how to tell someone they drink too much

What not to do to get someone else to stop drinking

In our deeply unscientific survey of people who have successfully cut back or quit drinking, we learned a bit about the difficult conversations people have with their friends, family members, and SOs about their drinking.

We wanted to share a bit of what works and doesn’t work, based on what we found.

The first thing you should know is that too few of these conversations happen.

Fully 60% of those we surveyed said no one ever talked to them about their drinking. Given all 100% said they were happy they quit (or cut back) successfully, we found that surprising. Is it really possible that no one else noticed their drinking level and thought it might be over the line into unhealthy?

The answer is probably no. After all, there are lots of reasons you might not bring up a potential drinking problem to a friend or co-worker: maybe you don’t know them well enough; maybe you think you don’t see them often enough to judge how much they’re drinking. It’s even scarier with an SO or family member, because they mean so much to you. You don’t want to lose or damage the relationship, so you stay quiet unless you absolutely have to.

It’s even sadder when you realize that more than 2/3 of the time, people said they found their friends and family members’ comments helpful!

So many of you are probably sitting on a wake-up call you could give someone that actually might work! Let’s dig into what makes these conversations helpful vs. not.

Here’s what stands out about the helpful conversations, according to our results:

  • In terms of emotions, the most prominent one expressed in the helpful interventions was fear or concern for the drinker. Some expressed anger or disgust, some expressed support, but almost all were clear they were afraid for them. Perhaps this makes the intervention seem less like an attack?

  • They tried to help the person see it was possible to quit, rather than focusing on ultimatums. Many times an ultimatum might actually scare someone into drinking, because they aren’t sure they CAN quit. To the extent you can offer resources, solutions, and encouragement that if they put in the effort, it will work to quit drinking (or cut back), the intervention may be more effective.

  • They focused on how the drinker’s behavior affected them, rather than on listing the possible negative health consequences. Truth is, most problem drinkers already know the standard set of consequences cold. Even if it is new information, it doesn’t necessarily make them more likely to quit unless they also address the reasons they DO want to drink. But what may be new information is how their drinking is impacting you.

  • Finally, one person who had an unhelpful intervention noted that the person they were speaking with knew nothing about addiction. It can be helpful to refer your loved one to someone who has dealt with alcohol addiction to encourage them it’s possible to quit or cut back and to offer help or resources. That’s one of the reasons people love support groups in Drinker’s Helper - they offer perspective from people who are in the same place, so they are starting from a place of empathy. If you think a loved one needs rehab, there are services like this one that help with the intervention stage, by bringing experts and people who’ve experienced addiction to help someone see they need help.

If you want to encourage someone you know to quit drinking (or cut back to a healthier level), we’d love to help. Try Drinker’s Helper for free for a week. We offer support groups, tracking, insights, and exercises to help people cut back or quit drinking.

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