Family members confronting an alcoholic

Confronting an Alcoholic: How to Approach an Alcoholic Loved One

Last Updated: May 9th 2022

Reviewed by Laura Riley

Once drinking starts to become problematic, the individual can no longer control their overall alcohol use. If this is true for someone you know, you may not be quite sure how to deal with the situation. It is imperative to master the rather difficult task of figuring out what to say when it comes to confronting an alcoholic.

The Impact of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

It can take a great deal of time to discover how to confront an alcoholic about their drinking habits. For example, the person might continue drinking despite all the negative effects presented upon their life. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) stated, that roughly 1 in 12 adults in America struggles with a substance use disorder. This equates to approximately 19 million adults. 

Though substance use disorders can indeed manifest in diverse ways, alcohol use disorder is considered to be especially crucial. It was discovered by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIDAA) that more than 14 million adults suffered from an alcohol use disorder in 2019. An alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic, yet also a treatable condition that can develop with particular cognitive changes and psychological adjustments. 

AUDs make it challenging for an alcoholic to stop drinking even if they desire to. Talking to an alcoholic will be difficult especially if you consider yourself close to them. In today’s blog, how to approach an alcoholic will be made clear, along with symptoms of an AUD, and treatment options. 

It’s essential to remember that individuals struggling with alcoholism are in denial often about their condition, or are high functioning, which means they are capable of engaging in alcohol abuse while seeming like their life is relatively together.

Symptoms of an Alcohol Use Disorder

As you watch your family member or friend struggle with alcoholism, it is important to be aware of various behavioral and physical signs of this substance use disorder. This is definitely important when it comes to confronting an alcoholic.

Behavioral Symptoms

The individual will appear to be:

  • More secretive about their alcohol use, whereabouts, what they are doing, or who they are with. 
  • Less interested in schoolwork, relationships, or work activities.
  • More hostile, moody, or angry. 

Physical Symptoms

  • Sleeping more than usual and/or appearing tired
  • Alcohol on the breath 
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Unsteady gait

Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder

  • Cutting back or stopping the time spent on activities or other hobbies, the ones that the individual once enjoyed before they even started drinking
  • Getting into dangerous situations during or after drinking sessions, therefore increasing the chances of harming self or others
  • Being unable to meet responsibilities at work, home, or school because of the drinking
  • Continuing to drink even though it causes problems with family and friends
  • Drinking more or higher amounts than what was originally intended
  • Expressing the desire to stop drinking or cut down but unable to
  • Spending a lot of time recovering from drinking

Other Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder

  • Drinking alone, during work hours, during the day, or while driving or operating heavy machinery
  • Binging heavily, experiencing cravings, and physical changes such as gastrointestinal issues
  • Regularly consuming more alcohol than was planned and then feeling guilty or even attempting to hide it
  • Being unable to control the amount consumed and unable to take a break from it
  • Experiencing legal, financial, or emotional consequences from drinking
  • Feeling uncomfortable or uneasy when alcohol is unavailable
  • Experiencing frequent blackouts and memory loss
  • Having tremors or shakes when not drinking 

Creating a Plan for Confronting an Alcoholic 

Once it has been officially established that a family member, coworker, friend, or loved one is experiencing alcohol addiction, the overall thought of preparing a conversation can present to be mentally demanding. When the individual preparing how to approach an alcoholic, writes down the plan and/or idea, it can be extremely useful. By writing down the most central points, the ideas will then be remembered and further formulated. 

Should You Confront an Alcoholic?

It is normal to feel hesitant and nervous about confronting an alcoholic in your life. You may worry about angering the individual or harming your relationship with him or her. You might be nervous about the possibility of offending the person. But, helping your loved one address his or her alcohol use problem is extremely important. It can be the difference between life and death for the individual. You must speak to your loved ones and get them the help they need.

How to Talk to Someone About Their Drinking 

1. Focus the Concern on Your Loved One’s Drinking  

Upon confronting the alcoholic, it is vital to use “I” statements to express feelings and concerns about the impact of the loved one’s alcohol use. Statements that could be utilized during this time are, “I am concerned about your alcohol use.” Another statement that could be used is, “I have noticed that I am increasingly worried when you come home late at nighttime and I haven’t known where you have been.” 

2. Explain That You Are Worried About Your Loved One’s Health 

It is best to express your feelings genuinely. You can convey your feelings by using statements such as, “I am concerned that your drinking so much every day is affecting your health.” Or “I have noticed that you are sleeping your entire day away on the weekends.”

3. Avoid Using Labels Such as “Addict” or “Alcoholic”

Instead of addressing a person with a label, focus more on that person and their behavior. When people are struggling with alcohol addiction, they can become defensive when they are addressed with the above-mentioned labels. 

4. Be Empathetic and Understanding

It is vital to use empathetic statements, instead of blaming ones. A statement that can be used is, “I know that you are feeling more stressed than you usually do.” Another good statement you can make is, “I know that you have been feeling more pressure at work and having a hard time.”

Offer Options Instead of Demands

Instead of saying, “You need to get help,” you can say something like, “I was wondering if you would consider seeking a doctor to speak about your alcohol use.” It might present to be evident to the loved one that the person struggling should seek help. But at the end of the day, it is up to that individual to decide what is best for them. It’s important to understand that the loved one cannot and should not force the person struggling into engaging in a task they aren’t interested in. They can only suggest it. 

Steps to Take Before and After Confronting an Alcoholic

Step 1: Seek Support

When a person decides to seek support through resources and therapy, it helps to lessen the gap. The person who is struggling is not in this obstacle alone. Having reliable resources helps the loved one understand the overall approach and provides additional effective strategies for addressing alcohol abuse. 

Step 2: Engage in Self Care

If a loved one is more focused on the individual facing the addiction, it is easier to forget about self-care and self-love. However, once a person has reached a burnout period, the chances of providing the necessary love and support are less likely to occur. To engage in self-care, the family member should ensure to seek out therapy during stressful times.  

The primary objective of attending group and individual therapy is being in a safe place where the feelings are encouraged and processed. Healthy boundaries need to be set when an individual is struggling with alcohol use disorder. It’s fundamental to remember that every feeling is considered valid, and it’s not selfish to engage in self-care, it’s necessary. 

Often, when a loved one cares for an individual struggling, they might engage in caretaking, rescuing, and enabling behaviors unknowingly. Sometimes, there is an unhealthy emotional reliance that develops, known as codependency. So, it is important to take care of yourself while your loved one receives help. 

Do’s and Don’t When Confronting an Alcoholic

Do: Talk to Intervention Specialists

An intervention specialist is a professional that knows how to organize and lead interventions to assist families of individuals with addictions to find treatment for their loved ones. If you are planning on confronting your loved one about their drinking, it’s advised that it be completed with a licensed counselor, psychologist, interventionist, or therapist. This will assist the discussion on the nature of the individual’s problem and how it can be helped. 

Don’t: Confront Them When They Are Drunk or Drinking 

When an individual you care about comes home drunk, it’s extremely tempting to say the first thing that pops into your head. However, this isn’t effective. The person struggling will either tune you out or whatever is being said; not comprehend it because they had too much to drink. 

The individual could even forget about what you said the next following day. You can also risk starting an argument when a person is confronted about their drinking when they are drunk. It is ideal to wait until the person is sober. It’s also recommended to also try to sit them down at a table to attempt to maintain a peaceful conversation. 

Do: Be Clear and Firm

Upon confronting an alcoholic, you can’t afford to come across as feeble. Though it might be challenging, it is best to come off direct. Coming off direct does not mean getting in their face or yelling, but rather using a clear and factual tone of voice, describing how their behavior has affected those around them in great detail. 

During this time, you can even list specific times, dates, how much alcohol they had, how much money they spent, and the frequency of negative behaviors. Oftentimes, it’s ideal to have concrete evidence so that the individual understands the extent of the problem. Furthermore, the repercussions of them as well. 

Effectively Confronting an Alcoholic Is Explained at North Jersey Recovery

If a loved one presents available resources, the person struggling might be more willing to consider treatment. It was shown by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) that individuals who need help for an alcohol use disorder (AUD) will resort back to their old ways if treatment isn’t immediately available or readily accessible. In other words, the earlier an individual gets help, the more effective the treatment will be. Contact us today to get started!

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Laura Riley

Medical Reviewer

Laura comes to NJRC with 23 years of vast clinical experience in hospital, residential, outpatient, and community outreach settings where she has worked, supervised clinical teams, and volunteered. She has provided substance abuse and mental health counseling, clinical coordination, and advocacy to individuals, families and groups, and specializes in co-occurring disorders for both adults and adolescents.