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What NOT to say to friends struggling with alcohol

Discussion in 'Helping an Addicted Friend' started by Sophie McGee, Sep 23, 2014.

  1. Sophie McGee

    Sophie McGee Member

    I've found that there is certain language friends of mine struggling with alcohol seem to find particularly offensive whenever the subject is broached, causing them to withdraw and become incommunicable; what are some examples of language to avoid and ways to approach speaking to them about their addictions?
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2014
    Joseph likes this.
  2. Joseph

    Joseph DrugAbuse.com Community Organizer Community Listener

    This is a great question and topic, Sophie! Being able to communicate with our friends and loved ones about their potential issues without them hating us is a fine line. On the one hand we want them to know that we care and are truly concerned about their best interest and well being. On the other hand we don't want to attack, judge or persecute them, or make it about our own issues. Having been on both sides of the coin, and being a relatively sensitive person, I've thought a lot about this topic. Here is some of the language I would avoid when talking to friends about their potential issues:
    • Any language that might come across as defensive or attacking (why do you have to be such a jerk when you drink?).
    • Using labels such as "alcoholic" or "addicted" (You're clearly an addict and need help).
    • Language that focuses on character defects (You are clearly a depressed person and that's why you drink).
    • Bringing up the past or other transgressions (You have always been like this for as long as I've known you).
    • Language that make you the "bigger person" (You should be more like me and not drink as much).
    • Language that makes it only about you (You really hurt me when you drink like this).
    • Unhelpful suggestions that don't provide specific help (You really need to go find help).
    • All or nothing language (If you don't get help now you'll never get help).
    • Threats (If you don't change I'm never speaking to you again).
    • Comparisons to other people (My last boyfriend didn't drink at all so why do you?).
    The most important thing, I think, is to be in a positive, strong frame of mind so your outreach is sincere and from a place of love. This of course isn't always easy to do, especially when you're watching someone you love self destruct in front of your eyes.

    Any other language we should avoid when talking to someone about their issues?

    Again, this is such an important question!
    geegee and tasha like this.
  3. AFKATafcar

    AFKATafcar Community Champion

    I'd have to agree with everything that RecoveryMentor stated. Unfortunately, I have a friend that could be considered an alcoholic, and it doesn't really phase him if you say everything about his condition in a negative or harsh manner. He knows he has a problem and occasionally tries to do something about it, but he's a lost cause when the alcohol's around.

    He's overseas right now, though, so there's relatively little I can do thousands of miles away. He's on base in Germany, and the people he lives around and hangs out with don't exactly try to help him. A number of them are in a similar situation, too.

    It's always best to tread lightly when bringing up a person'a drinking habits, especially when they border on excessive.
    Joseph likes this.
  4. Muraki

    Muraki Member

    Well it differs from person to person.

    You can't say for sure that one topic that offends one person will offend another ass well cause everybody has their own circumstances that made them the way they are. But you can go with avoiding the triggers that are the same for the vast majority, like talking to them with advice. I know this seems a bit strange but direct advice regarding their problem is not the best solution for many people since most of them are aware of the fact that that what they are doing is wrong so they don't want to take it as a lecture from anybody, not even family. The best in such situations, in my opinion would be to plant the idea of needing help in their head but to make it seem that it originally came from them since people are more willing to take their own ideas seriously than others.

    This may or may not work for our friend but the only thing you can do is give it a try and be patient.
  5. Gelsemium

    Gelsemium Community Champion

    I think that if a person hasn't decided to quit we should never confront them, but try to speak their own language. If we manage to do so they will see us as friends and not like someone who wants to remove the addiction from them or that is condemning their actions.
  6. maryannballeras

    maryannballeras Senior Contributor

    I think the best thing to do here is for you to talk to your friends in a friendly manner. Just make it clear with them that you're not talking to them to accuse them or say it to their face that they are alcoholics or addicted, but rather, you just want to help.
  7. Allen24

    Allen24 Active Contributor

    recoverymentor made a lot of good points. Try not to sound superior or like you are giving a lecture. If you're concerned for a friend, you know how they'll react under pressure/stress. If it helps, approach them casually and at ease but have conviction. Be concerned (this will be natural) but also understanding.

    Think of what you might want to hear in a similar situation. You might not want someone coming down on you like a parent or the law. If it were me, I'd want a friend seriously reaching out.
  8. Gelsemium

    Gelsemium Community Champion

    Yep, that is exactly it, we can't lecture, we should act as a peer if we want to be heard or else our friend will not listen to us. So the first step is to make them listen to us.
  9. Charli

    Charli Community Champion

    I think it's best just not to sound preachy. If you speak to people as if you are on a somewhat higher level, they tend to take offense to that, no matter if they are alcoholic or even if they are doing well. As long as you speak in a manner that is just coming from one person to another and admit that you are probably just as clueless as everyone else, then you probably have a better chance of reaching the person.
  10. Gelsemium

    Gelsemium Community Champion

    Sounding preachy is bad indeed, no one wants that, offering time, being available, showing we care without imposition is the best way to act.
  11. Rainman

    Rainman Community Champion

    Never ask a friend to stop drinking, "right now."

    Yeah abstinence might initially seem to be a great solution but that would in some ways make things worse. The person could have psychological dependence on the drug so the moment the cravings strike and they just can't help themselves, they'll dash to the nearest place they can get liquor and their drinking from then on could get worse once they realize that they just can't do without alcohol.

    Also, if the friend hasn't heard all that stuff about addiction to substances being genetic, DON'T tell them that it's in their genes. If it's in the genes would that person even try to stop drinking?
  12. Nick W.

    Nick W. Community Listener Community Listener

    I like to ask questions, rather than make statements. "How do you feel about this?" "What's your opinion on..." I think that it gives a sense of control and power to the person you're asking the questions to, and allows them to think about how they want to respond, without feeling too much pressure. Interacting is a two way street, lecturing is usually one way, I think that's something to keep in consideration when trying to communicate effectively.
    Gelsemium likes this.
  13. skullalif

    skullalif Member

    As i have experienced handling my struggling friends over the years, i never even tried to speak up about their problems even once, i'd prefer and understood that they would be much happier when we treat them normally, but when they started complaining about their problems, i am all ears and i usually took them to do something fun afterwards. As they say, it is easier to do something new than to stop doing something.
  14. Gelsemium

    Gelsemium Community Champion

    Pretty much this! Ask him how he feels, how he sees a certain situation, that is the best approach because he will realize "by himself" what's going on.
    Nick W. likes this.
  15. Abolarinde

    Abolarinde Member

    Do not ever tell him he is a sinner or try to condemn him. Show him you love him and tell him that he can actually become a better person without drinking. Calling him a sinner or condemning him makes him become worse and defensive.
  16. LostmySis

    LostmySis Senior Contributor

    Find out if they have been to AA in the past. If so, they know they have a problem. I have seen many who relapse then do not go back, and they know they have a problem. If they have been in AA or rehab, it might help to educate yourself and talk to him about steps and use the slogans. The big book has most of the arguments alcoholics will give as well as situations and stories that might be relevant with the person. If you know someone in AA who might talk to him/her or even take him to a meeting. Addicts are more likely to talk to other addicts, especially if they hear a similar story. that is the back bone of the 12 step programs. Good luck, and we are here for you.
  17. OhioTom76

    OhioTom76 Senior Contributor

    Don't blow it out of proportion if they have some drinks every once in a while along their path to recovery - try not to be so absolutist, making remarks like "here we go again, looks like he fell off the wagon" or "once an alcoholic always an alcoholic" type rhetoric. That is really defeatist language, and if you are always going to treat the person like they are a helpless drunk even when they are making efforts to sober up, then you really aren't giving them any incentive to truly quit. If you're going to constantly treat a person like a helpless drunk, then they may as well continue drinking then...
  18. Lanny

    Lanny Member

    Before you can help out a friend struggling with alcohol, you need to understand the nature of addiction, then you have to learn to figure out how hard you can press up against this wall of fear. It can be a tricky balance to attain. Confronting your friend can be a good method. You should never give up hope on them, and you should have a consistent message for them without badgering them. Make sure they know that help is available for them if and when they want it.
    Gelsemium likes this.
  19. Gelsemium

    Gelsemium Community Champion

    I agree, if we do have experienced it we will have an easier time getting to him, that is why support groups are so important, everyone there has experienced the same thing.
  20. I know a guy who went to rehab and when he came back I was really happy to see that he was well. I encouraged him to get his life back on track. A few days later I bumped into him drunk out of his mind. It was a very sad day to see him like that. It's been a few months now and I'm still encouraging him. I never criticize him, but I find myself frustrated at times and I tell him "Only you can decide to change. It is your choice". I don't know whether this is too harsh.