Last Updated on February 24, 2021
It’s normal to feel nervous about sharing your addiction struggles with a partner. Like many people, you may want to stop or cut back on alcohol. However, you may wonder how to tell a loved one you’re addicted to alcohol, or struggling with drinking too much.
Here are seven tips for having this important discussion, including how to prepare, what to expect, and how to actually start the conversation.
And remember, while it can feel difficult to have this talk, you’re doing the right thing by being open with your partner.
1. Identify What You Want To Share
It can be tough to figure out how to tell your partner you’re an alcoholic. You may want to gradually ease into the conversation, or get it out all at once. This will depend on your communication style, and how your partner best takes in information.
For example, you may begin with the basics, like telling them you’ve been drinking more than you mean to. Or, you may explain in detail what you’ve been going through and how you’ve been feeling. Think about what you actually want them to know, and why.
2. Prepare For Your Own Reaction
You may become more distant and business-like as you talk to your partner about your addiction. That’s okay. In other cases, this might be an emotional, even overwhelming experience for you. That’s okay too. Having strong emotions means that this is important to you. Feeling less emotional means you’re just not ready to let it all out yet.
3. Prepare For Your Partner’s Reaction
Just as you’re not sure how you’ll react, your partner’s reaction could vary. In some cases, a partner is well aware of the other’s addiction. They may be relieved that you’re recognizing it.
In other cases, your partner may have family triggers about alcoholism, or insecurities about their own addiction. Anger, fear, confusion, tearfulness, or detachment are all potential, normal reactions. As you are able, validate any feelings your partner brings up.
If it helps, provide some education about addiction to drugs or alcohol. Your partner may mistakenly think the addiction is due to something they did wrong. Provide professional resources1 if you think this might be useful.
4. Identify Your Needs
It’s okay to ask for support in recovery. Think about what you really want, and what would help you in recovery from alcohol misuse.
Do you need them to just be aware of what’s going on? Could you use some help in finding professional support? Do you need to feel closer, or have occasional space to work things out?
Whatever your needs are, they’re normal. But your partner won’t necessarily know these unless you explain them.
If your partner drinks regularly, express your needs about this as well. For example, you may ask them not to drink in the common areas of your home. Or, you may ask them not to offer you a drink when they make one, or not to drink when you go out.
5. Think About Boundaries
It’s normal for your partner to help you by offering emotional support. It’s also okay for your partner to express their feelings, however uncomfortable they may be. However, it’s a different story for your partner to help you manage the addiction.
For example, if your partner states, “I’m uncomfortable when you get drunk in the evening and I can’t hang out with you,” this is an appropriate expression of feelings and boundaries.
But if your partner becomes your addiction counselor, shames you for your alcohol abuse, or monitors your usage for you, this can often become an unhealthy dynamic. Be aware of these boundaries, and discuss them as needed. If you both struggle with alcohol addiction, such boundaries go both ways.
6. Start the Conversation
Are you just at a total loss for what to actually say? Here are some possible phrases to help you get started:
- Everything’s okay, but I want to tell you about something.
- I’ve been thinking about how much I’ve been drinking. I want to start cutting back.
- I know you’ve mentioned my drinking a few times. I’ve also started noticing it getting worse. Can I talk to you about it?
- I’ve been feeling really overwhelmed about my drinking. I think I need some outside help.
Make sure your partner knows you want to have a longer talk about this. From there, your conversation can flow naturally, or you can have a letter or outline to guide you. When you talk to your partner about your addiction, take your time, and don’t feel like you have to share everything at once. You can talk more later, or clarify as needed.
7. Follow Up On Any Plans
If you’ve talked to your partner about plans like seeking help, do your best to follow up. You’ve already taken a big step in telling your partner. Look for outside support so you’re not going it alone. There are many self-help groups, counselors, and other treatment programs that specialize in support for alcohol misuse.
Ria Health offers a convenient, evidence-based online program to help you cut back or quit without putting your life on hold. Members get access to expert medical advice, one-on-one coaching, anti-craving medications, and more—all through a convenient smartphone app. You can even loop your partner in on your progress, if you so choose.
Ready to get started? Get in touch with a member of our team today.