Have you ever tried to talk to a person who is drinking or using drugs?  Don’t try to talk to the person when he or she has been drinking or when they are highly stressed. For most addicts, it may be better to talk to them early in the day before they drink, when they are sober and untroubled by their problems of the day.  Be as calm and non accusative as possible.  Be patient and uncritical as you can.  However, do not be sympathetic.

According to a Gallup Poll, 94 percent of Americans believe it’s their responsibility to intervene when a friend has a problem with alcohol or other drugs. But the poll also showed that only 38 percent feel “very confident and comfortable” in approaching that friend.

Any conversation with an alcoholic about his or her drinking should occur when the alcoholic is not under the influence of alcohol. Wait until the following day when the person is clear-headed and when the problem related to his or her drinking is still fresh in mind. At that time you have a better chance of getting your message across.  In order to prevent the addict from getting overly defensive, you can place the emphasis on your feelings and concerns – instead of stating how you think he or she should be living or acting.

You can also dispel some of the myths and about alcoholics found in “Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic.” You can help to slowly dissolve at his or her denial, but it is also important to come from a place of compassion and not from a position of judgment.  Just because you open up about this issue does not mean the addict in your life will immediately get help. However, what you are doing is planting a seed that may increase the chances that this individual will get help in the future.

Sometimes an addict may become defensive and express that they are unwilling to seek help for their drinking. He or she may not believe that they are alcoholic and may require more concrete evidence of actually being an alcoholic in order to even consider getting sober

Suggestions for Better Communication

Here are a few suggestions for improving conversations:

1. Show your concern. Express to the addict that you are worried about them (example, “You haven’t been yourself lately”).

2. Keep a cool head. Try your best not to overreact to what the addict has done in the past. Instead, focus on what you expect from them in the future.

3. Be direct. Clearly state your concerns as well as any evidence you’ve found (“You’re passing out, you are not showing up at work, and I found empty beer cans in your car”).

4. Watch your tone of voice. Even though you want to scream and yell, it’s important to speak in a calm, relaxed voice so that you don’t push them further away and they will be willing to talk with a person who is calmer than a person who is yelling at them.

5. Let the addict know you value honesty in the relationship and are willing to listen without making any evaluations or judgments.

6. Try not to be defensive. When the addict makes generalizations or critical remarks, don’t take it personally.

7. Show your love. Physical connection with a hug can be very important.  Show love but never sympathize.

8.  Give lots of praise and positive feedback. Everyone needs to be validated for the good deeds they do in life. They need to know you can still see beyond the things they’ve done wrong.

9.  Avoid lecturing.  Some people assume that a direct, hard confrontation is the only way you can convince someone of what they are doing to themselves. You can say something like “It really hurts me to see you go through all of this”.  Giving a “sermon” to an addict may cause further resistance and denial.  Instead, show that you care and respect the individual.  Do not be judgmental and don’t blame or criticize them.  Don’t label them as an “alcoholic”.  State your concerns and encourage them to stop.

10. Offer assistance in getting help. If your friend is ready for help, be prepared to refer that person to a source of help that is reputable.  Escort them to the source of help and take part in the process as needed.