Effective Communication: Tips and Techniques in Recovery

Smiling group working together around a table.

Updated on 1/31/2023

Words matter. How you speak to others, convey feelings or present options matters. 

You learn how to talk to others by watching those around you. While you are growing up, your parents, friends, family and other adults teach you how to communicate. You can simulate their behavior towards others by copying how others act in social situations. Society teaches you appropriate and inappropriate ways to engage in conversation with others. In this article, read about the importance of communication, especially when you are recovering from drug or alcohol addiction.

Effects of Miscommunication

Alcohol or drug use can affect how you interact with others. The feeling of being left out can increase when you are drinking or using a drug. Because of the effects of substances on your brain and the impulse reaction system, you are at an increased risk of losing control of your thoughts and emotions. 

A treatment program that looks at you as an individual and considers your environment, lifestyle and other aspects can build a robust and comprehensive treatment plan for your recovery. As part of such a program, you can work with your therapist to learn effective ways to communicate with others.

Roadblocks to Communication

Logjams can take place in any conversation, but they are more likely when a substance is involved. Some barricades include:

  • The assumption people know how we feel: People you are talking to don’t always know how you feel. Healthily expressing your feelings is your responsibility.
  • Ineffective listening: You can think you are listening; many people aren’t. Instead of thinking about your answer, listen to the person.
  • Overreacting: You can disagree with a person’s thoughts, opinions, or feelings, don’t try to engage the person in a heated debate, and listen to them.
  • The fear of saying “no”: You have every right to say “no.” 

Communication Skills in Addiction Therapy

Addictive behaviors or being addicted to a substance can make you do things or act in ways you would not under most circumstances. Your feelings of guilt, embarrassment or shame are understandable. 

Addictive behaviors can erode trust in any relationship, including the one you have with yourself. Often, the way you think and talk to yourself affects how you see yourself. You can internalize your thoughts and emotions, creating a lack of self-worth. Through individual, group or communication skills therapy, you can learn how to build back the lost trust and self-love. 

When you are in treatment, you can learn how to forgive yourself for your behaviors while finding healthy coping tools for your thoughts and emotions. 

The following two types of therapy are examples of how treatment can help you regain self-love and trust from others.

  • Patient-Centered Therapy
      • A patient-centered approach allows the therapist to listen, process and repeat what they heard back to you. Relaying your words back to you gives you the chance to identify and work on the areas you think need to change. Carl Rogers established and refined client-centered therapy to include “empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard.”
  • Breath Control Therapy
    • Mindfulness focuses on your biological, social, mental health and spiritual life. As a type of mindfulness, breath control therapy helps you slow down, think and process your thoughts and feelings before reacting. Over time, you can learn to remain focused on the present situation while processing your emotions. 

Both types of therapy promote your ability to learn to communicate your thoughts and feelings effectively. When you can tell someone what you think and feel without guilt, shame or embarrassment, you can begin to rebuild trust and self-love.

Practical Communication Tips and Techniques

You want to be heard by others; they also want you to listen to them. When one or both sides of a conversation fall apart, the cause is usually underlying mental health disorders, alcohol or drug addiction. However, these aren’t the only reasons conversations stall or stop. Sometimes they disintegrate because you or another don’t know how to communicate effectively. There are a few easy to learn steps to become an effective communicator:

  • Listen
      • Listening is critical for a positive outcome in a conversation. To listen means to stop talking, put aside your thoughts and not think about what you will say next. Maintain eye contact and try to understand what the person you are listening to is saying.
  • Ask Open-Ended Questions
      • Questions that require more than a yes or no answer create conversation. An open-ended question allows the person you are speaking with to answer in a variety of ways. Their response can take the conversation in an unexpected direction and create follow-up questions that can help you gain insight. Straying from the intended path can sometimes lead to a fuller appreciation or view of the original topic.
  • Ask Closed-Ended Questions
      • You know the benefits of asking open-ended questions; there are times when a closed-ended question is necessary. When you are looking for information or facts, close-ended questions are essential. They are also useful when time is limited or an emergency presents itself.
  • Clarify
      • Like open-ended questions, clarifying information is handy. When you describe something, you allow the other person to expand their answer, giving you more details or understanding. The clarification also reinforces or encourages the other person to speak in greater detail.
  • Paraphrasing
      • Paraphrasing is more than repeating words back to a person. You take the original message and interpret the meaning of the message. Paraphrasing can increase a colleague’s cognitive interpretation.
  • Use a Facilitator
    • Every conversation has phrases, questions or gestures. Facilitators are open-ended questions, nodding your head or vocal encouragement to continue like “uh-hmm.” You encourage a discussion to continue because you give the speaker a chance to interact and share information.

Effective communication is understanding the need for every person to be heard. You can overcome obstacles to productive conversations like mental health or other disorders through therapy and learning positive communication techniques.


Whether a conversation is professional, educational or casual, understanding the importance behind gestures, tone and inflection can affect the outcome. Mental health disorders like anxiety or depression affect how you react during a discussion. Some may seek alcohol or drugs to aid them in feeling comfortable speaking with others. Others can use alcohol or drugs to decrease feelings of anger, injustice or being misunderstood after a chat. If you recognize you have trouble speaking to others, are often misunderstood, become angry or use harmful coping techniques, therapy can help. Engaging in individual or group therapy identifies, addresses and forms healthy habits that can sustain you. Communication is essential to developing healthy relationships and conveying your needs. Casa Palmera in Del Mar, California, takes a holistic approach to treating alcohol or drug addiction. We know effective communication is essential to complete treatment and maintain healthy habits. To learn more about Casa Palmera, call (855) 508-0473.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.