We know many people struggle with the question of how to tell someone they have a drinking problem.
It’s not an easy topic to bring up, especially given the stigma around the prevailing idea of alcoholism through Alcoholics Anonymous: telling someone they have a drinking problem means they have an incurable progressive disease that only God can keep at bay (barely) if they stay perfectly abstinent forever, so that they spend their lives in a perpetual recovery. Yikes.
You wouldn’t have the same hesitation speaking up if you saw your partner, relative or friend abusing cocaine or heroin, but alcohol is treated differently than other addictive drugs. It shouldn’t be.
So what’s our advice? Well, we did a deeply unscientific survey of how people quit or cut back drinking, and we thought we’d share the results regarding how other people can help.
Here’s what we found:
People should speak up more often. 60% of those who’d successfully quit or cut back said absolutely no one said anything. But more than 2/3 of the time, when someone did speak up, it was helpful! So bring it up, even if it seems a bit scary to do so.
Here’s a pointed glimpse into the obvious: it helps to make sure it’s clear you’re coming from a place of wanting the drinker to be happy. You can do that by expressing fear or concern for the person who drinks too much (that was something 86% the drinkers said the helpful person did). You could also express support for them (43%) and encourage them that it’s possible to quit or cut back (43%). Many people don’t try to quit because they’re worried they may not be able to, and are afraid of the implications.
It also works to focus the conversation on the impacts to you of their drinking. You aren’t putting words in their mouths that way. It can be annoying to have someone else tell you about the risks of heavy drinking in a generic way. What’s new information, and something they can’t argue with, is how their drinking impacts you. Are they less reliable? Are they less fun to hang out with? Are they a mean drunk?
Be careful about expressing anger or disgust. Some people respond well to that (if, for example, they don’t think they have a problem, so your disgust serves as a strong alarm bell). But others feel defensive, especially if they ARE aware they have a problem. Best to play it safe and stick with support and the impacts on you.
Finally, we asked what people liked about Alcoholics Anonymous. Two things stood out: support from others in the same position, and hope from others’ success. So if you’re hoping to help someone, try to think of someone you know who has overcome a drinking problem. Connecting them might be quite helpful toward their decision to make healthy changes.
We also provide support groups in Drinker’s Helper specifically made up of people with similar drinking histories. In addition to this support group, we also provide drink and urge tracking, a library of over 100 therapeutic exercises, and insights on why you drink. Check out the app today!