How To Talk To An Alcoholic | 7 Tips For Communication & Healing

Talking to someone who you believe has a drinking problem can be difficult, but these hard conversations are also important. Please consider these seven tips to help communicate with your loved one and let them know that you care and are there for them when they need you.

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If your friend or other loved one has been abusing alcohol and is showing signs of developing a serious drinking problem (alcohol use disorder), it’s important to be honest and open about your concerns.

Unfortunately, broaching this subject and sharing honestly can be difficult and may bring up strong feelings of guilt, doubt, worry, frustration, defensiveness, and even anger in one or both of you.

So, it’s important to move forward with a plan to keep your conversation focused, productive, and supportive. Here are seven tips to keep in mind.

1. Be Simple & Direct

Conversations about alcohol addiction are always going to be hard. Dancing around the subject or using subtle hints or nagging, however, doesn’t help anyone.

To avoid confusion, misunderstanding, or argument, say what you need to say clearly, simply, and with conviction. Make direct statements with specific examples and seek direct answers in return.

2. Use ‘I’ Statements

While being direct about your concerns is important, it is also key that you do not criticize, place blame on a person, or try to tell them what to do.

Instead of pointing fingers with “you” statements (“you have an alcohol problem”), share “I” statements that convey your own thoughts, feelings, and observations. Examples include:

  • I’ve noticed you are drinking much more than you used to.
  • I’m worried about the health effects of alcohol and your long-term wellbeing.
  • I was concerned for your safety when I saw you/helped you the other day.
  • I am afraid that your drinking is impacting your driving/job/finances/relationships.

3. Choose A Safe Setting

You are starting a conversation, not an intervention or interrogation. Be sure to pick a comfortable, private setting where you and the other person are free to listen and to speak without being cornered, overheard, or judged.

You should also be sure not to have your conversation with someone who is under the influence. Wait until they are composed, rational, and ready to communicate.

4. Don’t Try To Win

If someone expects that they are about to be attacked or given a lecture, they aren’t going to be open to listening. Let the person know that you are expressing your concerns and you will still be there for them no matter what.

Also, keep in mind that the goal of this conversation is not to make your loved one take responsibility for your emotional pain, to make them apologize, to argue them down and overpower them through debate, to threaten them, to issue ultimatums, or to force them to get help.

You are here to make a connection, to point out the problem that you’ve noticed, and to offer real solutions and help in any way you can.

5. Listen & Watch

A conversation must go two ways. This may mean that you need to listen as the other person talks and gets things off their chest, or it may mean that you say your peace and then wait patiently in silence for the other person to share theirs.

You should also watch for words like probably, possibly, maybe, could, or might, as these non-concrete words usually stand-in for “I will not.”

Deflection, rationalizing, false comparisons, and avoidance are other common signs that someone with an alcohol or drug addiction is not really engaging with you or making a commitment.

Body language, especially a person’s movements, physical tension, and vision, can also tell you a lot. Is the other person staring at the floor? Are they looking at the ceiling? Are they staring off into space or facing the door ready to mentally or physically check-out?

6. Offer Support

Oftentimes, those struggling with a substance use disorder will feel isolated, ashamed, and alone. Challenge this assumption.

Let your loved one know that you and their other friends and family members are willing to support them through the process of joining a support group (like Alcoholics Anonymous) or getting professional help in the form of an alcohol treatment program.

You can share the first steps for this treatment, discuss different options like detox, inpatient treatment, or outpatient treatment, and offer to help your loved one reach out and get started.

If they’re open to any of these first steps, make concrete plans to help them move forward with accountability.

7. Develop Your Own Support System

If your loved one isn’t receptive, don’t make it personal. Set clear boundaries and continue to be there for them when they need you.

You may want to consider joining group meetings or family support programs to help support your own emotional and mental health.

With support, you can learn how to manage a relationship with a loved one with an AUD without blaming yourself, becoming codependent, being manipulated, or enabling their harmful behavior.

Here When You Need Us

Bedrock Recovery Center is proud to offer advanced care for alcohol dependence and alcohol use disorder in our Canton, Massachusetts treatment facility. We provide detox, inpatient care, outpatient care, mental healthcare, medication-assisted treatment, and more.

Contact us to learn more and get started today.

  1. Mayo Clinic - Intervention: Help a loved one overcome addiction
  2. National Institute On Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) - Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help
  3. Public Health Agency of Canada - Communicating about Substance Use in Compassionate, Safe and Non-Stigmatizing Ways
  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) - Resources for Families Coping with Mental and Substance Use Disorders

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

Published on: August 23, 2023

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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