Confrontational Comments: Helpful or Harmful for Recovery?

Confrontational approaches differ, and research finds that the impact that confrontational comments have on recovery varies. Conversely, confrontation may be supportive and helpful when used in motivational and positive ways.

Confrontational Warnings and the Alcohol and Drug Confrontation Scale (ADCS)

Confrontational comments from treatment professionals, friends, family, and criminal justice staff consist of warnings considering potential harms related to alcohol or drug use, such as “bad things may happen.” Furthermore, the Alcohol and Drug Confrontation Scale (ADCS) uses eight items to assess the amount of and the context in which the confrontational comments were received. Therefore, the ADCS assesses how the confronted individual perceives their relationship with the confronter through measures of support for sobriety, the motivation for making the confrontational comment, and overall supportiveness, as well as their perceptions of the confrontational statements through measures of helpfulness, accuracy, and emotional intensity. 

Although the ADCS suggests that confrontation is generally experienced in a helpful and supportive manner, it is important to measure how it is helpful or not helpful in recovery. Therefore, understanding the perspective of those battling SUDs of how and when confrontation helps lead to variations in drug and alcohol use and when it is counterproductive is imperative. The study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) asked participants to discuss confrontational comments received from anyone, including parole officers, sober living staff members, employers, and family members. Respondents reported a large amount of these comments as having come from friends, family, peers in recovery, and peers engaging in substance use. 

We help people with addictions and substance use disorders recover. Get mindfulness training and learn the 12 Steps for deeper healing.

What Are Helpful Confrontations?

In the study, participants associated helpful confrontations with their perceptions of the confronter’s legitimacy. Since substance users reported many of their confrontations as coming from friends, family, and peers, they perceived only some confronters as actually understanding substance use and recovery. This perceived understanding of their struggle gave the confronters legitimacy in the eyes of many of the studies participants, and therefore was an important factor in making these confrontations helpful. According to the participants, the most acceptable knowledge came from someone else’s personal experience with substance use issues and successful recovery. Some non-users, such as drug court judges, or an employer with a spouse in recovery, were considered as having knowledge and understanding of addiction. Therefore, it is more helpful with the confrontational comments come from someone who understands, rather than someone from the outside looking in. 

Not surprisingly, trusting and caring had a lot to do with the perception of helpful confrontations, unrelated to whether the confronter had personal experience with substance use and recovery. In trusting and caring relationships, those battling SUDs may likely feel less manipulated by confronters and more open to listening to confrontational comments and considering its true message. These relationships mainly included family members and longtime friends, important connections that the substance user had for long periods.

What Are Unhelpful Confrontations?

Unhelpful confrontations include constant reminders, hypocrisy, and hostile aggression. The most consistent of the three is hypocrisy. Research participants considered confrontational comments as extremely unhelpful when received from individuals who actively used substances themselves. Participants considered those confrontations by people under the influence at the time of the confrontation as extremely offensive. Participants found confrontational comments received by those confronters who seemingly hold themselves to different standards when they had no right to as entirely unhelpful. They seemingly put themselves on a pedestal while talking down to the participants about their substance abuse. It was also seen as a deflection so that the confronter would not have to look at themselves and their own issues while pointing out the participants’ flaws. 

Hostile and aggressive confrontations about substance use are also very unhelpful, especially when there is conflict history with the confronter. Strong conflict marking relationships created a dismissal of the confrontational comments and therefore made them obsolete. The participants stopped paying attention to what is said by these confronters, and when comments are said and aggressive arguments ensue, it had the opposite effect of motivating the participants with SUDs to seek help. Some participants reported these aggressive confrontations as making them want to use drugs or alcohol as a means to escape.

Another aspect of confrontation that participants considered unhelpful was reminding them of the past. For some, reminders of past consequences reinforced their motivation to maintain recovery and sobriety, while for others, they considered it counterproductive and discouraging, particularly if there was blame involved and no encouragement to change. The constant reminders of the past made participants feel a lack of trust and faith in their recovery. Constantly being reminded of the past with no balance of praise for improvements and steps made towards recovery created frustration among participants.      

Looking for Help?

The most important aspects of helpful confrontational comments include emotional support, genuine trust and caring, and having a true understanding of substance use and recovery. Therefore, family members, friends, and professionals should recognize that confrontational styles vary for each individual. Furthermore, the confronter should pay attention to the sufferer of the SUD reaction to the confrontational comments and modify their approach through these social cues. Confronters should choose their timing, and confrontational style of the comments carefully and tactfully. It is detrimental to bring up the past if only used to place blame and bring up past hurts.

 If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and mental health issues, a quality treatment program can provide you with strategies for maintaining long-term sobriety. At Renewal Lodge by Burning Tree, you will find a team of compassionate, knowledgeable professionals ready to coach each client through the 12-Steps and beyond. By structuring treatment to fit individual needs, including the identification of co-occurring disorders, Burning Tree facilitates an environment of healing and holistic wellness. Here, our clients tackle their addictions head-on and harness the power to restructure their lives through high accountability and life skills that foster lasting sobriety. We specialize in treatment for the chronic relapser and believe that with the right tools, you can put an end to the cycle of addiction.

Find Healing At Renewal Lodge

Simply fill out the form below and an admission specialist will contact you shortly.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Dear Renewal Lodge Visitors,

My name is John Bruna, co-founder of the Mindfulness in Recovery® Institute, and more importantly, a grateful member of the recovery community. I am incredibly fortunate to have found my recovery in 1984. Of course, I did not achieve continuous recovery through willpower or my own efforts, but through the guidance and caring support of countless others that selflessly taught me how to live through the 12 Steps.

My journey of recovery brought this once homeless, shame-based, traumatized, insecure young man to a life far beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I discovered self-worth, the joy of helping others, the gifts of parenting and grandparenting, and most importantly the ability to live a meaningful and purposeful life with integrity.

One of the greatest gifts of recovery is that I have the opportunity to give back and help others discover their self-worth, dignity, and the skills to fully live lives that they find truly meaningful. This is the inspiration for developing the skills of Mindfulness in Recovery® (MIR) to meet the needs of new generations struggling with alcohol and other substance use disorders. MIR is a set of evidence-based skills designed to help people fully integrate their tools of recovery in ways that are personalized, practical, and in alignment with their deepest values.

While we train counselors and therapists throughout the United States and abroad, I personally have chosen to work directly with the amazing team and clients at Renewal Lodge to develop the model MIR 12-step program for the nation. I choose Renewal Lodge because of the vision of its mission and the dedication of its team. Renewal Lodge is an extremely rare environment in which the staff embodies the very mindfulness and 12-step practices and skills they offer their clients. The results have been beyond my expectations. It is an honor to be here and I treasure my personal time with every client I meet.

With Gratitude,

John Bruna
John Bruna
Director of Mindfulness
View Insurance Providers