How To Confront A Loved One About Their Unhealthy Drinking

By Kimberley Rodriguez, LMFT, CAP, therapist on the Monument platform
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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? 

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 problem?). As a first step, it’s helpful to understand the signs of unhealthy drinking.

Identifying 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 (AUD). AUD is measured based on 11 criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). In brief, if your loved one has experienced two or more of these criteria, they are on the clinical spectrum for alcohol use disorder.

DSM-5 criteria

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

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. When speaking to your loved one, bring up specific instances where their alcohol use has made you worried or scared for their safety and well-being. Offer examples of how drinking has contributed to an unsafe environment while maintaining that this is not about their character.
  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.
  4. Do your best to maintain compassion while your loved one is trying to quit or cut down. This isn’t easy for them, either. Remember that alcohol use disorder is a medical condition, not a moral failing.
  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 is attempting to protect them from the 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. 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 on hand. If they are unable to cut down or quit, you may consider seeking professional assistance. At Monument, we connect members with a licensed physician to go over their treatment goals and discuss medication. At Monument, we connect members with a Care Team, including a therapist and physician, to empower them to reach their goals.

And, remember that a fundamental part of being able to support your loved one is 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? You are not alone in this, and it’s not on your shoulders to “solve” unhealthy drinking behaviors. Always return to this simple truth: you are not alone in this. There are many resources to assist you. 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. We are here for you.  

Caring for yourself while caring for someone in recovery

If someone you care about has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, it can be incredibly stressful. You are not alone. Join friends and family of people navigating sobriety or moderation to discuss how to support yourself and your loved one.
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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.

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.

About the Author

Kimberley RodriguezI have been in the mental health field for the past 20 years. I have been licensed in Marriage, Family, and Addiction Therapy for the past 14 years. I specialize in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Crisis intervention Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, Compassion Focused Therapy, Solution Focused Therapy, Interpersonal Therapy, Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Systemic Family Therapy, Mindfulness Therapy, Group Therapy and Play Therapy. I have worked with ages 5- 85 who have had alcohol, gambling, and drug issues, low self-esteem, family and relational discord, PTSD, depression, anxiety eating disorders, grief and loss issues, anger and rage issues, domestic violence, sexual abuse, cultural issues, ADHD, abandonment issues, attachment issues, aging and geriatric issues, codependency, life-threatening health issues, communication issues, compulsive issues, elder abuse, and Family of Origin issues. I have worked with people diagnosed as Antisocial, Narcissistic, Bipolar, Dual Diagnosis, Schizophrenia, and other mental health issues.