Become a member of Allies in Recovery and we’ll teach you how to intervene, communicate and guide your loved one toward treatment.Become a member of Allies in Recovery today.

Arguing with an Addicted Loved One Can Be Like Reasoning with a Hurricane

woman getting up from table angry at man
Illustration © Eleanor Davis


Arguing with an Addicted Loved One

(…can be like reasoning with a hurricane!)

Part 1

There are more people affected by addiction than there are people addicted. It’s been said that for every one person struggling with addiction, there are at least 15 people affected. The effects are painful and relentless for those of us left in the wake. Affected family members feel helpless about changing the situation. We stand by, sober and aware, knowing that addiction is capable of quickly devouring our household, right before our eyes.

It’s no secret that addiction has ripped its way through my home and family. At least not since my book “Unhooked, a Mother’s Story of Unhitching from the Roller Coaster of Her Son’s Addiction” was published. Unhooked details my tumultuous struggle with my Mother as well as a 6-year journey through the prescription-pill addiction of my son and only child, following an injury in football. I have been in the presence of active addiction my entire life; it is an ordeal I wish on no one. I have not had a single day of my life unaffected by someone’s addiction and/or related behavior. Not one day. Navigating my way through life with this affliction present, always lurking and often rearing its head with great velocity, has been an emotional obstacle course.

One of the ways I have found myself pulled into a struggle with the insanity and dysfunction of addiction is when what I call “bottomless arguments” flare up. Particularly those that involve a combination of deceptive tactics.

When arguments arise and become excessively heated, if they seem to be unsolvable and involve dynamics like blame-shifting, denial and false accusation … I know I am most likely in the presence of active addiction, relapse or some other deception that desperately wants to stay hidden. I’ve found the stronger these tactics are applied by the person I am in the struggle with, the deeper the deception.

I will elaborate. The following are ways I have personally experienced these behaviors during times I’ve found myself in conflict with someone I care greatly about, but who struggles with the infirmity of addiction:

Blame-shifting: a tactic used to always push blame onto another person. The act of transferring responsibility for an error or problem to another. (

In my experience, the best of manipulators will apply this form of emotional abuse. It’s a slippery, shirking, somewhat “juking” way of side-stepping ownership for decisions and behavior. Whatever the offending party is confronted with, it is always someone else’s fault. Something or someone caused them to behave as they did. As if they are puppeteered against their own will, when in fact these are often very strong-willed people who can’t be forced to do a thing we’d like them to!

I refuse to go deep into conversation with blame-shifting. I set that boundary long ago. As soon as I recognize it, I back out of the conversation and respond to the blame-shifting independently. My approaches include:

  • walking my dog to take a breather;
  • praying or meditating for 10 or 15 minutes;
  • calling a trusted friend in my support system;
  • a few yoga stretches or 20 jumping jacks …

… all ways to clear my frustrated energy and feel better.

Blame-shifting is an abusive, conniving tactic that, very simply put, distracts from accountability, addressing the truth and problem solving. Blame-shifting is not a battle that truth and fairness will win. Accountability and problem solving are necessary for growth and change. 

Denial: refusal to admit the truth or reality. (  

Addiction is never alive and well without the presence of denial. Denial, to me, is fluid; it takes on many forms. A person who is unwilling to face, or admit, the truth will go to the death fighting to deny it to everyone else. On the opposite side of that is often a family member desperate not to believe the whispers of truth that have been alerting them all along. The family member(s) may also resist believing that the ominous situation they're afraid of is actually happening. I tend to be one who dives right into the truth, just as I prefer jumping into a swimming pool versus inching my way in and getting used to the cold water. For me, facing it head-on gets it over more quickly and allows me to begin making decisions toward solutions.

That said, having a person who holds weight in your life refuse to admit that a situation is happening – even in the presence of proof – is one of the most frustrating experiences. Before one becomes seasoned with the tactics of addicts (who will do anything they can to protect the anonymity of their problem), it's easy to get swept up by the hurricane of distracting behavior.

I myself have been lured into the storm too many times to remember. Many times I would even invent brand new, intricate ways of catching lies that would put CIA agents to shame. All without stopping to think,

Wait, maybe I could just…not go down this rabbit hole. Maybe this isn’t even my fight. Perhaps I don’t have to run this race or step into this storm. Instead, I could calmly realize that if things are not adding up, something is wrong and I should remove myself from the chaos rather than being caught in it. I need to instead set consistent, firm, healthy boundaries and settle on the fact that if I am right, the truth will expose itself eventually. What use is it to work this hard to nail down a confession? Have I proved one point so far that turned things around? What can I do if I am right? The person denying the truth will just get better at disguising it next time.

To a degree, searching for answers is a must, but just like a song plays itself out on the radio…at some point I know when that tune has had its run. I cannot walk in the kindest version of myself if I am in a long, drawn-out dogfight to expose something. At some point I have to step back and allow nature to take its course. Truth always comes out eventually. What a relief.

“In times of war truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” ~Winston Churchill


Annie Highwater is a Writer, Speaker, Podcast Host and Family Advocate. She has a particular interest in family pathology and concepts of dysfunction, addiction, alcoholism and conflict. Annie published her memoir, Unhooked: A Mother’s Story of Unhitching from the Roller Coaster of Her Son’s Addiction, in 2016. Her story sheds light on the personal challenges facing the affected parents and family members, and illustrates how family dynamics both help and hinder the recovery process. Annie’s second book, Unbroken, Navigating the Madness of Family Dysfunction, Addiction, Alcoholism and Heartache was published in August of 2018. She resides in Columbus, Ohio and enjoys writing, long distance running, hiking, the great outdoors and visiting her son in California as often as possible.



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. My husband is excellent at blame shifting. He knows that I will not engage with him in any important conversation when he is drinking, but yet he always starts with me when he is drinking. I tell him that I am not discussing anything with him and he keeps going and going. His latest thing is telling me that I need to work more and double my salary- I already work full time outside the home and every other Sunday in a different job as well as pick up extra here and there at my place of employment. He makes very good money 6 figures and is now stating I should be making as much as him. My industry does not pay that way- and if I worked 2 full time jobs- when would I sleep, take care of kids, the house etc. it is very irrational as we are not in need of extra money to survive- by any means. He becomes very mean and verbally abusive. it is very hard the next day to try and catch him sober and reward him, but I also want him to be accountable and realize how much he has hurt me- or at least see how irrational his thinking is. This is where I continue to struggle with coping strategies. I try in the moment to distance myself- but at times he just keeps coming at me trying to argue w/me-I think this has escalated as he sees I won’t engage with him- it is the aftermath and needing time to work through my emotions- especially when he wakes up as if nothing occurred. This site has been very helpful and I know it is practice on my part to find what works.

    1. Do not take what he says while drinking personally. Do not expect more from him. This is it, your husband is drunk. Do not expect him to remember his nastiness the next day. He is withdrawing that next day. Do not step in at this point with rewards. He isn’t meeting the definition of “not using” the morning after.

      Read Dominque Simon-Levine’s full response to 547rose here:

  2. Thanks Annie.
    My way of coping is to step away and not be available. I don’t think that is a good coping strategy but I can’t seem to engage without emotion. Stepping away isn’t really solving anything. I get very depressed and even more worried.
    I worry if he doesn’t get help and I worry if I push too hard and he does get help because of me then fails, relapses, and maybe becomes more addicted or even worse…
    isn’t there any drug company looking for a magic pill to get all of these addictions erased from our lives. You

    1. Dear Mom101! I absolutely felt helpless and overwhelmed myself, pretty much daily! It can be a miserable, taxing existence to trudge through. Finding support, working on myself, my needs, my recovery was the only way out of darkness for me. That is when life began to shift toward better, easier. Don’t lose heart, you are in the right place. Support, information and encouragement are vital. You don’t have to go through it alone.

      Letting go is a process, the healthier and stronger we get the healthier and stronger the family stands a chance to get. Again you are in the right place. You will find support here.


  3. Thank you for the strategies of what to do when caught in a situation/conversation/argument.

    Now to apply them! I still find myself trying to fix things or suggest how he could do things. It is a struggle for me.

    Thanks again, peppermintpatty

    1. You are welcome, Peppermintpatty! It’s a process, it takes time. I still relapse back into the pattern on occasion, but not as often and I don’t go as deep or stay as long. It takes time to turn things around. AT least for me it did…I was a very slow learner!

  4. In these “bottomless argument” type of conversations, the first step for me has been to truly not want to have them, to realize how long I thought I could reason my husband into sobriety and how ineffective that was. Now he is often the one to start conversations and I do recognize the shift into the blame-shifting. It almost seems like a physiological — not psychological — need for there to be conflict and now that I am not supplying it, he is doing. Saying, “I am sorry you feel that way,” helps defuse the defensiveness that rises in me, if I can say it with genuine compassion.

    It is painful, but he is talking more often about making changes. I am going to reread your last chapter or two of Unhooked, probably more than once.

    I just want to say how happy I am that you are here, Annie, and I appreciate all the other comments. I bought Unhooked after your first post, and it was inspiring to read about your journey. I cheered inside when I read about the comments that other people make, including something like, “I don’t know how you are doing it.” I get that it is intended to be supportive, but makes me feel exhausted and alone.

    I am really ready to live a full, whole life again, no matter what my husband decides to do.

    1. Thank you so much for the feedback, Hope! I agree with it being as if there is a need for conflict. There is an energy to it and definitely a shift as it escalates and seems to move further away from possible solution. I had these conversations on a daily basis with my Mother for more than 25 years. They intensified when it became about my son needing help with opiate dependency. I did not realize there was a better way. I would research ways to make my point, to prove hers wrong…anything to plead with her to see what was obvious and reasonable. I wish this site had been available then! I would have had support, information and tended to myself realizing I was arguing with a chemically altered person who wasn’t going to come to a place of solution with me. It was a painful journey. I am so thankful for the abundance of information now available, for the CRAFT method, for those doing the work. I am humbled to be included. Thank you so much for reading my story!

      You are never alone, Hope!


  5. Hi Annie,

    I love your post and I am sure that most if not all of us can relate to what you’re describing. I really appreciate you sharing your strategies on how to handle these situations and I was hoping I might piggy back on that and contribute some of my own coping skills as well! My first step to my recovery was to become educated about the disease of addiction and really understand exactly what is happening biologically. I read everything I could get my hands on, every article, book, blog post, what ever it was that might help me to come to understand what was driving my son to do the things he was doing. I found it really calming to find out what was the force behind his behavior and it really allowed me to mentally separate my son the person from his disease. I started to view his actions as a symptom of his disease and not his moral failing or some characteristic that I had instilled in him. Understanding this concept brought me a sense of serenity. At that point I began to realize that when there was any engagement of chaos through arguing and manipulation there were actually three participants: me, my son and his disease. In fact, I believe my son stepped back and let the disease take the driver’s seat, so really I was engaged with the disease.

    Tactics I had been using certainly were not working so I needed to work on new coping strategies that would bring some calm into our situation. I learned quite a few from Al-Anon and many here on the Allies in Recovery Website. The videos for me were a saving grace. Many of the techniques were not easy to implement at first, I had to practice and I still struggle with them. I also learned that when I initially started implementing CRAFT the response from my son did not go so well. I think I had changed the game in a way his disease was not expecting and the old tactics were not working. So addiction upped the ante. The response was more frantic and loud, but I stuck through a couple of these interactions staying calm and focused and refusing to be drawn in. I found that at about the fourth or fifth time the conversations started to change. Actually I started to see cracks in the wall and communication between the two of us became better. (Not great by any means but certainly better then it was).

    Here are a couple of the tools I use when I am being drawn in to chaos:

    1) My mantra is “yes, no and I don’t know”. I just repeat them in the conversation shaking my head yes and no. Never giving a solution, judgement, nothing. I let him do most of the talking but he knows I am listening.

    2) I may switch to “I am so sorry about that, what are you going to do about it?” I like to make sure the disease knows I am not going to solve it for him!

    3) One coping skill I absolutely love to use is to agree with everything. I save it for last but for me I find it really can take the air out of the fight. For example, he might say “You’re crazy, you need to see a doctor, you should be in a hospital!” My response would be “Yes I am, I am crazy like a bug, I think I will see a doctor. A hospital stay for me would be great right now”.

    As far as lying, for me I just expect it. Of course he is going to lie to me, his brain going crazy telling him he needs drugs to survive. His brain also knows I will do anything to keep him from that drug. I know that when he is in active addiction he will do all he can to use and lying is a part of that manipulation. I just go with my own thoughts, if I suspect it’s a lie then for me it probably is, so I will consider this before my response. I do not take it personally even though I may find it frustrating. Over time I have become a lot better at identifying lies and responding in ways that are beneficial to the situation. Many times I just go real quiet and might just respond with a “hmmmm” but I don’t confront.

    For us confrontation has just led to more chaos. I also find that taking time for myself consistently, as well as after something stressful happens, can be very helpful in bringing peace to my soul. I love to exercise, take the dog for a walk and start my day off with all the things I am grateful for. I have recently found yoga and am researching mindful meditation which I think I am going to really enjoy. Having my hair done or my nails is another thing that affords me the chance to get away and then return refreshed and a new person. The more confident I am about myself and emotionally stable I am, the less likely I am to fall apart when these incredibly taxing situations occur.

    I hope that this is helpful to someone else and their situation. I know I learn something new with each person’s story and thoughts. Remember, everyone’s journey is different. What works for me might or might not work for you. Just never give up there is always hope!

    1. I love everything you said and that you took the time to say it. That confirms to me again that we are all indeed in this together. Without support, give and take and the sharing of experiences and ideas I do not know where I would be. And like you, I pored over information.

      There are 3 parts to this conflict blog as I dig a little deeper. Most of my arguments were between my Mother and I as she has struggled with her own prescription medication addiction and became somewhat of a stumbling block between me and my son. We have come a long way! After giving examples of the tug-of-war arguments I had with my Mother, I conclude the blog with this:

      “Please note, if our issues weren’t serious matters of right and wrong, as much as areas of life, death and danger concerning my son, I would have had a much easier time dropping the fight and moving on. But for a time I had to take this fight which was parallel to my real fight – the fight for my son’s life against prescription pill addiction. I forgive my Mother but have strong boundaries when it comes to the relationship (the experiences are detailed in my memoir “Unhooked”).”

      Because yes I absolutely agree – we are arguing with the disease, with chemically affected thinking and it does no good to get heated and lose control of emotions, though it happens. But at the time there were urgent issues I didn’t know how to calmly step away from, especially with my son being a teenager. Again we have come a long way. I have definitely learned it is a process. And one we shouldn’t go through alone. Thank you so very much! Annie