sober?” it may cause the addict to start questioning their recovery themselves, which could lead to a slip.

Instead of questioning the legitimacy of their substance abuse problems, try asking them to explain why they decided to get help or stop using.

This allows the recovering addict to explain as much as they feel comfortable, and allows you to understand their reasoning without coming across as questioning the legitimacy of their problem.

Avoid telling them about your own drinking/drug experiences

The last thing someone in recovery wants to hear about is how someone who is not in recovery can still drink or use. While not always the case, hearing about the topic could take them back to their own drug use and make them wish they could still partake in certain activities.

Instead of discussing potentially triggering behaviors, try talking about the types of activities you take part in when not drinking/partying and see if they would be interested in taking part in some of those with you.

Don’t overstep your boundaries

Asking too many questions too often can make an addict in recovery feel like they aren’t being self-sufficient enough, or like they are being interrogated and micro-managed. This can be detrimental in the end, and could make them pull away from you rather than opening up. According to Healthline, “Part of recovery is learning to be accountable and responsible for one’s own actions. In general, focus on yourself and determine how you can take care of your own needs…The best thing loved ones can do is to let the addict know you support him or her while still maintaining appropriate boundaries and protecting your own wellbeing.”

Do your best to avoid making someone feel like their life is boring

Try not to ask questions or make comments like, “So what do you do with all your free time now? You must be bored.” For many addicts, this is their biggest fear when getting sober. They often wonder what they will do with their down time, and feel as if nothing could live up to the way they felt while using.

The reality is that the way they choose to spend their free time now is solely their business, and they will share that with you if they feel inclined.

If you find yourself curious, trying phrasing the question differently, like “So what hobbies have you taken up since getting sober?”

The key to talking with a loved one in recovery comes down to being considerate and empathetic. Try to put yourself in their shoes and consider how you would react if asked certain questions. If your reaction wouldn’t be positive, try to think of a way to rephrase the question.