Dot gov

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.


Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock () or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Real Talks Wisconsin: Start Talking

Real talks can make a real difference in the lives of the people you care about and the well-being of your community. They offer connection, hope, and healing by reducing the feelings of shame or wrongdoing involving substance use. Nervous? Don't be. Real talks are easier than you may think.

Real talks are frequent conversations on substance use. They happen between family members, friends, coworkers, and neighbors. They happen anytime, anywhere people feel safe and comfortable being open about what's happening in their lives.

Two people talking

What to know before you talk about substance use

Real talks are casual conversations. There's nothing formal about real talks. All you need to do is take a moment to think about what you want to share before starting the conversation. Before having a real talk, you should know that:

How to talk about substance use

Use these simple and proven techniques to have effective real talks.

Ask open-ended questions

  • Ask about what is going on in the person's life
  • Discuss stress or worries the person may be facing

Asking questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no is a great way to get people to open up. You will learn more about what may be influencing their use of substances and if it is causing any impacts to their daily life.

Examples of what to say:

  • “You haven’t been hanging out with us lately. What have you been up to?”
  • “I heard your hours got cut at work. What’s been going on?”
  • “How are you coping with the loss of your mother?”

Listen with empathy

  • Be sure to keep a neutral or nonjudgmental tone
  • Limit how much you talk

When a person feels understood and knows you are listening, it is easier for them to talk openly.



Examples of what to say:

  • “It’s a lot to deal with right now. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed.”
  • “You can always talk to me.”
  • “I imagine that this change is hard.”
  • “Sounds like you are dealing with a lot of things right now and this is your way of dealing with that.”
  • “I had no idea things had been so difficult for you lately.”

Problem-solve with them

  • Instead of giving advice, ask questions
  • Help brainstorm ways to make healthy choices
  • Offer continued support or help finding support

Showing a person that you care and want to understand their perspective helps to build trust and action toward healthy behaviors. 


Examples of what to say:

  • “That’s a lot of stress. What do you do for fun?”
  • “What do you usually do when you feel stressed?”
  • “What do you think you could do to get back to work?”
  • “Is there someone that you feel comfortable asking for their support to find help?”
  • “What can I do to support you?”


Watch your words

  • Say use (illegal drugs) or misuse (medications used other than prescribed) instead of abuse.
  • Say substance use disorder instead of habit.
  • Say person with an substance use disorder instead of addict, user, or junkie.
  • Say person in recovery instead of former addict.
  • Say person who previously used substances instead of reformed addict.
  • Say in remission or in recovery instead of clean.

By changing the words you use, you can help break down negative stereotypes one conversation at a time.


Know substance use treatment and recovery options

Help is available for people and communities experiencing a problem with substance use. There are many treatment and recovery options in Wisconsin. To help you navigate this system of care, we've created a collection of resources and tools. Our goal is to ensure all people and communities in our state have the information they need to live their best lives.

Get help now

Last revised February 19, 2023