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What You Should Never Say To An Alcoholic

friends talking | what you should never say to an alcoholic

If your loved one is struggling with alcohol use, it can be confusing to figure out how to talk to them. Sometimes words we use to convey encouragement, advice or warning can be perceived as offensive or uncaring. Follow these tips on what NOT to say to your loved one in alcohol recovery.

Recognizing Alcohol Use Disorder

with someone with an addiction can be filled with stress and uncertainty. But how do you know if the frustration, erupting emotions, stress or uncertainty is originating from an addiction?

Signs a loved one may have an addiction:

  • Has your loved one become a little more secretive?

  • Have you seen a loss of interest in pleasurable hobbies?

  • Has money gone missing or do you see unexplainable expenses?

  • Do you see changes in their weight? Are they getting really thin?

  • Are you noticing outbursts, like anger?

  • Do you see changes in their patterns? Are there things they used to enjoy doing before and now don’t? For example, if your loved one used to enjoy rock climbing - but now doesn’t enjoy it, or doesn’t seem interested. Or maybe they enjoyed cooking, but now they are not doing anything in the kitchen.

If you are seeing even two of these symptoms from a loved one, they may have an alcohol problem.

What NOT To Say To An Alcoholic

You want to keep your conversations with a loved one in a respectful, caring and productive light, and that means avoiding questions or statements like these:

“That’s not the right way to deal with your problems.”

The fear of judgment is one of the biggest reasons alcoholics have a difficult time seeking help. That fear makes someone afraid to open up about their problem. Being compassionate and caring is important because it allows the alcoholic to feel comfortable.

“I know how you feel.”

Unless you also have a drinking problem, you don’t truly know how the other person feels. Empathy is good. Just make sure you’re not implying that your problems are the same or equal.

“I give up.”

No one wants to hear that you give up on them or think they are hopeless. One of the most difficult responsibilities that comes with a loved one suffering from alcohol addiction is supporting them.

If it’s really too much, gently let them know their alcohol use is damaging the quality of your life and that you’re willing to help them find treatment.

“Why did you start drinking?”

This can be a deeply personal question. Most people need to establish trust before opening up about their past which may be embarrassing to them. Instead of asking about the details of their addiction, ask questions about their other interests and passions.

“Why don’t you just quit?”

Studies reveal just stopping is not just a simple choice, there is a physical change in brain chemistry after months or years of substance use, so an individual can’t just stop in one day. In fact, in the case of some alcohol addictions, individuals shouldn’t stop cold-turkey because detox can be fatal.

What NOT To Say To A Loved One In Recovery

While what to say to an alcoholic may be difficult, it may also be the case that your loved one is in recovery and you have a difficult time with conversations. Here are things NOT to say during recovery.

“Do you miss drinking?”

Your loved one is an alcoholic, of course they miss drinking. What they don’t miss is the disruption and chaos drinking alcohol brings. Recovery has brought them to a point where the benefits far outweigh the temporary pleasure of being drunk.

“Do you remember when ___?”

The last thing an alcoholic wants to be reminded of are things that happened while they were drunk. While you might remember them as funny or silly, to a recovering alcoholic, memories like these can be embarrassing and bring up detrimental feelings of shame.

“Do you mind if I have a drink?”

Just because your loved one is sober, doesn’t mean they don’t experience temptation. Supporting your loved one in recovery means not suggesting or influencing a decision that brings them to drink.

“How do you know you’re an alcoholic?”

You may be curious, but asking such questions will make you seem like you are challenging the person’s self-judgment. No one wants their feelings and important life decisions to be discredited and your shock or surprise that they suffer from addiction is a topic best avoided.

Addiction doesn’t discriminate based on race, gender or socioeconomic status. Instead, try to educate yourself about the recovery process so you can be an asset in their recovery journey.

“When can you stop going to meetings?”

Recovery doesn’t have an end date. Meetings offer connection and friendship to others that truly understand the devastating effects of addiction and many continue to attend meetings for a lifetime.

If you suspect a loved one may have an alcohol addiction, consider talking to a substance abuse counselor or professional yourself. Why? So you can reach out and get the support and skills to:

  1. Have an intervention, or at the very least a conversation

  2. Start to build the framework of what it looks like to get treatment - so when that conversation comes up you can talk to them about what’s involved.

These skills can help you talk to your loved one.

For example, a spouse could say, “I’m worried, but I’m not an expert. Let’s talk to someone who is an expert and then decide.” Having already talked to a caring addiction counselor beforehand, the spouse is now prepared for the next step to help their loved one.

If you are concerned and want to know if a loved one has an alcohol addiction, give Care Addiction Center a call at: (630) 402-0144.


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