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Approaching someone about their drinking or drug use

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It’s never easy to approach someone about a problem with alcohol or drugs. We rarely get a warm welcome. But here are some suggestions for improving your chances of a fair hearing…

  1. Avoid loaded terms like ‘alcoholic’ and ‘addict’. Someone in denial will fiercely reject a label such as these. But that’s OK. All we really need is for the subject of our concern to acknowledge a problem that merits help.  
  2. Offer evidence, not accusations. When we accuse someone of bad behavior, their first response is to defend themselves — and that turns the discussion into an argument. Instead, we want to provide examples of the negative effects of that individual’s drinking or drug use — on them, as well as on us. 
  3. Try to avoid getting visibly angry. It’s fine to describe how upset you were about a particular event or occurrence, but there’s no practical benefit to getting mad all over again. We run the risk of pushing the ‘fight-flight’ button. Once that happens, rational discussion ends, until next time.  
  4. Anticipate objections. You’ve likely already heard someone’s objections to seeking help. They’ll  range from denial (“I don’t need help”) to rationalization (“I can’t afford to do anything about it at the moment”) to externalizing (“You’re the one with the problem, not me”) to minimizing (“It’s not that bad”). Because such objections are predictable, you can prepare responses in advance. Having a calm, reasonable response is the best way to counter them.  
  5. Have a plan in place.  Take the time to research the various options for professional help so you can provide accurate, helpful information about where to go and what to do. Even if your loved one isn’t ready for treatment at present, you can plant the seed for later discussion, when the next crisis occurs.

And there almost always is one.   

Scott McMillin, Recovery Systems Institute, LLc

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