Confronting An Alcoholic: How to Connect and Help
Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : November 18,
2020 | 4 Sources
How to Prepare
Possible reactions, staying calm and focused
Watching a friend, family member, or colleague with an alcohol problem could be difficult, let alone confronting an alcoholic. You might be wondering what you could do to improve the situation, and whether or not that person even wants your help.
Confronting an alcoholic is never easy primarily because so many variables must be taken into consideration. A wide variety of professionals are available to assist in this difficult endeavor; in addition, this website is filled with beneficial information and insights to help you along the way.
Gather as much information and support as you can before you continue. You could read books, browse online, or ask your health care provider for more information. Keep in mind that many, if not most alcoholics tend to come from families of alcoholics. For them,
- it is nature AND nurture;
- genetics AND environment.
If you are thinking about confronting an alcoholic, you should be aware of and prepare for dealing with generations of denial and avoidance, not to mention codependent tendencies.
Now, this in NO way is meant to provide an alcoholic with an excuse; it simply is a fact.
Things to Keep in Mind When Confronting an Alcoholic
- Do NOT confront an alcoholic who is under the influence. Trying to communicate with an alcoholic under the influence is far too risky with very little chance of actual results.
It just doesn’t work. An intoxicated alcoholic can be totally erratic and unpredictable. Even if you can actually communicate rationally, the alcoholic may forget/black out your conversation or become emotionally weepy or belligerently offensive, even violent.
The first two types may be emotional black holes, but they usually pose no real physical threat. However, if the alcoholic you are confronting has a quick temper and/or sudden, intense or explosive anger, do not put yourself or anyone else in danger in order to try to help, no matter how much you may want to. Choose an appropriate time when you are both clearheaded and well-rested.
In addition, do not ever confront an alcoholic when you are alone.
- Do NOT set your heart on a particular outcome. You can plan your actions, but you are bound to be frustrated and disappointed if you try to plan the outcome. For the well-being of everyone involved, try to keep your mind open to all possibilities and be willing to accept whatever comes.
If you confront an alcoholic with the expectation that (s)he will stop drinking immediately, you will probably be disappointed, which may discourage you from trying again. If you confront an alcoholic in a compassionate manner and with the hope of resolving these drinking issues eventually, then anything is possible.
- Do NOT begin with an aggressive or accusatory tone, it will achieve nothing. Rather than pointing fingers and making accusations, try using “I”-statements. Saying “I feel insecure and unsafe when you drink too much.” or “I feel unappreciated when you when you drink too much.” is far less challenging and aggressive than “You always drink too much and scare me with your temper.” or “You always drink too much and act so mean.”
- Do NOT dredge up sins and transgressions from the distant past. Stick to current or very recent situations. Digging up bones from the distant past just gives an alcoholic something else to defocus on. Besides, you will likely have more than enough recent or current events to support your argument.
- Do NOT confuse confrontation with punishment or revenge. This is not the time to try to punish or get back at the alcoholic who hurt you. Done correctly, confrontation can be the most loving, compassionate, even life-saving action anyone can take with an active alcoholic.
- Do NOT rush in and try to make sudden, drastic changes. If you rush straight at an alcoholic’s denial system trying to tear it down, you will be disappointed. Keep in mind that, alcoholic or not, people’s denial systems are what have protected them and allowed them to survive.
So, try to speak rationally and lovingly as you slowly but steadily chip away at their excuses, rationalizing and minimizing. Point out the flaws of one or two of these and explain how they are not productive or beneficial. To prevent an alcoholic from becoming excessively defensive, you could emphasize on your concerns and feelings—rather than stating how you believe he or she should be acting or living. It may take a while but continue to chip away.
Possible Reactions When Confronting an Alcoholic
- Defocusing - bringing up any subject rather than talking about the drinking problems. Alcoholics can go to great lengths to avoid looking at or discussing their own personal issues. If this happens, draw the conversation back to the drinking issue and try to block any further attempts at talking about other issues.
- Blaming - Many alcoholics are quite adept at dodging responsibility. It is always someone else’s fault that (s)he got drunk. An unreasonably demanding boss, a grouchy spouse, rude co-workers-anyone else can be the one responsible. If this happens, make it clear that that is just a sorry excuse and immature way of dodging responsibility.
- Comparing - Many alcoholics will try to trivialize and minimize their drinking problems by comparing them to someone else’s problems, thereby making their own seem less damaging in comparison. “You think I’m bad? What about your brother Joe? He’s wrecked two cars in less than 6 months, driving drunk.” You may choose to acknowledge that “Yes, Joe definitely has a problem, but right now, we are talking about your drinking problem.” Again, try to keep everyone’s attention on the issue at hand.
- Reversing - This is another form of denial that somehow manages to shift the blame onto you. Most, if not all, alcoholics are Master Manipulators. Be careful or they will actually have you feeling guilty. Again, you may choose to acknowledge that you do have issues, which you can discuss later, but right now-focus.
- Explaining - In this form of denial, alcoholics will justify and rationalize their “reasons” for drinking, which may vary from drinking because it’s Wednesday to drinking because the sun came up, to having a really bad day to celebrating a promotion. To an alcoholic, there is always a reason to drink.
Be on the lookout for this technique because somehow their excuses actually sound rational and make sense. This is often when the family history and the difficult childhood come up. If this situation occurs, say, “Right now, I am not concerned with why you drink. I am only concerned with the consequences of your drinking.”
If you go into the situation with an open mind, a loving heart, and good intentions, you have an excellent chance of success. Seek the advice of professionals and others with experience and insight.
If you try to avoid having expectations and if you can stay calm, rational, and focused, you will have a very good solid foundation to build on. Once the problem is truthfully and completely acknowledged, the solutions and healing can begin.
Healing Can Start Now!
If you or your loved ones are
ready to start healing from alcoholism, there are treatment facilities that can
help you on your journey to recovery. Contact them today.
Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl
Licensed Medical Health Professional
I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More
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