Watching someone you care about deal with alcoholism can be heart-wrenching and frustrating, to say the least. Standing idly by while they slowly destroy their health is one of the hardest things for a person to do. In some cases, this is the only option. But in others, loved ones can take action that could help bring the drinking to an end. While the person affected may not always be ready to seek professional help, your words can have a profound impact on their journey to recovery. In this blog, we offer insight on what to say to someone who won’t stop drinking, coming from a lens of empathy.
Why Some People Seem To Can’t Stop
Alcohol use and abuse is the leading cause of premature death and disability among adults aged 15–49 years globally. In one year alone, it contributed to over 2.8 million deaths. These deaths were a result of the inability to stop consuming alcohol, even when it was clear that quitting was essential. To put it simply, some people are more equipped to be able to stop than others. Many factors play a role in this, including genetics, work, peers, family, and other influences. While there are many different reasons a person might not be able to stop, some of the most common reasons are:
- Cultural norms
- Fear of withdrawal
- Unresolved trauma
- Mental health problems
- Family dynamics
- Physical dependence
- Lack of coping mechanism
- Neurochemical changes
- Isolation or lack of support
- Social group
Deciding how to approach conversations with someone who refuses to stop drinking can be tough. You want to be sure to communicate your concerns without pushing them away. In many cases, addicts can be defensive and are not interested in hearing what you have to say. Until they are ready to quit, you can only do your part.
While many of us might wish we could force the people we love to quit drinking, it must be their decision. That is not to say that we do not have any power in the situation, though. Gently reminding the person that we are there to support them and help them when they are ready is one of the best courses of action to take. There are many ways to go about doing this, including:
- Express Concern and Empathy: Approaching a person struggling with alcohol addiction requires empathy and a completely nonjudgmental attitude, even if it is hard. Begin the conversation by expressing your genuine concern for their well-being. You might say, “I’ve noticed that you’ve been drinking a lot lately, and I’m genuinely worried about you.” This gentle approach opens the door for them to feel heard and understood, reducing the likelihood of them becoming defensive.
- Share Specific Observations: Providing concrete examples of how their drinking behavior has impacted you or others can be an effective way to convey the seriousness of the situation. For instance, you could say, “I’ve noticed that you’ve missed several important events recently, and it seems like alcohol might be getting in the way.” Sharing these observations can encourage them to reflect on their actions and their impact on their life and relationships.
- Use “I” Statements: Using “I” statements can prevent the conversation from becoming confrontational. Say something like, “I feel worried when I see you struggling with alcohol because I care about you.” This approach avoids placing blame on them and shifts the focus to your feelings, allowing for a more productive dialogue.
- Encourage Self-Reflection: Rather than dictating solutions, encourage them to reflect on their behavior and its consequences. You could ask questions like, “How do you think your drinking is affecting your health and your life?” By prompting self-reflection, you allow them to internalize the impact of their actions, which can be a powerful catalyst for change.
- Offer Supportive Resources: Provide information about resources that can help them understand and address their addiction. Mention books, podcasts, videos, or online articles that discuss the journey to recovery. You might say, “I came across this book that talks about overcoming alcohol addiction. It might offer some insights into what you’re going through.” Sharing resources gently nudges them toward self-education and self-discovery. You can also offer to watch or listen to these resources with them. Sometimes the addition of quality time is enough to persuade them.
- Share Your Feelings: Opening up about how their drinking has affected you can create a connection and make them more receptive to change. For instance, you could say, “I feel sad when I see you struggling, and I want to see you happy and healthy.” Sharing your emotions can demonstrate your investment in their well-being and inspire them to consider making positive changes. When doing this, just be sure to remove any judgment or blame from the conversation. It can be easy to point fingers in this kind of chat, and that will quickly put the other person on the defense. When this happens, they will likely shut down.
- Focus on Their Goals: Engage them in a conversation about their personal goals and aspirations. Help them connect their current behavior to their long-term dreams. For example, you might say, “I know you’ve always wanted to travel and explore new places. How do you think your drinking might be affecting those plans?” This approach can highlight the misalignment between their actions and their goals, motivating them to reevaluate their choices.
- Highlight Their Strengths: Remind them of their strengths and achievements. Sometimes, people struggling with addiction lose sight of their capabilities. By saying, “I’ve always admired your determination and resilience. I believe you have the strength to overcome this challenge too,” you provide them with a positive perspective on their potential for recovery.
- Encourage Them to Get Help: At the end of the day, you must remember that you cannot control their decisions, no matter how hard you try. However, you can encourage them to get help. Support groups such as AA can become a lifeline for someone who is struggling with alcohol abuse. In addition, treatment programs that specialize in the treatment of alcohol abuse can also help. When the opportunity presents itself, encourage them to explore options to get the support that they need.
New Dimensions Can Help!
New Dimensions specializes in helping adolescents and adults overcome alcoholism, substance abuse, and other addictions. Sometimes a family member will seek treatment after an intervention. An alcohol or drug addiction intervention is a structured process where family members, friends, and other concerned individuals confront the alcoholic or addict about the consequences of their addiction and the impact that it has had on their lives. If you have a family member who would benefit from an intervention, call 800-685-9796. To learn more about our treatment programs, visit our website at www.nddtreatment.com or call 800-685-9796.
- Botwright, S., Sutawong, J., Kingkaew, P. et al. Which interventions for alcohol use should be included in a universal healthcare benefit package? An umbrella review of targeted interventions to address harmful drinking and dependence. BMC Public Health23, 382 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-023-15152-6