How to talk to a friend with a drinking problem
Alcoholics often deny that they have a drinking problem. Many will not seek help on their
own. Left alone, these people often experience severe consequences of their drinking
before getting help. Some literally drink themselves to death.
That's hard news if you're concerned about a friend or family member's drinking. But there's good news, too. By skillfully approaching this person, you can make a lifesaving difference.
Most people who decide to enter treatment for alcoholism claim that it was the influence of a close friend or loved one that actually helped them make the decision.
According to a Gallup Poll, 94 percent of Americans believe it's their responsibility to intervene when a friend has a problem with alcohol or other drugs. But the poll also showed that only 38 percent feel "very confident and comfortable" in approaching that friend.
Using the following guidelines can help you gain the kind of influence needed to start a loved one on recovery:
- Time your message carefully. Talk to loved ones shortly after they've experienced a problem related to drinking. These problems could range from a family argument to divorce, loss of a job, or arrest for driving while intoxicated.
- Avoid talking to people while they're intoxicated. Wait until the following day when the person is clear-headed and when the problem related to his or her drinking is still fresh in mind. At that time you have a better chance of getting your message across.
- Focus on consequences. It's usually best to talk to people about how their drinking is actually hurting them. Explain how their drinking behavior is self-defeating. Focus on the discomfort, the psychological distress, the emotional pain your loved one feels. You can say things like, "It really hurts me to see you go through all of this."
- Avoid lecturing. Some people assume that a direct, hard-edged confrontation is the only way they can convince a loved one to get help. But this strategy often backfires. Sermonizing or scolding people for their behavior may invite further resistance and denial. Instead, take a compassionate approach and show care and respect for the individual. Use nonjudgmental language and don't blame or criticize. Don't label the person as alcoholic or demand that they seek treatment. State your concerns and encourage your loved one to be assessed by an addiction professional.
- Maintain rapport. When approaching a loved one about a drinking problem, the most important thing you can do is to maintain rapport. If you make a comment that this person interprets as shaming or blaming, you weaken that rapport.
- Expect the worst. Your loved one might get angry, deny the drinking problem, and tell you to mind your own business. Don't take it personally; these are common reactions. Denial is one of the unfortunate symptoms of alcoholism. After loved ones cool down and experience more negative consequences from drinking, they might take your message to heart. You may have planted the seed for recovery.
- Offer assistance in getting help. If your friend is ready for help, be prepared to refer that person to a source of helpan Alcoholics Anonymous group or treatment center. Escort them to the source of help and take part in the process as needed.