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July 24, 2022

How To Talk to An Alcoholic About Addiction

Most people don’t intuitively know how to talk to someone living with an addiction. Trying to talk to someone you suspect may be an alcoholic can be awkward. At the same time, discussing addiction with someone who has a history of alcoholism can be difficult, frustrating, and seemingly useless at times. The entire process can be stressful, uncomfortable, nerve-racking, and unpleasant. Luckily, there are ways you can approach your loved one for an honest conversation while still demonstrating love, concern, and a true desire to help. Talking to your loved one in a loving, honest, supportive, and balanced way can help produce a positive outcome.

Understanding The Effects and Recognizing the Signs of Alcoholism

Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder, is the most severe form of alcohol abuse. Alcoholism develops when individuals drink so much that their bodies become dependent upon, or addicted to alcohol. This usually happens gradually, but once the condition occurs, individuals feel as though they require alcohol to function normally. Typically, alcohol becomes one of the most important aspects of their lives, which often leads to a wide range of personal, professional, emotional, health, and social issues. Despite those problems, alcoholics continue to drink even when their alcohol consumption leads to negative consequences such as job loss, financial trouble, and strained relationships.

Your loved one may be struggling with an alcohol addiction if they routinely:

  • Drink alone
  • Must drink more to feel the effects of alcohol
  • Become angry or violent when asked about their drinking habits
  • Avoid food and meals in order to drink alcohol instead
  • Neglect their personal hygiene
  • Miss work or school because of drinking or hangovers
  • Lose track of how much alcohol they consume
  • Make excuses to drink
  • Drink even when legal, social, or economic problems develop
  • Give up or avoid important social, occupational, or recreational activities they once loved because of alcohol use
  • Have strong cravings for alcohol

Other signs and symptoms to look out for can include:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Slurred speech
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia and fatigue
  • Blackouts and memory loss
  • Reddening of the face and nose
  • Spider veins on the skin

Here’s how you can talk to your friend or loved one about their alcohol use and the dangers of addiction.

Approaching A Loved One About Alcohol Addiction

Addiction is a chronic condition like diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure, or cancer. But unlike these conditions, addiction is often thought of as a moral failing. That can make addiction hard to talk about, but you need to remember that you’re a human being talking to another human being who’s battling a chronic condition. Be sure to keep that in mind as you talk about addiction with someone who has an alcohol use disorder.

1. Approach Them Lovingly

Alcoholism can make your loved one aggressive, irritable, violent, and irrational. So approach your loved one lovingly and only when they’re sober. Ask to meet with them during lunch or their favorite meal of the day. You might also consider meeting with them privately to minimize any embarrassment they might feel. How you choose to coordinate the meeting is up to you, but approach them lovingly and make sure to ask about how they’re doing. Inquire about their life, job, family, and potential stressors. Ask them if they’re feeling lonely, neglected, or bored. Let them know you care about what’s going on in their life. And, if and when they open up, listen.

2. Listen more than you talk.

Your loved one is much more likely to confide in you if you listen to them without interrupting or judging their behavior. Don’t criticize them or try to fix their problems. Simply listen. Acknowledge what’s going on with them even if you don’t agree with their behavior. Make them feel safe. Addiction happens for a reason, even if your loved one is hesitant to talk about their personal experiences. By listening more than you talk, you’re letting your friend or loved one know that you care about them and that they can trust you with private matters that they may want to keep secret.

3. Be Specific About What You’ve Seen and Are Seeing

After your loved one or friend has finished talking, share your perspective of the situation with them. Let them know that you understand the stress, pressure, or challenges they’re facing. At the same time, let them know that you’ve noticed they’ve been drinking more. Be specific. Tell them about times when they might have lost control of their alcohol usage. Inform them of any hygiene, mood, or behavior changes you’ve noticed. Rather than using language like “You are,” “You did this,” or “You didn’t do this,” try using phrases such as “I feel like,” “I think that,” or “I’ve noticed that.” The key is to get them to realize the effect their addiction is having on those around them. But as you make those effects known, be sure to remain supportive and kind.

4. Be Supportive and Don’t Accuse

Individuals struggling with alcoholism expect others to criticize, insult, and belittle them. They also expect people to reject them. Accusing them of wrongdoing may simply drive them to consume more alcohol. Instead of harshly pointing out the responsibilities they have neglected at work or home, you can kindly express something along the lines of “I know how much you love your children, but I’ve noticed you’ve been spending less time with them, so I think that maybe something is going on in your life because that’s not like you.” Or “You’re such a hard worker but I feel like you’ve been missing a lot of work lately. That isn’t who you are. Is there something going on that's causing you stress?” Monitor your tone and let them know that you’re willing to support them or help them change by going with them to counseling or therapy.

5. Gently Discuss Future Consequences

This can be tricky, but you should talk about the consequences of addiction. Help your friend or loved one see what the future could look like for them if they continue abusing alcohol. Most alcoholics avoid thinking about the future. Instead, they use alcohol in the present to forget about what happened in the past. But you can help them visualize what a life overrun with alcohol abuse would be like, especially when compared to a sober future not controlled by alcohol use. Talk about what they hope their family, career, and health may look like in the future. Helping your friend or loved one visualize the life they want might help them start thinking about what they need to do to abstain from alcohol.

6. Have Treatment Options Ready

If your friend or loved one is receptive to what you’re saying, you need to be ready to talk about professional treatment options. Educate yourself about recovery programs. Research the differences between outpatient and inpatient treatment. Search for professional alcohol detox programs in your area. Look up different types of behavioral therapies. Offer to visit rehab centers with them, or on their behalf. Let your loved one know that treatment can help rebuild their family, restore their physical health, and obtain the future they envision. You should also be prepared for your loved one to reject your attempt to change their life choices.

7. Be Prepared to Set Boundaries

If your friend or loved one seems unwilling to change, you need to set some boundaries. Let them know what kind of behavior you will and won’t accept. Don’t be afraid to set limits and be sure to enforce the boundaries you set. Remember, you don’t want to enable them to continue abusing alcohol. Don’t make excuses for them. Instead, continue to lovingly encourage them to seek out professional help. You might even consider staging an intervention with a professional interventionist.

Providing Real Recovery for Real People

Here at Meta, we know loving someone struggling with alcohol abuse can be a frustrating, awkward, and emotionally draining process. But you don’t have to help your friend or loved one alone. Our wide range of outpatient recovery programs can help your friend or loved one get the addiction treatment they need.

Most of our executive team members are in active recovery so we know the kind of treatment, support, and encouragement people in recovery need. Contact us today if you’re looking for a recovery center led and managed by real people who are currently experiencing real, long-lasting recovery.