How To Talk To Someone About Their Alcohol Use

Is your loved one ready for a change in their relationship with alcohol?

Intervening With Compassion

Watching someone that you care about struggle with alcohol use disorder can be devastating. You might feel powerless to help them change their behavior, or you might be wondering whether there’s something you can do.

Ultimately, your loved one is the one responsible for their behavior, but there are things that you can do to support them and potentially help them recover from alcohol abuse. 

Table of Contents

Compassionate Communication

Whether you’re wondering how to talk to an alcoholic or how to do an intervention for an alcoholic, one of the most important things you can do is approach them with love and empathy.

Sometimes, this is easier said than done. You may have your own emotions and reactions to your loved one’s alcohol abuse. You are entitled to feel anger, sadness, frustration, or any other emotion in response to your loved one’s addiction. Still, it’s essential to communicate compassionately with them during conversations about their alcohol use. Communication that induces shame and guilt does not encourage behavior change. 

Dr. Nicole Kosanke, the co-author of Beyond Addiction, sums this up nicely:

“If you think about any really impactful teacher that you’ve had … the words that come to mind universally for people are words like supportive, encouraging, loving. Somebody who really believed in me.”

Take this same approach with your loved one. Engage in communication strategies that are supportive, encouraging, and loving to support your loved one’s behavior change.

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Tips for How to Talk to an Alcoholic

If you’re ready to talk to your loved one about their drinking, here are some tips for how to communicate effectively and with compassion:

  • Put yourself in their shoes: One of the best ways to feel empathy for someone is to imagine what you would think and feel if you were in their place. When communicating with your loved one about their drinking, try to put yourself in their shoes. If you were in their position, what would you most need to hear? What support would you need? 
  • Use “I” statements: “I” statements are great for expressing your feelings without shaming and blaming your loved one. For example, saying something like “I feel unsafe getting in the car with you when you’ve been drinking” is much more empathetic because it focuses on you and your experience. Using these kinds of statements will make it much more likely that your loved one will be able to hear what you have to say.
  • Avoid speaking in absolutes: You might feel that your loved one “always” chooses drinking over you, or “never” does anything right. But speaking in these kinds of absolutes is not helpful or productive. Avoid using terms like “always” and “never” when talking to your loved one about their drinking.
  • Listen with empathy: Talking to your loved one about their drinking should be a two-way street. Avoid using this conversation as an opportunity to air grievances. Instead, create space for your loved one to share their experience. Listen with empathy to ensure that they feel heard.

Offering Support and Options

If you decide to talk to your loved one about their drinking, it’s crucial to have solutions ready if the conversation goes well. Provide resources, support, and options to your loved one to help them reduce their drinking or stop drinking altogether.

Some potential options and sources for support might include local inpatient rehab facilities, online treatment groups, or peer support groups. It may also be helpful to encourage your loved one to talk with their doctor about the physical impacts of their alcohol use and whether their doctor might recommend any medications to curb alcohol consumption.

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Interventions: When Are They a Good Idea, and How Should You Conduct One?

Interventions for alcohol use are popular in media like TV shows and movies, but are they actually helpful? And if so, what do you need to know about how to intervene with an alcoholic effectively? 

Deciding if You Should Hold an Intervention

One of the best reasons to hold an intervention is because you’ve tried other methods that haven’t worked. For instance, if you’ve had several conversations with your loved one about their drinking, but it hasn’t seemed to help, then it may be time to consider holding an intervention.

Another way to decide whether it’s appropriate to hold an intervention for your loved one is to consider how they might react to this kind of conversation. If your loved one is prone to feeling ganged up on, or if they’re prone to strong emotional reactions, then holding an intervention might be counterproductive. Avoid holding an intervention if you foresee that it might leave your loved one feeling attacked or isolated.

Tips For a Successful Intervention

If you’ve decided to hold an intervention for a loved one, here are some things you can do to ensure that things go smoothly.

Invite the right people

Make efforts to invite people who have close personal relationships with your loved one and can communicate calmly, even if things get heated. Ensure that the people you ask are the right people to support your loved one’s healing. Ideally, avoid having a group that’s too large, as this might make your loved one feel ganged up on during the intervention. 

Make a plan

Have a game plan for the intervention—including who will say what, and how you will broach the topic with your loved one. Also, ensure that there are opportunities for your loved one to speak and feel heard.

Ensure everyone is on the same page 

Make sure that all attendees are on the same page about what will happen during the intervention and what behaviors are unacceptable. Make sure everyone agrees to use productive communication strategies and knows what to do if things go awry.

Communicate with empathy

Use the strategies outlined above to practice compassionate communication with your loved one. Use “I” statements, avoid absolutes, and don’t shame or blame.

Next Steps

An intervention is often a one-time event, but recovering from alcohol abuse requires more time commitment. If you hold an intervention with your loved one, here are some things you can do to support them once the intervention is over.

If a Person Refuses Help

You cannot force your loved one to stop drinking. If you hold an intervention and your loved one refuses help, you might feel unsure of what to do next. It’s very challenging to force someone to go to rehab against their will, especially if they’re over 18. Only about half of US states have laws that allow loved ones to commit someone to rehab involuntarily.1

If your loved one refuses help during the intervention, don’t lose hope. Continue to practice the same speaking and listening strategies you used during the intervention. Make sure your loved one knows that you’re there to support them if and when they decide to change their relationship with alcohol.

If They Accept Help

If your loved one is open to receiving help after the intervention, there are several steps you can take to set them up for success on the path to recovery.

Be prepared to work with your loved one to help them find treatment and continue to support them during their recovery.

Is your loved one ready to make a change?

Get in contact with a compassionate member of our team today, or help them sign up for our online alcohol treatment program.


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