Avoiding Communication Traps (Talking With Your Loved One)

At Scottish Families, we use a programme called CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training) in our Support Services. We believe it gives the best possible outcomes for anyone concerned about someone else’s alcohol or drug use. It teaches the best ways to make small but powerful changes in your life.

CRAFT helps you to think of things in a different way. It teaches you how to talk to someone about their alcohol or other drug use differently, communicate with each other more positively, and set and keep boundaries to yourself.

Continuing our mini blog series, we’re talking about communication traps. There are ‘classic’ communication traps that can cause problems when we talk to our loved ones about their alcohol or other drug use.

This blog will help you to understand why telling someone to ‘stop’ doesn’t motivate them. It’ll also help you reflect on your own and other people’s communication.

The conversation traps include:

  1. The Information Trap
  2. The Lecture Trap
  3. The Labelling Trap
  4. The Blaming Trap
  5. The Taking-Sides Trap
  6. The Question-and-Answer Trap

The Information Trap

This trap is when you overload someone with information and tell them things they already know. If you continue to tell someone things they know, they’ll stop listening.

Information can be helpful to many things, but you need to focus on the quality of your communication and how you speak to the person to get the information across.

Share new information positively, using the seven elements of communication here.

Improving the quality of your communication over time will help.

The Lecture Trap

This is a deeper information trap. This is where you find yourself talking ‘at’ your loved one about what you think they should do, what their problems are, etc. rather than actually talking ‘with’ them.

You may find yourself saying ‘do you realise…?’ or ‘you have to’ which is both ordering and lecturing someone.

When people are met with this negative communication, they tend to ignore what is being said.

When the person is talking, listen and show that you recognise their feelings. Say things like ‘you feel strongly about this’ or ‘you seem upset by that’ and describe your feelings and reactions to their behaviour and how that makes you feel.

The Labelling Trap

Telling someone ‘you’re an addict/alcoholic!’

Labels are not helpful to change and can get in the way of any progress and breakdown relationships. Talk about the person’s behaviour, not give them a label.

Allow people to find their own language for their experience. Language has to be considered when talking about someone’s problem with alcohol or drugs.

Words like addict or alcoholic can cause harm to people – but there are other people who will use this term to describe themselves. Always ask someone how they want to be described, rather than immediately labelling them.

The Blaming Trap

When you’re worried, frustrated or sad about a situation, it is very easy to get stuck in the blaming trap. Things such as saying ‘I don’t want to hear your excuses!’ or even finger-pointing and blaming the person on things where they did not do anything.

If you start off a conversation with blame, it shuts down the communication and causes disruption. It backs your loved one’s motivation into a corner with no way for them to get out – they become trapped and defensive and no progress is made.

The Taking Sides Trap

In a family, it can become very easy to take sides. This is where you take one side and your family member takes the other side, whether they are attached or not. This can cause riffs and relationship breakdowns, separating the family completely.

Try to approach things from the same side and consider different options together.

The Question-and-Answer Trap

When you use multiple closed questions, you may set off this trap which in turn leads to an ‘interview’ or ‘interrogation’ of your loved one.

E.g. ‘have you been drinking? Did you take any of my money?’

These questions can make your loved one feel defensive and not answer you truthfully.

Try and use open-ended questions to steer your conversation to a productive exchange. Who, what, when, where and why tend to get more information and leads to a conversation that can provide positive opportunities.

E.g. ‘What did you drink last light?’

It is so easy to fall into these traps, so don’t blame yourself if you feel that this is something you have done.

To avoid these traps, it’s best to try and learn different ways to start a conversation with your loved one. You can try the seven elements of positive communication from our previous blog, but here are some helpful tips too.

Prepare in Advance

Plan and write down what you’d like to say first, this will help you be clear when you are having a conversation.

Choose the Moment

Think of the best time to talk to your loved one – is it during the day? After work? When they are alone? Making sure the timing is right is important. If there are other people in the room, think about how it may cause stress and embarrassment for your loved one. Choose a place where they are relaxed and more likely to listen to you.

Make Sure You Listen

Listening is just as important as talking. If you are open to what the person is saying and their thoughts and feelings, you will understand their point of view better, even if you don’t agree with it. Use open questions and encourage them to talk – this will avoid the conversation coming across as a lecture or as an attack. Pay attention to their tone and body language because this can help you understand the feelings behind their words.

Use ‘I’ Statements

When we use ‘I’ statements rather than ‘you’ statements, it can make a huge difference to our conversations.

‘I’ statements have three parts:

  1. ‘When’ – give non-judgemental descriptions of the person’s behaviour
  2. ‘I feel’ – name how you feel when you see the behaviour
  3. ‘because…’ – finish with what the behaviour does to you


‘When you use drugs in the house I feel sad and angry because I asked you not to use them in the house.’

What to Avoid in the Conversation

When you are having a conversation try not to argue, even if you hear something you don’t agree with. When the person is talking, listen and show that you recognise their feelings. Say things like ‘you feel strongly about this’ or ‘you seem upset by that’ then describe your feelings and reactions to their behaviour and how that makes you feel.

In the conversation try to avoid:

  • Interrupting the person
  • Raising your voice
  • Being dismissive of what they say – ‘I don’t want to hear your excuses’
  • Being an expert about everything – don’t let your personal views take over
  • Changing the subject because you are feeling uncomfortable
  • Blaming and finger-pointing
  • Being defensive
  • Not listening to what the person is saying

We all go through different emotions and may end up saying things we don’t mean or don’t understand the effect they may have. It is best to avoid things like:

  • ‘You have to…’ = ordering
  • ‘It would be best if you’ = advising
  • ‘You were being stupid’ = judging
  • ‘Do you realise…?’ = lecturing
  • ‘I can’t deal with this’ = avoiding
  • ‘Why do you do it?’ = interrogating

It can be hard to accept that someone you care about is making choices that worry you. You cannot change someone else but you own what you say and feel.

Want to develop your communication further?

You can read more in the 20-minute CRAFT guide here.

If you are worried about someone else’s alcohol or drug use, we are here to listen and to help. You can contact our team on 08080 10 10 11, helpline@sfad.org.uk or use the webchat on our website.

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