Patience and support can help create change
Starting the conversation with a loved one about their alcohol use or abuse can feel uncomfortable and awkward.
One of the first things to do before the conversation is to educate yourself and learn more about alcohol abuse.
Feeling comfortable with the facts can help give you the confidence needed to at least begin the conversation. Also, understand that initiating the conversation is only the beginning. Change is a process, and it’s generally more productive to start with short conversations about your concerns than to enter the conversation with the expectation that you will convince the abuser to quit.
Be sure to use “I” messages, and talk about how you are feeling about the situation. Stating your concerns is more productive than using the word “you” — and making accusatory statements.
Remember that you’re a human being talking to another human being who’s battling a chronic condition.
Some tips adapted from Meta Addiction Treatment:
1. Approach them lovingly.
Alcoholism can make your loved one aggressive, irritable, violent, and irrational. So approach your person with love and only when they’re sober. Ask to meet with them during lunch or their favorite meal of the day. 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. And then 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. 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.
3. Be specific about what you’ve seen.
Share your perspective. Let them know that you understand the challenges they’re facing. At the same time, let them know that you’ve noticed they’ve been drinking more. Tell them about times when they might have lost control of their alcohol usage. Rather than using language like “You are” or “You didn’t do this,” try using phrases such as “I feel like” or “I’ve noticed that.” The key is to get them to realize the effect their addiction is having on those around them.
4. Be supportive, don’t accuse.
Individuals struggling with alcoholism expect others to criticize, insult, and belittle them. They also expect people to reject them. Instead of pointing out the responsibilities they have neglected, you can kindly express something along the lines of “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.
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. Let your loved one know that treatment can help rebuild their family, restore their health, and obtain the future they envision. You should also be prepared for your loved one to reject it.
7. Be prepared to set boundaries.
If your friend or loved one seems unwilling to change, you need to set some boundaries. 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. Continue to lovingly encourage them to seek out professional help. You might even consider staging an intervention with a professional interventionist.
Again, don’t expect this to happen all at once. Your loved one didn’t develop the problem overnight, and it won’t be solved with one conversation.
Please contact me if you need someone to talk to about this. I am here to support families of those with alcohol and/or substance abuse issues, and I have experience with this.
Valerie Wells, CADC, has more than 20 years of experience in working with families of addicts, including facilitating groups and individual therapy. You can contact her at 314-605-6949 or firstname.lastname@example.org.