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How to Talk to a Loved One About Their Alcohol Problem

How to Talk to a Loved One About Their Alcohol Problem

It’s extremely difficult to stand by and watch a loved one fall down the hole into an alcohol use disorder. You want to do what you can to help. Still, having a conversation with someone about drinking can be tricky under the best of circumstances, and when addiction has hijacked their brain, you’re not talking to the person you know and love.

At Central Clinic, Dr. Poonam Malhotra and our team offer substance use disorder help, but it does little good if you can’t get your loved one to take part.

To help you talk to your loved one about their potential alcoholism, we’ve pulled together a few tips that can help you better navigate this difficult conversation.

Addiction and the brain

The first thing to understand about an alcohol use disorder is the addiction component, which refers to the reconfiguration of the chemicals in their brain that favor drinking. These chemical changes are powerful and they, in effect, hijack your loved one’s thinking and behaviors. (For a more scientific explanation, click here.)

In other words, you may not be talking to the same person you knew before they started drinking problematically. Instead, you’re facing a formidable foe — their brain — who doesn’t want to hear about stopping. 

Talk in terms of you

When you talk to someone about their drinking, it’s also important to recognize that there may be a fair bit of denial. In order for them to continue to meet the demands and cravings, their brain convinces them that there’s no problem.

So, when you approach your loved one, understand that any comments about their behaviors might be met with angry denial. To get around this, talk in terms of yourself and how their drinking is affecting your life. Start sentences with, “I feel,” or, “From where I’m standing,” etc. It’s much harder to deny your feelings.

Try not to get angry

Your loved one may be on the defensive, so any anger you direct toward them may be promptly batted away with equal, if not more, anger. Instead, try an approach that emphasizes compassion or worry.

We know this can be difficult if your loved one has offended you, but anger isn’t a great solution in any situation that you’re trying to diffuse.

Avoid labels for now

Unfortunately, there’s still a fair amount of stigma when it comes to substance use disorders, so we suggest that you steer clear of terms like “alcoholic” or “addict.” Instead, stick to terms such as “problem drinking” or other, less inflammatory, descriptions of their behaviors.

Be prepared with options

It’s a great idea to go into the conversation armed with solutions. For this, you can talk to us beforehand so that you have a list of options for getting help.

Don’t despair after an unsuccessful talk

If you try to have a conversation with your loved one and you’ve followed all of the tips above, yet they’re still drinking, don’t despair. You may need to have this discussion several times, as most people with substance use disorders only seek help when they’re ready.

Your goal is to chip away at the addict brain, placing seeds of doubt that the person you know and love underneath the alcoholism will recognize.

If you’d like more guidance on talking to your loved one, we’re happy to help. Simply contact our office in Spring Hill, Florida, to get started.

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