It can take an alcoholic some time to admit that they have a problem – and when approached by friends and family members voicing concern, will often deny that their drinking patterns are excessive. Trying to get an alcoholic to listen to you and seriously consider your fears and concerns is not easy and it’s important that you approach the conversation under proper circumstances. If you recognize that someone in your life is struggling with alcohol addiction, it’s important to speak up. However, interventions and other conversations regarding a loved one’s drinking problem will be difficult and can be emotional, taxing, and sometimes fruitless. Below are some tips on how to broach the topic and some steps that you can take that might help keep an alcoholic’s mind open to getting help.
- Time the conversation appropriately. Starting an “out-of-the-blue” discussion about your concern over a friend or loved one’s drinking habits is likely to be brushed off. Tie the conversation into a recent drinking-related incident, such as bad behavior, a DUI or job loss, and do not try to talk with an alcoholic while he or she is intoxicated.
- Go into the conversation with a plan. Prior to approaching a friend or family member about his or her drinking, develop a strategy for what you intend to say, including specific examples that have raised concerns and red flags. Be sure to keep the conversation based on your own experiences with the alcoholic, instead of making blanketed statements, such as “Everyone is disgusted with your behavior.” It also helps to do research regarding local resources, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and rehab centers, should your loved one be open to attending.
- Avoid accusations and remain rational. Being confrontational and lecturing can cause anyone to shut down during a conversation, and this is especially true for alcoholics. Remain compassionate, avoid judgmental or blaming language, and make it clear that your motives lie in your desire to help your loved one. Be rational and direct, outlining the consequences of his or her behavior. Also, avoid making demands that he or she seek treatment, but offer to help in any way you can, such as attending a meeting.
- Distinguish between the person and the behavior. Make it clear that you are not angry with your friend or family member, but his or her behavior while drinking is upsetting. For instance, things like, “You’re one of the funniest people I know, but when you drink, you make mean, sarcastic jokes at others’ expense.”
- Understand that your remarks might not be well-received. No matter how well you approach a conversation or intervention with an alcoholic, it’s quite possible that he or she will not be open to it, might shut down, and is likely to deny a problem and become angry. Don’t take this behavior personally – it’s normal. Remain calm and compassionate, and allow the alcoholic to be emotional. Although he or she might not be open to your concerns during the conversation, hopefully you have planted a seed that will lead him or her to seriously consider your thoughts at a later time.