How to Talk to a Loved One about Alcohol Abuse

Alcoholism is a serious problem in the United States. Every year, millions of people receive treatment for alcohol abuse, and there are many more reject treatment altogether.

When a family member or loved one struggles with alcohol abuse, it can be hard to talk to them about getting the help they need.

If you think someone close to you is abusing alcohol, keep reading. Listed below are some tips that can make the conversation a little easier.

How to Tell if Someone has a Drinking Problem

Before you sit down with a loved one and try to talk to them about their drinking, it’s important to understand the behaviors that typically constitute alcohol abuse.

Common behaviors that should serve as warning signs include:

  • Regularly drinking more than they initially intended
  • Being unable to cut back on drinking, despite saying that they’re going to
  • Spending an excessive amount of time purchasing and drinking alcohol, as well as recovering from its effects
  • Suddenly having trouble at home, work, or school
  • Suddenly having trouble with romantic and/or platonic relationships
  • Missing important social, work, or school events because they’re inebriated or hungover.

These are all signs that your loved one could be struggling with alcohol abuse or on their way to developing a drinking problem.

What Not to do During Your Talk

If you think a loved one has a drinking problem and you want to talk to them about seeking help, it’s important to understand what not to do. Certain comments and behavior can cause the conversation to go south very quickly. Some things to avoid include:

  • Using labels like “alcoholic”
  • Lecturing or preaching
  • Using guilt, begging, or bribery to convince them to stop
  • Making threats

It’s also important to avoid addressing the problem without proposing solutions. Not everyone who has a drinking problem needs to go to rehab. But, it’s still important to find ways to help.

Expecting a loved one to get better without offering specific ways to help will most likely make them feel helpless and probably won’t be enough to convince them to stop.

How to Have a Productive Conversation

Now that you know what to avoid, it’s important to also understand what you can say to make the conversation more productive.

Some things to keep in mind include:

  • Use “I” statements (I feel, I am, etc.) to express your feelings about their drinking
  • Stick the facts (specific behaviors, missing events, etc.) to paint a clear picture of why you’re concerned
  • Time your conversation carefully — avoid bringing it up while they’re already intoxicated or during a stressful time of the day
  • Focus on potential consequences that could stem from excessive drinking
  • Make it a conversation — avoid talking at your loved one and give them a chance to respond to your concerns
  • Offer assistance — this could include accompanying them to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or taking them to a doctor or counselor

Expect the Worst

Sometimes, no matter how well you manage your emotions and how much sensitivity you exercise, the person you’re speaking to simply won’t be interested in getting help.

It’s important to avoid going into the conversation expecting it to be easy or straightforward. Your loved one may deny that they have a problem or may get angry and tell you that you need to mind your own business.

If they have a negative reaction, try not to take it personally. Remember that denial is common.

Let them cool down and avoid belaboring the issue. It may take a few conversations for the message to finally sink in, but you’ve at least planted a seed and given them something to think about.

Other Ways to Support Your Loved One

It can be discouraging and frustrating if your loved one isn’t interested in getting help for their drinking problem. But, you can still take steps to support them. Some good practices to implement include:

  • Not drinking with them
  • Not taking responsibility or making excuses for anything they may do while under the influence
  • Not arguing with them after they’ve been drinking

Finally, it’s important for you to avoid taking on guilt for their behavior. You can’t control them, you can only support them and let them know that you’re ready to help them when they’re ready to accept it.

Final Thoughts

If you have a family member or loved one who seems to be abusing alcohol, it’s important to take the time to sit down with them and let them know why you’re concerned about their behavior. Keep this list of dos and don’ts in mind to keep the conversation productive and beneficial to everyone involved.

Even if they aren’t receptive to your concerns right away, don’t give up hope. Remember, you can still structure the conversation in such a way that they know you’re supportive and are willing to help them.


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