how to talk to someone about their drinking

How To Talk to A Loved One About Their Drinking

Does someone you love struggle with unhealthy drinking? Get free expert resources ->

how to talk to someone about their drinking

Worrying about a loved one’s drinking habits can be confusing. It can be difficult to establish when it’s appropriate to be concerned. And then, of course, the ensuing question of what can I do about it? 

How to Navigate a Loved One’s Drinking Habit

Have you suspected that your loved one has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, and thought about bringing it up? You may feel fearful of your loved one’s reaction, scared of how the conversation will go, or you may be second-guessing yourself (i.e., is it really a ‘drinking problem’?). As a first step, it’s helpful to understand the signs of an unhealthy drinking habit.

Learn more about alcohol use disorder

There is no single definition of unhealthy drinking. There are, however, common symptoms to look out for that indicate someone you love has alcohol use disorder.

So, what is alcohol use disorder (AUD)? Alcohol use disorder, or AUD, is measured based on 11 criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). AUD limits a person’s ability to control their alcohol consumption, despite the negative consequences experienced from excessive drinking and alcohol dependence.

Based on the DSM-5 criteria, below are a few questions to ask yourself:

  1. Have there been times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
  2. More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  3. Experienced craving – a strong need, or urge, to drink?
  4. Found that drinking often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  5. Continued drinking even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem?
  6. Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating?

DSM-5 criteria

In brief, if your loved one has experienced two or more of these criteria, they are on the clinical spectrum for alcohol use disorder. You may notice any combination of these signs, and naturally, it could be affecting you and your loved one’s relationship. The way you are feeling is valid, and you both deserve your needs to be communicated and met.

It’s also important to note that even if your loved one doesn’t fall on the spectrum for alcohol use disorder, they still might be drinking in unhealthy ways. Additional signs of unhealthy use might look like them being irritable when not drinking, experiencing memory loss and blackouts due to binge drinking, and continuing to drink to avoid withdrawal symptoms. If alcohol is getting in the way of their physical, emotional, and social wellbeing, having a conversation about their drinking can be an incredibly meaningful step in encouraging healthier habits.

Confront Your Loved One

Previously, you might have been asking yourself, ‘what does an alcohol problem look like?’ and ‘when is it appropriate to have an intervention about a loved one’s drinking problem?’ Now, hopefully it’s clear that unhealthy drinking exists on a spectrum, and that your loved one doesn’t have to ‘hit rock bottom’ to warrant a conversation about building healthier habits.

If you’re having trouble starting the conversation about your loved one’s drinking, these tips can help guide you as you cultivate a stronger, healthier relationship.

How to Talk to Someone About Their Drinking: 6 Tips For Having the Conversation

1. Authentically express your feelings about your loved one’s drinking.

Try to use “I” statements. For example, “I feel sad when you go to sleep in the recliner after you drink” or “I am worried because it is the 3rd time you missed work. I love you and want you to keep your job.” Using “I” statements keeps the focus on the drinking itself, and how it affects you. 

2. Prepare specific instances where their alcohol use has made you worried or scared for their safety and well-being.

Offer examples of how their alcohol consumption has contributed to an unsafe environment while maintaining that this is not about their character. Recall instances in which the negative consequences of drinking alcohol have affected your relationship.

3. Express your concern in a genuine and loving manner.

Be mindful of belittling language, preaching, lecturing, forcing, bribing, or even begging them to pursue help. Offer to attend therapy, support groups, and doctor appointments with your loved one. Go over options with them and help make a plan of action if they show willingness and/or interest in an alcohol treatment program.

4. Do your best to maintain compassion while your loved one is trying to quit or cut down on drinking alcohol.

This isn’t easy for them, either. Remember that alcohol use disorder is a medical condition, not a moral failing.

Unhealthy drinking affects everyone. Learn how to support a loved one, and get support for YOU along the way. Sign up for our newsletter

5. Be conscious of enabling your loved one, such as supplying them alcohol or pushing any boundaries of having it in the house.

Another example of enabling unhealthy alcohol use is attempting to protect them from the negative consequences of drinking by trying to remedy the situation yourself. Practice setting personal limits while letting them know that you love them and are there for them.

6. Be prepared for your loved one to disagree with you.

Your loved one may be in denial about their drinking or tell you that they will quit or cut down on their own. Give them a suggested timeline and of course, always have options for alcohol treatment on hand. If they are unable to cut down or quit their unhealthy or heavy drinking habits on their own, professional help can provide guidance and relief.

Advocate for Treatment

As your loved one navigates this journey, knowing about treatment options is a great way to provide guidance and support. Understanding how an alcohol treatment program can support their goals for sobriety or moderation, while taking into account co-occurring conditions, can help you gain a more holistic understanding of the treatment landscape and provide informed suggestions. Aspects that may impact alcohol misuse can include mental health conditions like anxiety or depression, and it’s important to address these issues in treatment as well.

At Monument, we connect members with licensed physicians to go over their treatment goals and discuss medication options to stop drinking, and licensed therapists to address psychological influences. As part of their online alcohol treatment program, members meet with their Care Team to personalize their treatment plan in a way that empowers them to reach their unique goals.

Care for yourself while caring for someone in recovery

If someone you care about has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, it can be incredibly stressful. When learning more about alcohol use disorder (and why there’s no one definition of a ‘drinking problem’), remember that a fundamental part of being able to support your loved one is related to your own wellbeing. It’s important that you are emotionally ready before having these conversations. Are there any ways you can start putting more care toward yourself and your needs today?

Continue learning about alcohol use disorder, lean on your own support network, consider exploring treatment options for your loved one, such as medication and therapy, and lastly, join in our free support group “Caring for yourself while caring for someone in recovery.” Come just as you are, camera on or off, to listen, share, and find community.

You are not alone in this, and it’s not on your shoulders to “solve” unhealthy drinking behaviors. There are many resources to assist you and your loved ones, including tools for identifying signs of codependency, and guidance on how to build healthy boundaries. We are here for you. Join friends and family of people navigating sobriety or moderation to discuss how to support yourself and your loved one’s recovery.

Making progress together: For family, friends, and those in recovery

One of the most effective strategies for achieving sobriety or moderation is engaging with friends and family. This group is for those looking to cut back on drinking and those supporting them. Join the discussion about how to better understand one another and support each other throughout this journey.
Check out the Schedule

Even if a conversation seems nerve-wracking at first, you have options and support. No matter where you are on the journey, making the decision to find a new path will empower you and your loved one toward a better future, one you both so deserve.

Does someone you love struggle with unhealthy drinking? Get free expert resources ->

Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

4 Tips To Manage Anxiety You Can Start Using Right Now

With over 20 years of experience in the mental health field, 14 of those specific to addressing substance use, I am often working with patients with anxiety. I also moderate the Addressing anxiety while managing your drinking virtual support group for Monument. Anxiety is incredibly common for people who struggle with unhealthy drinking behaviors and is a challenge that many people face at one point or another. In fact, 40-million American adults, nearly 18% of the population, have been diagnosed with some variation of anxiety. So, if you’re experiencing anxious feelings, you are not alone.

And with some direction, you can make significant progress in coping with those feelings. Here are tools for you to sharpen so that you’re prepared to intercept and manage signs of anxiety when they begin to creep in. The more we practice anxiety management, the easier it gets.

Let’s start by defining anxiety.

By the American Psychological Association’s definition, anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure. However, anxiety can manifest in all sorts of ways. There is no single definition. If you’re looking to understand if you’re experiencing anxiety, a safe place to start is by asking yourself these questions:

  • Does my mind frequently race?
  • Is it challenging for me to sit still? Do I often feel like I have to do something?
  • Am I a people pleaser? Is it difficult for me to say no?
  • Do I frequently put myself down to boost others up?
  • I am regularly asking myself, what if____?

If you’ve answered yes to any or all of these questions, you’re in the right place. Even if none of those questions ring true, cultivating tools to recenter and maintain groundedness can be useful for anyone, no matter what you’re working with.

For someone taking a close look at their unhealthy relationships, including their unhealthy relationship with alcohol, it’s crucial to build coping skills to have in your back pocket.

The first tool I’ll talk about is breath-work.

Yes, we’re breathing every second of every day. We don’t tend to notice it. When we’re anxious, however, our breathing can feel short, or our chest might feel tight. This is a common symptom of anxiety that you can tackle in the moment with some preparation and practice. Enter: breath-work.

What would happen if we paused and listened to our breath? Let’s find out. Think about slowing it down with as much patience and control as feels tolerable. Naturally, we’re not accustomed to this. But we can practice it, and add it to our toolbox.

Here’s a simple breathing technique to try out:

Inhale… 4 seconds

Hold…4 seconds

Exhale…8 seconds

Notice if your anxiety levels have decreased — even a little bit. Breath-work is a deeply personal practice, and however it looks, or however long you go, is exactly as it should.

My second tool is ‘being here now’.

Anxiety is often fueled by worry. We worry about all kinds of future what-if scenarios. We wrack our brains for every single possible outcome (primarily negative ones!). Perhaps you worry about your relationships, your family, your career, health. I assure you you are not alone. This is an incredibly common symptom of anxiety.

When you’re starting to feel that overwhelming worry about the future, flag it. Taking a moment to allow yourself to step away from those thoughts is an act of self-love. Instead of focusing on the future, ground yourself in your present situation. Here’s a simple yet effective technique to do that: seek out immediate comfort via the five sense (and one bonus):

  1. Taste: Is there one that’s comforting to you? Have a bite.
  2. Sight: Is there an image that’s reminiscent of joy? Peace? Take a look.
  3. Touch: Is there a fabric that’s soft to the touch? A blanket? Feel it.
  4. Smell: Do you have a favorite scent? A candle or an essential oil? Smell it.
  5. Sound: Can you play an upbeat song or sounds of the ocean on loop? Hear it.
  6. Movement: Yoga? A run? Dancing around your living room? Get active.

If we work on grounding ourselves in the present, we can break the cycle of spiraling negative thoughts about future what-ifs. Instead of allowing our thoughts to take over, we can build new, healthy coping mechanisms that will ultimately become habitual.

Next up: more on self-care

In the throws of anxiety, we often neglect our needs. Tending to others before tending to ourselves becomes second nature. But it doesn’t have to.

Try this: Imagine yourself giving yourself a big, tight, warm embrace. This probably feels good and safe. This embrace can take many different forms. Think of those moments when you feel comforted. Is that when you’re taking a warm bath? Baking? Watching reality TV re-runs? Going on a walk with your pet or with a friend? Maybe it even looks like an actual, big, tight, bearhug. Giving yourself unconditional love in those moments of restlessness, fear, and worry decreases the intensity of anxiety. You deserve some compassion, and it may surprise you how relieving it feels.

And last but not least, the importance of ‘no.’

It is easy to fall into the pattern of compromising yourself to prioritize others.

It’s easier to say yes than no, even when that means self-sacrifice. However, the positive impacts of saying ‘no’ can span well beyond any immediate feeling of relief when saying ‘yes.’ Setting boundaries with confidence, compassion, and assertiveness can cultivate a more empowered you. When our decisions are aligned with self-love and self-care, we can show up for both ourselves, and for others better than we would have before — free of anger, fear, shame, and anxiety.

Think about your decisions, and how they align with your goals, values, and desires. Say yes to things that get you closer to your authentic self, and ‘no’ to those that do not serve you.

Anxiety is absolutely and completely normal. It’s to be expected. You are making some major changes for yourself, potentially for your family or community, and you are not alone in feeling overwhelmed. I understand that there will be moments when anxiety feels bigger than you, and I also know that it is absolutely possible to find balance — even in those moments where it feels unimaginable. My hope is that these tactics can provide relief. Each skill is a practice and takes practice itself. Nothing comes easy if it’s worth having. But you can do it.

If you want to stay in touch (please do!), join us in the Monument Community, and come check out our Support Groups. I moderate a couple, including Addressing anxiety while managing your drinking.

Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

Exercises To Achieve Your Ideal-Self

Our “ideal self” is who we want to become. It’s an image of ourselves that we develop over time. Our ideal self could come from what our parents taught us, what we admire in others, what our society promotes, our own values, or all of the above. Aligning the way you are with the way you want to be is a marathon, not a sprint. And it’s a really helpful exercise in motivating yourself to keep going. So, let’s try it.

If you’re having trouble visualizing what your ideal self looks like — that’s okay! Making out that model version of ourselves takes time. Below I’ll lay out two exercises, both of which are best practiced with pen and paper. This way, you can always refer back to your notes and reset: Where do I want to go again? Right. This is how I’ll get there.

First, let’s do some visualization. Put a face to your ideal self.

And as this ideal-self,

  1. How would you describe yourself? Name 3 adjectives.
  2. What is your life like? Name 3 adjectives.
  3. What does your relationship look like with alcohol?
  4. Where are you living?
  5. Where are you working?
  6. How would you describe your relationships? Your family, friends, partner(s)?
  7. How do you show up for others?
  8. How do you show up for yourself?
  9. What values are you living by?
  10. What opportunities do you have for growth?

Next, let’s determine how you can get there.

Grab a piece of paper and answer the following questions:

  1. How important is it to you to achieve the ideal self?
  2. What is your ideal relationship with alcohol?
  3. When are you planning to make the changes necessary to achieve this ideal self?
  4. What resources and opportunities do you have that will help you work toward your ideal self?
  5. What hurdles do you anticipate? How can these be part of the growth process?
  6. What factors inform your vision of your ideal self?
  7. Who do you know that is similar to your ideal self?
  8. What single, small behavior can you improve as the first step toward your ideal self?
  9. What’s a feasible way to chart your progress? A daily journal? Weekly check-ins with a friend? A sticky note on your mirror with a goal of the day? The month?

There you go! Now you should have a better idea of your ideal self, and how you can become more YOU. These lists will change over time, and you can re-do this exercise as many times as it’s helpful. I recommend every few months.

In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, there’s a teaching that I’d like you to think of during moments where you’re lacking motivation: “I’m doing the best I can, and I can do better.”

Push yourself to grow, and be patient with yourself along the way. Do this by creating an action plan that takes it day by day.

And keep in touch! Join me in the Monument Community, where I moderate a couple of online alcohol Support Groups and explore our Personalized Treatment options to learn about how therapy can help you change your drinking. I’m rooting for you!

Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.