How to Talk to an Alcoholic About Drinking
Alcohol can cause a host of domestic problems from instability to financial hardships and violence. But even if you don’t live with an alcoholic, a drinking problem can have a negative effect on your relationship. At some point, the situation will necessitate some tough discussions. In this post, we’ve got some tips for how you can talk to an alcoholic about their drinking in a constructive way.
Having ‘The Talk’
For starters, you’re going to have to muster up some courage. If your relationship prior to the addiction was warm and trusting, it may be easier to bring up the topic of substance use without your friend or family member going on the defensive.
Pick Your Moment
The best time to talk to an alcoholic is when they’re not drunk. They should be composed and not in a rush to go anywhere.
Your message will have the most impact if it closely follows an alarming incident. Be sure to choose a private space where your loved one can stay focused on you and not on distractions.
It takes two to communicate effectively. If your mood is going to derail the conversation, then it’s probably a good idea to postpone.
Empathy is Key
When an alcoholic makes a habit of hurting you, compassion is easier said than done. But to initiate change, it’s important to strike the right note by listening sincerely and choosing your words carefully. Don’t use labels like ‘alcoholic’.
Start the conversation with statements such as:
- ‘I want to talk to you because I care about you.’
- ‘You really scared me yesterday.’
- ‘I’m worried about your health.’
The key to progress is coming across as concerned rather than critical. By not shaming and lecturing them, there’s a chance your loved one will give you clues about what is causing their excessive alcohol consumption. They may even bring up their drinking and admit they have a problem and need help.
Share Your Honest Feelings and Offer Help
If your loved one opens up about their alcohol use, this is an opportunity to share your observations. You can use facts to back up your assertions. Records of dates of incidents, amounts of drinks involved and money spent can be a wake-up call. Or you can simplify things and leave the numbers out if it doesn’t feel right in the moment.
It’s a good idea to highlight the character traits that you like about your loved one when they’re sober. You can contrast this with their alcohol-influenced behavior.
You can also offer support and tips on how to abstain. Work the following into your discussion if relevant:
- ‘When you drink, you stop being the person that we know and love. We miss you.’
- ‘Are you worried about your drinking?’
- ‘How can we move forward?’
- ‘How can I be there for you?’
- ‘We don’t need to go to bars or clubs to have fun.’
- ‘If you find it difficult to quit, how about you go and see your GP?’
- ‘Do you think a support group or therapist might be helpful?’
- ‘If you need me to go anywhere with you, let me know and we can work it out.’
What to Avoid When Talking to An Alcoholic
Steer clear of generalizations. For example, don’t say:
- ‘Everyone thinks your behavior is disturbing.’
- ‘You always ruin things for us.’
Statements like this can start an argument because they move the magnifying glass away from your valid personal experiences to ‘gossip’ and a sense of being attacked.
If your loved one loses their temper and starts to criticize you, don’t raise your voice. Keep your cool and stick to your mission. You could use some of the following statements to structure your response:
- ‘I know I’m not perfect either, and we can talk about ways that I can do better at another time. But right now, my biggest concern is how alcohol is putting you in risky situations that you regret.’
- ‘Please just hear me out.’
- ‘I agree. There’s room for us both to compromise on that.’
You have to prioritize your mental and physical health, and the safety of the other members of your household. To this end, you need to outline limits and the realistic changes you expect. This can be done in a non-confrontational and non-threatening way.
If the person can see how their actions are affecting the wellbeing of people they love, they can be persuaded to alter their behavior or seek treatment. And if you say there are going to be consequences, make sure to follow through. Don’t be an enabler.
Your loved one may be in denial. They may be a high-functioning alcoholic who still believes that they have their alcohol use under control and that they can stop at any time. Denial doesn’t stop when alcohol misuse takes a toll on someone’s relationships and health. An alcoholic can lie or shift blame and tackling self-deception is tricky.
If your loved one brushes you off or makes promises that sound empty, don’t give up. A formal intervention can help. You can consult with a professional interventionist to prepare optimally.
You can also call a substance abuse hotline for answers to any questions you have. This information will underpin your research into local treatment centers and can lay the groundwork for funding rehab. With a bit of prep, you can enroll your loved one into treatment as soon as they accept professional help and before addiction changes their mind.
Get Treatment for an Alcohol Use Disorder
Concerned about a loved one who is struggling with an alcohol use disorder (AUD)? Don’t lose hope. Studies show that rehab and medical management can cause a person’s alcohol intake to plummet. About a third of people who receive treatment for an AUD have no symptoms a year later. Others report fewer alcohol-related issues.
Relapses can be tough to deal with but it’s important to remember that they’re a part of recovery. Family therapy and Al-Anon can help you work through your feelings.
Take action and search through our directory to find a treatment facility near you. It could mean the difference between life and death.
We would love your feedback.
Was this article helpful?
Let Us Help
Use our form below to speak with an addictions specialist today. Let our team of experts in the addiction field help point you in the right direction.