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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


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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"...)