Nonviolent Communication Skills and Addiction

“One of the many ways Nonviolent Communication (NVC) has blessed my life is that it has helped me learn to relate to an addictive substance user in a clearly non-shaming, non-coercive manner.”

-Wayland Myers

Understanding the relationship between Nonviolent Communication and addiction can help you understand where to apply these powerful tools to intervene in the addiction process as well as to support recovery from addiction.

Addiction is a complicated and painful issue that affects individuals and families regardless of wealth or income level. The United States has gone through a devastating opioid addiction crisis. Addiction to alcohol and other drugs, as well as to substances like tobacco, continues to negatively impact individuals, families, organizations, and economies worldwide.

Nonviolent Communication sees the use of any substance as an attempt to meet some deeper universal human need. The strategy of using a substance, is only that: a strategy. The underlying motivators — or needs — could vary greatly in any given situation or from person to person.

NVC helps you develop the inner clarity to understand, “what need am I or was I — or someone else — trying to meet?” When you understand an underlying need or motivator, and de-link it from a specific strategy, we find that there may be many strategies for meeting the same need or set of needs.

The relationship between Nonviolent Communication and addiction, on a societal level, sees substance abuse as a public health issue to be addressed with compassion and treatment, rather than a criminal issue to be treated with punishment.

The Importance of Healthy Communication in Recovery from Addiction

It’s easy to overlook the importance of healthy communication in recovery from addiction.

Addiction can severely damage our relationship with ourselves and with others. Therefore, an important part of recovery is repairing our relationships with others and recovering our self-esteem.

One of the hallmarks of addiction is a loss of trust in the relationships. If you or someone you know is going through recovery, understand that it may take time to rebuild trust.

Despite words and actions having changed — despite a greater amount of integrity, congruence, follow-through — trust may take longer to rebuild with some people.

The importance of healthy communication in recovery from addiction can be looked at from at least two perspectives:

  1. how we communicate with ourselves (intrapersonal communication) and,
  2. how we use communication with others (interpersonal communication) to repair and rebuild trust.

NVC gives you tools for both your communication with yourself and with others — so that trust and healing to move forward.

Using Nonviolent Communication Skills in Recovery for Healing and Growth

If someone in recovery from addiction feels guilt because of the impact of their addictive behaviors on other people, or if they feel shame for having been in an addictive process, their recovery will be supported or limited by the quality of their intrapersonal communication (how they communicate with themselves).

Using Nonviolent Communication skills in recovery for healing and growth means transforming the cycle of guilt, shame, and depression into one of connection with our deeper motivators (Universal Human Needs) so that we can find other behaviors that are more life-serving.

The more a person who is addicted or who is in recovery from addiction engages in self-talk that perpetuates guilt, shame, and depression, the harder it will be to free themselves mentally from the addictive process.

The more a person who is addicted or who is in recovery from addiction can engage in a process of healthy mourning and self-forgiveness, the sooner they can transcend the cycle of beating themselves up and feeling stuck where they are. This is what it means to use Nonviolent Communication skills in recovery for healing and growth.

Addiction is loaded with guilt and shame, so it follows that an important part of recovery is for a person to restore the relationship with themselves.

This highlights the importance of Nonviolent Communication skills — especially healthy intrapersonal communication — in recovery from addiction.

Using Nonviolent Communication for Healthy Relationships in Recovery

In addition to how the addiction process impacts self-esteem and self-trust, substance abuse severely impacts trust in relationships.

Using Nonviolent Communication for healthy relationships in recovery means developing, restoring, or recovering a high quality of connection with the people who are important to us, especially when those relationships have been impacted by addiction.

Trust is like topsoil. It can erode quickly, and can take a long time to build back up.

Being clear within ourselves, being clear with others, and consistently acting from a place of high integrity — these go a long way toward rebuilding trust.

Acting from a place of high integrity means doing what we say and saying what we do. Inner clarity supports this too because if I am clear within myself I am less likely to over-promise or agree to things that are not doable or which I’m not actually willing to do.

Using Nonviolent Communication for healthy relationships in recovery and restoring trust also means that if I fall short of keeping a promise I can own it, empathize with others regarding the impact, go through a process of sincere mourning, give empathy to the part of me that fell short, and try again.

Much more than having a perfect track record, our humility and sincere efforts contribute greatly to rebuilding trust.
Using Nonviolent Communication for healthy relationships in recovery involves at least three areas:

  1. self-connection: in any given moment, knowing what I’m observing, feeling, needing, and wanting; I then bring this increased clarity to my interactions;
  2. honesty: being willing to be transparent, real, and to disclose what is happening for me; relationships are built on connection, and if I’m not real and honest, others’ connection to me will be restricted;
  3. empathy: being willing to listen from the heart to another’s feelings, needs, and requests. This in itself goes a long way toward rebuilding trust and connection.

Using Nonviolent Communication for Relationships After Recovery

These same three areas are essential in using Nonviolent Communication for relationships after recovery.

Self-connection is either a supportive or a limiting factor for both empathy and honesty.

If I am triggered or flooded with emotion, it is difficult to listen from a place of non-judgmental presence!

If I am disconnected from myself — and I don’t even know what I’m feeling or needing — then I am very limited in my capacity to speak honestly.

Using Nonviolent Communication for relationships after recovery means continuing to stay self-connected, learning and developing feelings and needs vocabulary, and augmenting my capacity to listen empathically as well as to speak courageously from the heart.

Dr. Marshall Rosenberg on NVC and Addiction

Understanding Dr. Marshall Rosenberg on NVC and addiction includes his insight that any time we speak or act, it’s in service to a Universal Human Need.

He also knew that the specific strategies we use do not always satisfy the need we are intending.

Sometimes a strategy directly contributes to a need. For example, I have hunger, I have a need for food or nourishment. I eat some healthy food, and that need is fulfilled.

But sometimes the strategy meets some needs at the expense of other needs, and sometimes it leads us entirely away from having those needs satisfied. It’s these last two categories that we often find the behaviors associated with addiction.

Some of the insights from Dr. Marshall Rosenberg on NVC and addiction include being radically honest with ourselves, and availing ourselves of the strategies that truly support health and life. These can include NVC practice, reaching out to friends and family, as well as 12-Step Programs.

Living Nonviolent Communication in Recovery with Puddledancer Press

PuddleDancer Press is the foremost proponent and publisher of books on Nonviolent Communication and its application to addiction and recovery. NVC has shown time and again the healing power of empathy, self-empathy, and the quality of connection that can happen when people are transparent and honest. Because of the self-connection, healing, and rebuilding of trust involved, using NVC will make any integrated approach for addiction and recovery more effective and compassionate.

Whether you are a long-time student — or are brand new to NVC — PuddleDancer Press has the educational resources, including the books on addiction and recovery, to help you grow your emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, and communication prowess. Check out our catalog of books on conflict resolution… and give yourself the gift of Compassionate Communication!

Topic written by Alan Seid, a Certified Trainer, on behalf of PuddleDancer Press for use on

More information on Books related to Addiction

NVC Addiction Web Resources

Click here for Marshall Rosenberg Addiction Articles
Click here for Marshall Rosenberg Addiction Videos
Click here for Nonviolent Communication Addiction Articles
Click here for Nonviolent Communication Addiction Videos

There is a wealth of information on Nonviolent Communication – in articles and videos. Of course we endorse all of Marshall’s sharing’s, however, there are many transcripts and videos created by others. Due to limited resources we do not verify the full accuracy of any particular video or articles created by others, even though there is plenty of wonderful and educational information on the web