How to Talk to Someone About Their Drinking
Deciding how to talk to someone about their drinking habit is not easy. Read on to learn some helpful tips that can ease this sensitive situation.
By Jonathan Beazley, Founder, Bodhi Addiction Treatment and Wellness
The signs of a loved one’s drinking problem may be slowly surfacing. Maybe you have noticed a gradual change in the person’s appearance, such as facial bloating or a distended belly. You may have found bottles of alcohol tucked behind the towels in the linen closet, placed there by a spouse. Maybe your friend has recently been arrested with a DUI. Whatever the signs, your gut tells you this person has a problem with alcohol.
Deciding how or when to broach the subject can be disconcerting. You don’t want to provoke a negative response or cause harm to your relationship. At the same time, though, you are worried that the drinking problem could escalate. What to do?
Deciding how to talk to someone about their drinking habit is not easy. It is like walking a tightrope, hoping you can get from point A to point B without being pushed off. Read on to learn some helpful tips that can ease this sensitive situation.
Signs Someone You Know Has a Drinking Problem
So, how do you know when someone you care about has an alcohol problem? Fortunately, there is a list of signs and symptoms that can help you make this determination. The more of these that are present, the more severe the alcohol use disorder is:
Warning signs of alcohol use disorder:
- They may try to cut back on their drinking, but can’t
- They are in denial that they have a drinking problem
- They use alcohol as a coping tool to manage stress, or as a reward after a hard day at work
- They may experience memory blackouts
- They lie about how much alcohol they consume, even hiding it around the house, in the car, or at the office
- They may neglect their diet, preferring alcohol to eating a healthy meal
- They seem to have a high tolerance for alcohol, as they can drink a lot before appearing intoxicated
- The become more irresponsible, such as neglecting obligations or engaging in risky behaviors
- They may isolate themselves in their private time, retreating to a place where they can drink alone
- They may forget important dates, meetings, or events
- They may be using alcohol to self-medicate a co-occurring mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression
- They exhibit withdrawal symptoms
How to Talk to Someone About Their Drinking
When you feel ready to initiate the conversation with a loved one about their drinking, be sure to choose your time and place wisely. Look for a situation when you can gently bring up your concerns with them privately, versus with other people around. Avoid starting the conversation when tempers are flaring or they are intoxicated, as this will only backfire.
Approach the person with a sense of concern and compassion, not judgment. It is a tender topic and should be addressed with sensitivity. Keep the conversation focused on their health and wellbeing, and offer to help them research treatment options. Many times, the person will be well aware they have a problem, and your gentle concern may be just the thing that prompts them to consider getting help.
What If They Do Not Want to Hear It?
As much as you hope this encounter will go smoothly, you might be met with some unexpected hostility. Sometimes the person may feel that they are being singled out so they respond with irritation or anger. They usually behave this way because they want to avoid appearing weak and out of control.
The top three reasons why someone will not be receptive to the suggestion that they seek treatment include:
1. Denial. It is never easy for someone to admit they might have a problem with alcohol. Denial is the reflexive mechanism that protects their ability to continue drinking as usual. By deflecting the obvious signs of an alcohol problem with excuses, they hope you just leave them alone.
2. Fear. The idea of going to rehab can be quite intimidating. It is quite common for someone to feel fear when considering detox, or even just giving up alcohol. There is also fear connected to practical concerns, like the cost of going to treatment or the difficulty of being separated from the family for an extended period.
3. Stigma. There is still a sense of stigma surrounding alcohol use disorder or needing to get treatment. Some may feel embarrassed to admit they have a problem, or worry that their reputation might be adversely affected if others find out.
The best thing you can do if you meet with resistance is to remain positive and supportive. Instead of feeling upset that your concerns were ignored or dismissed, be grateful that you were able to plant a seed. It may just take awhile before it produces fruit, so try to be patient.
How to Be Supportive of Their Recovery
Regardless of whether your meeting with the person was productive or not, be sure to emphasize that you are available to them as a source of emotional support. Some ways you can offer support include:
Offer to help them research rehabs. This can feel like a daunting chore to the person, so by offering your assistance you will remove one of the barriers to treatment. Offer to accompany them to check out some treatment centers in the area, or to help them review different treatment options online.
Offer to help them navigate their insurance. If the person happens to be your spouse, you are able to reach out to the insurance provider to learn about the specific insurance coverage for addiction treatment services. The representative can also provide estimated out of pocket expenses and a list of in-network providers.
Offer to be there for them. If you are a spouse, a parent, or a close friend, offer to participate in the treatment process. Most rehabs have family therapy sessions that you can join. Also, you can offer to accompany them to A.A. meetings after they have completed treatment.
With any luck, your loved one will be receptive to your concerns and agree to get treatment for their alcohol use disorder. If not, at least you have prepared fertile soil for when those seeds you planted do finally sprout.
About the Author
Jonathan Beazley, Owner of Bodhi Addiction Treatment and Wellness, in spite of a supportive family and a happy childhood, started at age 15 to walk down the unhealthy path of addiction and turn his life upside down. He carved out a new path for himself in sobriety and later began his career in the field of rehabilitation. He has since helped and advised well over 30,000 individuals and families in finding their right path. Jonathan is a Registered Addiction Specialist Level 2 and a Certified Addiction Specialist. His vision is to help heal addicts through health and wellness. He carries out his life’s purpose in beautiful Capitola, CA.