5 Key Communication Strategies for Addicts in Recovery

Substance Use Disorders ravage relationships.  Lies, betrayals and broken promises litter relationships in which at least one partner is an addict.  If both partners are addicts, the relationship turmoil is doubly dysfunctional.  Finding ways to improve communication in sobriety is key to sustaining relationships.

Communication Issues

There are so many communication issues that riddle an addictive relationship.  Both parties have probably fallen into a pattern of not saying what they mean and meaning what they say.  Dysfunction patterns have emerged in which conversations are rife with conflict or excruciatingly polite to avoid negative, emotionally-charged topics characteristic within an addictive relationship.

To learn more about addiction recovery, or for help finding a treatment program, call 888-414-2380 (Who Answers?) .

First Key to Positive Communication:  Listening

Active listening is incredibly difficult for recovering alcoholics and addicts.  When conversation is taking place, addicts are thinking about a response or retort, rather than really attending to the person who is speaking.  In early recovery, clearing time and space for conversation is important.  Recovering addicts should ask that conversations be kept brief to allow for a better exchange and understanding.

Second Key to Positive Communication:  Observing

Because alcoholics and addicts are self-absorbed, observing the body language and mannerisms of others is key to better understanding.  For years, addicts have even become unaware of their own feelings and responses to situations.  Paying attention to body language, especially their own, can provide great insight when communicating.  For healthy communication, be mindful of the following:

  • Eye contact or avoidance thereof
  • Folded arms
  • Crossing legs
  • Fidgeting
  • Touch
  • Facial Expressions

Third Key to Positive Communication:  Paraphrase and Clarify

Communication Strategies

Make sure you understand where someone is coming from before jumping to conclusions.

During conversation, it is important to paraphrase and check for clarity.  Addicts and partners of addicts have a tendency to jump to conclusions.  Who wouldn’t, after all?  Constant dishonesty leads to lack of trust in a relationship.  Simple checking and paraphrase can avoid conflict.  One such example might be, “You said you are upset that I came home late from the store.  Are you worried I’m drinking or using again?”

Fourth Key to Positive Communication:  Ask Questions

Asking questions often gets discarded as a communication tool in the addicted relationship.  During active addiction, questions were more like an inquiry.  Asking questions that allow partners, friends and family members to learn about one another again are important to any healthy relationship.  For example, “Do you enjoy movies or plays the most?”  Even when people believe they know a person well, allowing each other to explore new feelings and interests in sobriety can build great connections.

Fifth Key to Positive Communication:  Provide Clear Feedback from “I” Perspective

Disagreements will occur.  Research has recently supported the idea that confrontation does not work well for recovering addicts and alcoholics.  Using “I” statements to explain one’s own perspective honors the other person in the conversation and prevents the appearance of being attacking.  “When you stay out late, I feel afraid that you are drinking again.”  This type of statement focuses on the problem of fear and allows and opening for discussion of a solution.  “Next time, I will call if I’m going to be late.”

Practice Makes Progress

Honest and open communication will take time and practice.  It should also be noted that addicts and alcoholics are not the only people who experience difficulty in communicating clearly and effectively.  Remembering the five keys to positive communication will smooth the path to healthier conversations in recovery.

If you’re looking for a rehab program for yourself or a loved one, call 888-414-2380 (Who Answers?) today to speak with a treatment advisor. 


Bartholomew, N & Simpson, D. (2005). Ideas for better communication. TCU Mapping Enhanced Counseling Manuals: Texas Institute of Behavioral Research at TCU. Retrieved on February 12, 2017 from https://ibr.tcu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/TMA05Aug-Comm.pdf

White, W. & Miller, W. (2007). The use of confrontation in addiction treatment: History, science and time for change. Counselor, 8(4), 12-30. Retrieved on February 12, 2017 from http://www.williamwhitepapers.com/pr/2007ConfrontationinAddictionTreatment.pdf