Confronting an alcoholic is difficult. If you have a loved one with alcoholism, you have probably already discovered this. One of the greatest difficulties is alcoholic denial. Most alcoholics do not want to admit that they have a problem or may even be unable to see it themselves, let alone admit it to other people. Others often notice that there is a problem before the alcoholic is honest with themselves about it. There are many things to consider before you attempt to confront them about their drinking.
First, keep in mind that the alcoholic has a strong relationship with alcohol. To them, alcohol is something they require in order to feel normal and function in life. You may view it as an optional substance, but they do not view it the same way. Imagine that someone was telling you that you should never drink water again or eat food again. This is similar to the way they feel about alcohol. It isn’t as simple as it may seem. If they quit drinking, they will experience many physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms which make it very difficult to abstain. This means their reaction to your confrontation is likely to involve defensiveness, anger, avoidance, and other negative responses.
Second, an alcoholic realizes that in order to stop drinking, they would have to give it up forever. It is not that you’re asking them to give it up for one day or even one week. You are asking them to imagine a life without it. It feels overwhelming and unfathomable to them that a life like that would be possible. Sometimes they feel that life would be boring that way. This is why AA promotes the saying “one day at a time”. A recovering alcoholic must take one day at a time, meaning just don’t drink today and don’t think about tomorrow or next week or next year. If they begin to think about never drinking again, they may throw in the towel because that just feels too difficult.
There are many reasons for alcoholic denial including the ones I’ve give above along with their attempts to justify how much they drink. No one wants to believe that a substance is controlling them. It is natural to convince oneself that you can quit any time you like. Alcoholic denial often sounds like this, “I can quit whenever I want to. I just don’t want to,” “If I were an alcoholic, I would be hanging out in bars every night,” “If I were an alcoholic, I wouldn’t be able to be sober every day at work.”
There is no guarantee that your confrontation will be successful. However, there are certain things you can do to increase the likelihood of a good outcome.
First, wait for the right time. If possible, find a time when the person is not under the influence of alcohol. Do not confront them when they’re drunk and you’re frustrated with their behavior. That is the time to hold back your emotions, calm down, and wait for a planned time to confront them.
Second, research professional intervention strategies. Learn from the professionals about what works and what doesn’t.
Third, approach them with a loving attitude. It is so easy to be accusatory, judgmental, angry, etc., but that will not create the best outcome. Approach the person with a demeanor which says: I love you, I support you, I believe in you, and I’m worried about you. Let them know how their behavior affects you but do so with a heart full of pain rather than a heart full of anger. Be sure they know that you are on their side and want to help them reach their full potential in life. Knowing you believe in them and will help them is much more encouraging than knowing that you are hurt by them, angry at them, and think badly of them.
Fourth, do not react to their reaction. In other words, if they get defensive and angry, don’t play into that. You should be expecting this. Remember their relationship with alcohol is strong. It is easy to feel frustrated and hurt by their reaction and they ability to prioritize alcohol over everything and everyone else. However, you need to remain calm, clear, and firm about what you are saying. Do not let them redirect the conversation by casting blame on other people or bringing up the past. Stay focused on the planned conversation.
Lastly, have a plan. If they happen to agree with you and submit to a getting help, how will you help them? You need a course of action to take if the confrontation goes well.