What NOT to Say to an Alcoholic
It’s true, alcoholism is a disease that affects everyone around the alcoholic – not just the alcoholic, herself; that’s why it’s referred to as a ‘family disease.’ And, as such, the loved ones of the person who drinks – those affected – feel it’s their place to say something about it by confronting the alcoholic in their life. It might be you who says just the right thing that ‘lands’ for them, making enough of an impression to get them to at least begin to consider that they have a real problem for which they should seek help. But, when confronting an alcoholic, it takes finesse and tact. Here’s what NOT to say to an alcoholic.
#1. Why can’t you just stop?
Trust me, the alcoholic in your life probably asks themselves this on a daily basis. It’s a maddening disease, alcoholism. Many people who struggle truly want to stop but just can’t on their own.
#2. You just need to exercise more willpower.
False. Alcoholism is a disease, a chronic medical disorder, which requires specialized treatment and support for ongoing recovery. Willpower and self-control have nothing to do with it.
#3. Don’t you see that your children hate you?
Way to go. Make them feel even more guilty and ashamed for their drinking. Again, alcoholics tend to hate themselves already; they don’t need to be told such harmful and harsh things such as this. It might be more helpful to frame it more like, “your children are concerned about you and just want you to get better. And so do I.”
#4. You have to stop drinking.
They know this. They probably want to stop drinking, too. They just don’t know how to. It’s like telling someone who has never learned algebra that they need to solve an algebraic equation because their life depends on it – but without giving them the tools or knowledge to be able to do so.
#5. You’re going to drink yourself to death.
Quite honestly, they probably secretly want to. So, saying something like this to them really won’t matter.
#6. What’s wrong with you?
Alcoholism is a disease, not a choice. Therefore, it’s not really the person’s fault that they are drinking. And they’re alcoholism has less to do with them as a person and more to do with their brain chemistry. Remember this the next time you try to talk to the alcoholic in your life.
#7. I hate you.
More accurately, it’s probably that you hate their drinking and how they behave when they’re drinking. As it’s said with other situations in which you want to improve a relationship, it’s important to focus on the behavior, not the person.
By now, you probably get the idea of what not to say to an alcoholic. And, in fact, there’s really not much you can say that will change their behavior. It’s going to take action.
Keep in mind that there are essentially only three possible outcomes between you and the alcoholic in your life:
1. They get help and stop drinking.
2. You leave.
3. The relationship continues and so do their drinking and the ensuing chaos.
It’s time to stop and do some thinking, long-term thinking, that is. Do you really want to be in this same situation, say, 2 years from now? What about 5 years? 10? Given the possible outcomes, there are essentially only three things you can say to your alcoholic loved one:
1) “Keep drinking.”
2) “I’m leaving.”
3) “Get help by (established date) or I’m leaving.”
What it comes down to, essentially, is that you need to focus on you staying healthy. The limit you set is about the amount of chaos you are willing to experience as a result of their drinking. So, ultimately, it’s about you; don’t make it about them.
When talking to the alcoholic in your life, make your intentions clear and be prepared to follow through with them. Don’t make threats that you don’t have full intention of carrying out if necessary.
If you are struggling with alcoholism or you have a loved one who struggles, there’s good news. Help is available and recovery is possible. Call us toll-free at 1-800-777-9588 to speak directly with an Addiction Specialist. We’re available around the clock to answer your questions and address your concerns. Remember: You are not alone.