How to Talk to a Loved One About Their Drinking

Talking to an alcoholic
Photo by dima_sidelnikov/

There are lots of substances that people can abuse. From certain foods to medicine, caffeine, sugar, plant-based products, glues, aerosols, solvents, and others, there are plenty of substances used in such a way that is unhealthy and harmful.

Alcohol is one such substance. Alcohol is undoubtedly a harmful, mind-altering substance. Its use causes the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans each year. On top of those deaths, hundreds of thousands of Americans experience serious, adverse, nonfatal health outcomes from alcohol consumption each year.

But alcohol consumption is also almost totally normalized in most cultures, despite its proven, harmful effects. And even though most people feel that drinking in moderation is okay, even having just one drink opens the door to risk.

At what point does use become misuse? And how do you talk to your family members or loved ones about this?

Understanding the Difference Between Alcohol Use and Alcohol Abuse

The first thing to remember is that if you suspect a loved one has an alcohol problem they probably do, the next step is getting them to see that. There are a few factors that mark the difference between use and abuse. Remember, all drinking presents risks and should be used in moderation or not at all. But there is a point where even “accepted” use becomes clear misuse. Regarding your family member’s drinking, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you find yourself worrying about how much they drink? Or how often they drink?
  • Do you make excuses for how they act when they drink? Are they not themselves when they drink?
  • Are you concerned about the amount of money your loved one spends on alcohol?
  • Do you find yourself covering for your loved one when their drinking causes them to shirk their responsibilities?
  • Have you ever been hurt or embarrassed by your loved one when they were drinking?
  • When your loved one drinks, does their behavior worry you?
  • Have you ever thought about calling the police because of your loved one’s drinking?

If you answered in the affirmative to any of the above, it’s likely your loved one drinks to excess.

How to Discuss Alcohol Abuse with
Your Loved One

Photo by kupicoo/

If you’ve determined that your loved one struggles with alcohol misuse, what do you do next? How do you broach this subject with them?

Here are some tips for having a conversation with your loved one about their drinking:

  • Get educated on alcohol addiction first. The more you know and understand the underlying crisis of what your loved one is going through, the better prepared you are, the better your chances are of convincing your loved one to get help.
  • Time your discussion correctly. Don’t try to have a conversation with your loved one when they’ve been drinking! These rarely go well, as they are more likely to become emotional or illogical in their thinking. Time the conversation for when your loved one is not under the influence.
  • Focus on the effects of alcohol misuse. Use concrete examples of how their drinking has negatively impacted their health and their life (and the lives of those around them).
  • Expect pushback from them. Don’t expect your loved one to come around and see things your way right away. Expect pushback from them as they confront the seriousness of an issue that they may have been avoiding for some time.
  • Have a plan in place. It’s essential to have a plan in place for when your loved one does agree that there is a problem and that it needs to be fixed. What’s the next step for them? Can they stop drinking on their own? Or will they need help?
  • Be prepared to have more than one discussion with them. It usually takes some time for someone who is drinking too much to unravel the nuances of their crisis and realize that they genuinely do need to do something about it. Be prepared to have this discussion with them more than once.
  • Seek support if it is needed. If you’re not able to get through to your loved one, don’t be afraid to seek support. Don’t hesitate to reach out to an interventionist or addiction specialist or another family member if you feel doing so may help.

What Not to Do When Talking to Your Loved One About Their Drinking

As you are getting ready to confront your loved one about their drinking, there are a few things you should be mindful not to do. For example:

  • Don’t lecture, shame, or threaten them. People with problematic alcohol use patterns do not respond well to a didactic or lecture-like discussion. If you blame them, threaten them, shame them, lecture them, or use emotions and guilt with them to get them to stop drinking, it may backfire and lead to more drinking on their part.
  • Don’t cover their tracks or make excuses for them. While it is essential to be compassionate and caring for your loved one, do not cover their tracks or take on their shirked responsibilities. In other words, don’t do anything that will make it easier for them to drink or that will make them think that it is “okay” that they drink.
  • Don’t let their crisis harm your health and wellbeing. You are only as helpful to your loved one as you can take care of your own health and wellbeing. Help them as much as you can, but don’t allow yourself to be brought down by their drinking. If you do, you won’t be helpful to them at all.

Addiction Treatment—The Solution to Alcohol Abuse

If you’re worried that your loved one may have fallen into a rut with their drinking and cannot get out of it on their own, you might be wondering if addiction treatment is the right course of action for them.

If your loved one cannot stop drinking on their own, they will need the help of a residential drug and alcohol rehab center to help them break free from their alcohol crisis. Don’t let this be the end of the line for them. Please don’t allow them to contribute to the horrifying statistics of tens of thousands dead because of alcohol each year in the United States alone. Call Narconon today and make sure they get the help that they need.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.