Worried About A Loved One’s Drinking? Here’s How to Approach It

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When someone you love experiences problems with alcohol, it’s not easy to know exactly what you should do about it. You love them and you want what’s best for them. You want to see them live a healthy, fulfilling life. But you’re not sure how you can help. You’re not even sure if it’s your place to say anything.

First, we want to tell you that if you love someone and you’re concerned about them, it’s important to tell them how you feel. Therefore, your first step – when you’re concerned about a loved one’s drinking – is understanding that yes, it is your place to say something. You can’t control how they react to what you say, but you can control you – and there’s never anything wrong with telling a loved one you’re worried about them, you’re there for them, and you want to help them.

Now that we’re clear on that, let’s talk about the drinking. More specifically, about things you already think, feel, or do that are related to your loved one’s alcohol consumption. Have a look at this list and ask yourself if any of these statements apply to you:

  • You spend time and energy thinking about their drinking
  • You make excuses for the amount and frequency they drink
  • When they drink, you feel unsafe
  • When they fail to fulfill their work, school, or family responsibilities because of their drinking, you cover for them
  • You offer support which goes unrecognized or unappreciated – this may be money, or it may be other types of practical support
  • You fear how they may react if you bring up their drinking

If any of those statements are true for you, then it’s time to consider having a serious conversation with your loved one about their drinking.

How to Talk to Them

The hardest part of this might be gathering the courage to initiate the conversation. Remember: this comes from a place of love and concern. You owe it to yourself and to them to express your feelings and offer to help in any way you can. You may be nervous, and that’s okay. Marshal your emotions, coax the butterflies in your belly to fly in formation, and take solace in the fact you’re doing the right thing – even if it’s incredibly hard.

Here’s a step-by-step approach that has a good chance of success:

  1. Schedule a time to talk. Avoid bringing up the subject when they’re intoxicated or when you’re emotional. Tell them you have something important you need to discuss with them and prepare yourself to have the talk in calm, rational manner.
  2. Lead with empathy and love. Make sure the first thing they hear from you is that you love and support them. That’s why you’re having the conversation.
  3. Tell them what you see. Describe – with concrete examples – the aspects of their alcohol-related behavior that concern you.
  4. Listen to what they say. Let them talk. Listen without interrupting. As you lead with empathy and love, also listen with empathy and love.
  5. Tell them what you would like to see. Offer ideas for specific behavioral changes that you think will improve both your relationship and their overall health and wellbeing.
  6. Come up with an action plan. This depends on how the conversation went, of course. If it went well – meaning they heard and understood your concerns and are ready to make changes – then you can help them start their recovery journey.

The most important thing to remember about this conversation is that it’s not a conflict. If things get heated, take a step back. Take a break, maybe take a walk, and pick back up when you’ve had a moment to cool down.

The Next Step: Beginning Recovery

Your goal is to help.

If you see someone you love engaging in a dangerous pattern of alcohol use that damages their physical health, their mental and emotional wellbeing, their work and school responsibilities, and their personal relationships, then the way you help them is by playing a part in initiating behavioral change.

To do that, they need to see the need to change for themselves. That’s why, in your conversation, you offered specific examples of the behaviors that worry you. Whether the conversation goes well, or goes south, there’s one more step you can take: offer access to recovery resources. The best way to handle problem drinking is by seeking professional help at an addiction treatment center that offers integrated, evidence-based, data-driven treatment for people with an alcohol use disorder.

You can help your loved one get treatment by arranging an appointment with a therapist, a drug and alcohol counselor, or the admissions staff at a treatment center. If they’re not ready to take that step, then encourage them to seek social support in the community. Programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are a good place to start: you can find daily meetings in just about every city and town in the country.

Make a list of meeting dates, times, and locations. Try to get them to commit to going to at least one meeting. Remind them that all AA meetings are anonymous, it’s okay to go to a meeting just to sit and listen, and that everyone is there for the same reason: they want to move past their problem drinking and live a healthy, complete, and fulfilling life – without alcohol.