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.

Too Much Advice! How Did Everyone I Know Become An Expert in Substance Use Disorder?

Photo credit: Min An

Often, it’s given with the best intentions. Sometimes it comes with judgment or moralizing. Either way, unsolicited advice can drain our energy and complicate our efforts to support our Loved Ones. That’s how it’s been for Jaki, who has felt as if she were “on trial” for her husband’s alcohol use disorder. Allies’ writer Laurie MacDougall can sympathize, and shares some time-tested approaches for responding and self-care.

My husband has an AUD (alcohol use disorder). I have really appreciated the skills and information that I’ve gained from AIR over the past year, and I’m trying to apply everything I learn—granted I still have a lot of room to grow in supporting my husband through this. What I have been able to apply has been really helpful in our communication and in my own mental health as I watch him go through this struggle.

His drinking is progressively getting worse and more frequent. When it was not quite as severe, only a few select people knew the situation. Now that it has gotten worse, more people are aware of his issue.

What I’m noticing is that as people learn of his drinking issue, they pose questions, solutions and accusations to me. I’ve had friends of his tell me all of the things I “need” to do to help him. All of which are either things I’ve tried or things that would not be helpful and would likely make things more difficult. I find myself at a loss for what to say to people who come at me with all of these comments and “quick fix” solutions. It sometimes feels as if I’m on trial for his AUD. Does anyone have this same experience? Any suggestions for how to respond to people—who I know are only trying to help?

“Advice is the only commodity on the market where the supply always exceeds the demand.”

Oh Jaki, can I ever relate to what you are going through! Isn’t it wonderful when everyone else becomes experts on our situation? All the “you shoulds,” the “I woulds” and the “you have tos.” Accusations of what they believe you are doing wrong, judgments about your response to your LO’s behavior, cut deep, don’t help, and makes things so much more complicated. It’s just simply painful.

To thine own learning be true

People often hate to get, but love to give, unsolicited advice. Just remember: you are the expert in your situation. No one else. You are the one doing all the reading, reaching out, and research involved in finding solutions, and working towards taking steps to make things better. Block out all the unwanted advice and find ways to protect yourself. Confidently move forward. You are the one living it, doing the research, and getting educated on the best way to progress.

There are various reasons people dole out advice. Often it stems from good intentions, from the love and care they have for you and the person with addiction. Sometimes it’s just people being judgmental. Most of the time it doesn’t really matter why; it just isn’t helpful.

So how to respond and take care of yourself? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Responding with something like, “Oh wow, thank you so much for all of the research you’ve done on substance use disorder. I’ve done quite a bit of research myself and have decided on using a method called Community Reinforcement and Family Training. Have you ever heard of it? I can direct you to a website and couple of books. It’s the only evidence-based program for families that have Loved Ones with addiction, and I have decided that this is the approach I’m going to use. Let me know what you think after you complete all the video modules on the Allies in Recovery website and read the Beyond Addiction book.”
  2. Or, “Thank you so much for interest, and I know that you care about me and my Loved One. l just need an ear right now. I have been looking into the best way to approach this, and I am going to have to find that for myself.”
  3. Or, for those in your life who struggle to keep their judgement out of it, “This is something that I think you and I don’t need to discuss. I find it unhelpful, and it adds a bit more stress to my situation, so I am asking that we do not talk about it. Just know that I am educating myself on the topic and making my decisions accordingly.”

If you have the energy, you also might take the opportunity to turn your interaction into a teaching moment. Give the opposing thought to what they are suggesting, and why. Take what you have learned and help people to understand why you are doing things the way you are.

Don’t forget to connect

As another part of your healing process, and to gain confidence in your own abilities, you might want to connect with a community trying to do the same. These connections can provide support and understanding and help you brainstorm ideas. Allies in Recovery offers lots of ways to get connected, including Kayla Solomon’s Wednesday night group and the CRAFT educational groups on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights. Try them out and see what works for you.

Once again—and I know it’s not easy—try to put that unsolicited advice aside. Find a supportive group of people who will not add to the complexity of what you’re trying to accomplish. And know that everyone at Allies can relate to what you are going through. You have a place of caring and understanding to come to. We’re here.

Remember, you are doing the best you can and need to have compassion for yourself. Wishing you the best, and keep us updated.

Laurie MacDougall


Related Posts from "Discussion Blog"

My Loved One’s Breaking Our Agreement About Use at Home. What Should I Do About It?

After time in a recovery house—and agreeing in writing not to use while living at home—Carolyn P.’s Loved One has moved in with her. Much has been going well, but now the accumulating signs leave little doubt: they’re using again. Carolyn P. has been working hard to apply CRAFT to her situation. She worries, though, that her “watchful silence” might be counterproductive. Laurie MacDougall brings her back to a key, if difficult, CRAFT fundamental: boundary setting.

Rehab Was Great, but He Came Home and Stumbled. Now He’s Stopped Answering His Phone.

Residential rehab was a huge success for Highlander1’s grown son, but shortly after returning home the drinking started again. Now he’s taken off without a word and is refusing to be in touch. Naturally his parents are beside themselves. Allies’ writer Laurie MacDougall counsels them to start simply as they try to restore communications, to hone their own CRAFT skills—and to remind their son to focus on the success and not the setback.

What Am I Supposed To Do With This Anxiety?

Allies member Allisonc77 has some reasons for optimism: her husband, who struggles with alcohol, has recently stopped drinking, and let his old drinking buddies know he doesn’t plan to drink anymore. What he does plan to do is continue to see his friends. Naturally enough, Allison’s concerned that social pressure could lead him back to alcohol. But her question for Allies concerns her own behavior: she wants to know how best to manage her anxiety. Laurie MacDougall walks her (and us) through the fundamentals of a CRAFT approach to this question.

There’s A World of Options for Your Loved One

Jimw’s wife has contended with alcohol use disorder for many years and has engaged with numerous treatment programs along the way. She’s unemployed, and family debts are piling up. In his letter to Allies, Jimw describes what she’s already tried, and asks what other resources might be out there. Laurie MacDougall responds with a detailed discussion of the many options and where CRAFT comes into the picture.

Our Loved Ones Need Us to Listen. Even (Or Especially) When Their Behavior Is at Its Worst.

When Sweets1997 and his family allowed their adult son access to their home while they were away, it was a simple act of love. They returned to a trashed home and missing belongings. It’s just the latest difficult chapter in an 11-year journey with their son’s addiction. But not all the signs are discouraging. Laurie MacDougall remarks on the points in this family’s favor, and explores in detail how focused listening and other communication skills can build a relationship of trust with our Loved Ones.

My Son Needs Care For More Than Just Addiction. Where on Earth Can I Find It?

Substance use disorder often occurs alongside other physical and mental health challenges, making a tough situation much harder and more complex. As frends2end knows all too well, finding care that takes our Loved One’s whole condition into account is one of the hardest aspects of such situations. That makes it doubly important to know the best strategies and options out there. Allies’ Dominique Simon-Levine shares some of her discoveries.

When Setting a Boundary Is the Message We Need to Send

Introduction CRAFT teaches us to be thoughtful, caring, and deliberate in the messages we send to our Loved Ones. But sometimes the message is best conveyed without words. When we set boundaries, we also have to help our Loved Ones understand that they’re for real. As Allies writer Laurie MacDougall discusses with Adrexpert, managing our own thoughts and feelings is a necessary precursor to this sort of work, and so much else.

If My Loved One Commits To Treatment, Should I Ease Up on CRAFT?

Disengaging from a Loved One isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. But doing so when they’re using is a basic (and proven) part of CRAFT—as is the opposite action, rewarding non-use. When a Loved One takes on the challenges that often attend the start of treatment, sticking to CRAFT techniques and principles is as vital as at any other moment. As Laurie MacDougall explains, the effort will likely be difficult, but it’s a key part of supporting them.

She Wants Me to Watch the Baby While She Gets High. Should I Refuse?

Hopewood03 worries about both her daughter and her infant grandson. Her daughter smokes marijuana and believes it’s part of her identity. Her grandson needs care—even when the daughter feels like going out to get high. The dilemma for Megan arises when her daughter asks Megan to babysit on those occasions. She wants to keep her grandson safe, but doesn’t want to encourage her daughter to use. Allies’ writer Laurie MacDougall assures her she’s doing nothing of the kind—and reviews some CRAFT strategies to influence her daughter to move away from pot.


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"...)