Tips for Talking to Patients About Substance Abuse Addiction

Updated on August 28, 2020
Opening up about addiction can be challenging for patients. Here are some helpful tips for talking to patients about substance abuse addiction.

Substance abuse addiction is a sensitive topic of conversation. While addressing and talking about substance abuse is an essential step on the journey to recovery, doing so is often very challenging for those suffering with addiction. As a healthcare professional, you are tasked with communicating effectively and compassionately with patients to help make the discussion as comfortable as possible for them. By helping the patient open up, you can better address the root of the disorder and prescribe the most optimal treatment plans that could ultimately save a life. Here are some helpful tips for talking to patients about substance abuse addiction.

Ease into the Conversation

Immediately asking a patient about their drug use can often make them uncomfortable and cause them to close off. Instead, start by asking the patient about their personal story. In doing so, you can help the patient begin to open up and allow them to feel more understood while also gathering important context to their addiction.

To begin the conversation, start with broad, open-ended questions about their life that will help engage them in conversation, unlike yes or no questions. Once they have told you their personal story, you can then smoothly transition into the topic of their substance use disorder.

Eliminate the Stigma Surrounding Addiction

Often, there is a stigma surrounding addiction that insinuates that it is a character flaw rather than a disorder. As a result of this stigma, many people suffering from addiction incur a substantial amount of judgment from those around them.

Out of fear of being judged, many patients with substance abuse addictions may be hesitant to talk about their disorder. To help make the patient more comfortable, you must avoid letting such a stigma enter into your conversation. Make sure to communicate with the patient in a way that conveys respect and understanding.

Be Mindful of Your Body Language

When having a conversation about substance abuse, sometimes what you don’t say is just as affecting as what you do. In other words, your body language can significantly impact your conversation with the patient in either a positive or negative manner.

To help foster a positive, productive conversation, make eye contact with the patient. Doing so will allow them to feel like you are paying attention and that you truly want to help. Another way your body language can help foster trust between you and the patient is to sit at the same level as the patient rather than standing above them.