How to Talk to an Alcoholic So That They’ll Listen: A 10 Step Guide

how to talk to an alcoholic

Over 15 million adults ages 18 and older have alcohol use disorder. If you have a family, friend, or loved one that is suffering from alcoholism, they’re not alone. You aren’t the only one trying to figure out how to approach an alcoholic.

Talking to an alcoholic can be a touchy subject. Many will not want to acknowledge that they have any problem at all.

Wondering how to talk to an alcoholic? We can help!

Here’s a 10 step guide for confronting an alcoholic about his or her drinking problem.

1. Recognize the Signs and Symptoms

If you’re able to define the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse, you can use them to support your discussion. What are the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse? Here are the 11 symptoms of alcohol abuse:

  1. You frequently drink more or for longer than intended.
  2. You want to cut down on drinking but you can’t.
  3. You spend a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from alcohol.
  4. You crave it.
  5. It causes you to fail at school, home, or work obligations.
  6. You keep drinking despite social or interpersonal problems resulting from alcohol use.
  7. You give up on your social, recreational, or work activities because of alcohol.
  8. You drink even when it’s physically dangerous.
  9. You keep drinking even if you have problems caused by or exacerbated by alcohol.
  10. You have developed a tolerance for alcohol.
  11. You experience withdrawal when you stop drinking.

If someone has 2-3 of these symptoms, they have mild alcohol use disorder. Fulfilling 4-5 of these symptoms is a sign of moderate alcohol use disorder. Finally, severe alcohol use disorder fulfills 6 of these criteria.

Use these items as definitive proof that they have a problem. Listing out these criteria may help them realize they have a problem with alcohol. After all, it is an objective measurement.

2. Get Support From Friends and Family

Figuring out how to talk to an alcoholic can be difficult. Recruiting friends, family members, and loved ones for help talking to the alcoholic can be particularly helpful.

This helps validate that the person in question has a problem. And surrounding an alcoholic with loved ones will help them realize getting help is in his or her best interest.

Above all, be sure to remain calm and objective so he or she does not feel outnumbered. Emphasize that the discussion comes from a place of love. Meet with the others ahead of time so that you can coordinate your approach together.

3. Prepare Treatment Options

It’s best to have a treatment option prepared before talking to the alcoholic. If they agree to seek help, having these resources available makes it more likely they will follow up on a treatment plan. Be sure to research treatment options ahead of time, too.

For example, will they need to undergo a supervised detox? And what’s better: inpatient or outpatient treatment? The answers to these questions are situational.

Presenting this research shows that you thoroughly prepared before bringing the issue to his or her attention.

4. Choose the Proper Time and Place

Proper timing is a critical component of confronting an alcoholic. Never talk to someone who is currently intoxicated because they’ll be much less receptive to hearing what you have to think. They also may forget your conversation entirely.

Likewise, avoid talking to them when they’re stressed out. Stressful situations can greatly increase the urge to drink. 

It’s best to choose a time shortly after he or she has experienced a direct problem related to their drinking. That way, you can provide recent, concrete evidence of problems his or her drinking causes.

5. Keep It Simple

It’s important to discuss your situation as calmly and as clearly as possible. You want to state exactly what the problem is and why you believe that they have a problem.

Try to keep your emotions in check during this time. State what behaviors are unacceptable and why, as well as what you want to change.

6. Communicate Effectively

Again, you’ll want to use empathy when confronting an alcoholic. It’s best to avoid judging them, blaming them, or issuing ultimatums.  You might be angry, but expressing this anger will make the alcoholic less likely to listen.

Make sure to explain how you feel about the situation and be specific. Try to remain as supportive as possible to encourage him or her to seek help.

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Get Professional Help

Don’t be afraid to ask for an intervention specialist to help. They can provide guidance, training, education, and resources. With their help, you’ll learn how to talk to an alcoholic more effectively. 

Consulting with an authority figure shows that the discussion is serious and was planned well in advance. Additionally, a specialist can suggest the best type of addiction treatment for his or her situation.

8. Remember to Listen

It might be difficult depending on the response, but be sure to listen to your partner. Listening is half of all effective communication. They are also more likely to remain quiet while you’re talking if you do the same in turn for them.

Pay attention to how they feel. Remain fair in your judgment, and be open to compromising with them if need be.

9. Prepare for Resistance

Nobody said this process was going to be easy. Expect the worst possible response. They may get angry, deny that they have a problem, and turn on you. But it’s important to never take it too personally.

Let them cool down and then try again. You may have planted an idea that they’ll remember next time they have a problem related to alcohol use. Remember, many alcoholics have to reach rock bottom before they’ll make a change.

10. Remain Supportive During Treatment

Once the alcoholic has agreed to get help, get started with treatment as soon as possible. This is only the first step. The next step is approaching sobriety.

And you can help them achieve this. Be sure to take part in therapy, education, and interactions during their treatment. Support will make them more likely to stick to their treatment.

And remember, relapses do happen. Instead of getting angry in these instances, remain empathetic and supportive. This helps build trust so that they aren’t afraid to talk to you in the event of a future relapse.

How to Talk to an Alcoholic: Now You Know!

Now you know how to talk to an alcoholic about seeking help. If you’re located near Baton Rouge, we have the next step planned for you. Check out our alcohol rehab programs, which are individually tailored to ensure a maximum success rate.

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signs of an alcoholic