Tips for Confronting an Alcoholic: Empathy in Addiction Treatment

June 16, 2023

Addiction | Barbara Decker

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Key Takeaways

  • Alcoholism is a disease that changes how the brain works, causing a person to drink a lot even though it harms them and their family.
  • If you’re worried about a loved one’s drinking, it’s important to talk to them when they’re sober, express your concern without blaming them, and encourage them to get help.
  • It’s crucial to support them in their recovery journey, but remember not to cover up for their mistakes or give them money for alcohol – that’s not help, it’s enabling their addiction.

Navigating the labyrinth of a loved one’s addiction can be a heart-wrenching journey, filled with a complex mix of emotions – worry, fear, anger, and sometimes, even guilt.

When that loved one is entrapped in the clutches of alcoholism, the journey often becomes even more convoluted.

The question that looms large is – how do you confront an alcoholic family member? How do you breach the walls of denial, navigate the turbulent waters of their resistance, and guide them toward the shores of recovery?

This article aims to shed light on these questions, providing you with a compass to navigate this challenging terrain.

Drawing from personal experiences, scientific research, and years of professional expertise, we will explore the intricacies of alcoholism, and offer practical, empathetic advice on confronting and supporting a loved one battling this disease.

Understanding Alcoholism as a Disease

Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a chronic disease characterized by an inability to manage drinking habits.

Given the breadth of my exposure to all the families that I’ve helped, it’s not merely a lack of willpower or a sign of moral weakness, as stigmatized by society. The science behind alcohol addiction reveals that it is a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. When a person consumes alcohol, it alters the brain’s structure and function, leading to changes in mood, behavior, and bodily functions.

The impact of alcohol abuse extends beyond the individual.

It casts a long, dark shadow over their family, disrupting harmony and causing emotional turmoil. It can lead to financial problems, mental health issues, and even violence, creating a toxic environment that affects everyone involved.

The impact of alcohol abuse extends beyond the individual, casting a long, dark shadow over their family, disrupting harmony and causing emotional turmoil. It can lead to financial problems, mental health issues, and even violence, creating a toxic environment that affects everyone involved, while guiding a loved one towards recovery becomes crucial.

Impact on Individual Impact on Family
Physical health issues Emotional turmoil
Mental health problems Financial problems
Social isolation Increased stress


Recognizing the Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder in a Loved One

Learn to recognize the signs of alcohol use disorder in a loved one with this informative image. Discover the warning signs and take action to help those who need it most. Read on to educate yourself and make a difference in someone's life.

Here are some of the most important signs of alcohol use disorder:

Physical and Behavioral Signs Emotional and Psychological Signs
Frequent intoxication Increased irritability
Neglect of personal grooming Depression
Changes in social activities Difficulty concentrating


Recognizing the signs of alcohol use disorder in a loved one is the first step towards intervention. Physical and behavioral signs may include frequent intoxication, neglect of personal grooming, and changes in social activities. Emotional and psychological changes, such as increased irritability, depression, and difficulty concentrating, can also indicate a problem. If you’re increasingly worried about these signs, it may be time to consult an intervention specialist. These professionals can provide guidance and support, helping your loved one become willing to consider treatment options for their addiction.


Denial often plays a significant role in alcohol use disorder. The person struggling with the need to drink may downplay their drinking or hide evidence of their consumption.

It is a psychological defense mechanism that is deeply intertwined with alcohol use disorder. It serves multiple functions in the context of addiction, making it a significant factor to consider:

  • Defining Denial: Denial refers to the refusal or inability to acknowledge the reality or severity of a situation. It’s like when you see someone close to you, like a son struggling with drug addiction, and they just refuse to admit they have a problem. For those grappling with alcohol abuse and alcoholism, denial can take the form of an outright rejection of the problem or a downplaying of their drinking habits. They might insist they have their drinking “under control,” dismiss their excessive drinking as “just having fun,” or argue they can “quit anytime they want to.”
  • The Role of Denial: The role of denial in struggling with alcohol addiction is complex. While denial shields individuals from confronting their addiction, it also affects the roles family members assume within this challenging situation. It often acts as a protective shield, helping individuals avoid the painful reality of their addiction. Acknowledging the truth about their drinking means confronting the harm they’ve caused to themselves and others, the missed opportunities, and the damaged relationships. This confrontation can be overwhelming, and denial provides a refuge, allowing individuals to continue their destructive behavior without facing the consequences.
  • The Impact of Denial: Denial, while providing a temporary refuge, also creates a significant barrier to recovery. It prevents individuals from recognizing the extent of their problem and seeking the help they need. This can be incredibly frustrating for family members and friends who see the clear signs of struggling with alcohol but are met with resistance or hostility when they express their concerns.

Breaking through the wall of denial is often the first major hurdle in the journey towards recovery. Having dedicated a significant portion of my life to helping families who are just trying to help someone they love, I know that it requires patience, understanding, and professional help to dismantle this barrier and guide the individual towards acknowledging their problem and seeking help.

As a family member, it’s extremely important to trust your instincts and seek help if you suspect a problem.

UPDATED: Discover the 3 life-changing things about addiction I wish I knew years ago

Preparing to Confront an Alcoholic Family Member

Confronting an alcoholic family member requires careful preparation. Start by gathering information and resources on substance abuse to understand the disease better. Recognize your emotions, such as fear, anger, or guilt, and set boundaries for your own wellbeing.

Dos and Don’ts When Confronting an Alcoholic

Do’s Don’ts
Approach with love and concern Avoid blaming or criticizing
Focus on specific behaviors Do not label them as an alcoholic
Be prepared for denial or anger Do not lose your calm


How to Talk to Someone About Their Drinking

Learn how to talk to someone about their drinking with our helpful guide. Our tips and strategies will help you approach the conversation with confidence and compassion. Get the support you need to help a loved one overcome alcohol addiction and lead a healthier, happier life.

Starting a conversation with a loved one about their drinking habits can be incredibly challenging. It’s a delicate topic that can stir up a whirlwind of emotions. However, approaching the conversation with empathy, patience, and preparation can make the process more manageable and productive. Here are some key points to consider:

Choosing the Right Time and Place

Timing and setting can significantly influence the outcome of your conversation. Here are some tips:

  • Avoid confrontation when they are under the influence: Alcohol can impair judgment and escalate emotions, making a constructive conversation difficult.
  • Choose a quiet, private setting: A calm environment can help minimize distractions and make the person feel more comfortable.
  • Ensure you have ample time: Rushing the conversation can make the person feel pressured, so ensure you have enough time to talk things through.

Using “I” Statements to Express Concern

The way you phrase your concerns can impact how the person receives your message. Using “I” statements can help you express your feelings without sounding accusatory. For example:

  • Instead of saying, “You’re always drinking, and it’s ruining our family,” try, “I feel worried when I see you drinking every day, and I’m concerned about how it’s affecting our family.”

Anticipating Reactions and Handling Resistance

It’s important to prepare for a range of reactions. The person may:

  • Deny the problem: They might insist they don’t have a problem or can quit anytime they want. In such cases, reiterate your concern and provide specific examples of their behavior that worry you.
  • Become defensive: They may feel attacked and respond with anger. Try to remain calm and restate your concern and love for them.
  • Blame others: They might try to shift the blame to others or external circumstances. Gently but firmly bring the focus back to their drinking and its consequences.

Encouraging Them to Get Help

If the person is open to your concerns, encourage them to seek professional help. You could:

  • Provide them with information about different treatment options.
  • Offer to accompany them to a doctor’s appointment or support group meeting.
  • Reassure them of your support throughout their journey to recovery.

Remember, it’s crucial to approach this conversation with empathy and patience. It may not result in immediate change, but it’s a significant first step in helping a loved one address their drinking problem.

WATCH: Free, confidential workshop that explains how to "Love Another Way"

Enabling vs Supporting: Navigating the Dynamics of Love and Alcoholism

Understanding the difference between enabling and supporting is extremely important when dealing with a loved one battling addiction, whether it’s alcohol or drugs. In fact, if you’re grappling with the question of dealing with a drug addicted daughter, this distinction is crucial. Enabling involves actions that protect the person from the consequences of their drinking addiction, such as covering up for them or providing them with money for drugs or alcohol. While it may seem like you’re helping, enabling only perpetuates the cycle of addiction.

Supporting, on the other hand, involves actions that encourage recovery, like expressing concern about their drinking, encouraging them to seek help, and participating in their treatment. Fueled by all my years of dedication to helping families maintain peaceful conversations, remember that you can provide support without compromising your own wellbeing.

Seeking Professional Help for Alcohol Use Disorder

Looking for professional help for alcohol use disorder? Our team of experts is here to provide the support and guidance you need to overcome addiction. Get the help you deserve today.

When a loved one is struggling with continuing to drink, professional help may be necessary. This can include detoxification, counseling, medication, and support groups. The choice of treatment depends on the individual’s needs and circumstances.

Types of Treatment Options

Types of Treatment Description
Detoxification Medical supervision to manage withdrawal symptoms
Counseling Therapy to address emotional and psychological issues
Medication Drugs to help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms
Support groups Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous for peer support


The family plays a critical role in the recovery process. Your support can provide the motivation and strength they need to overcome freedom from addiction. However, it’s also important to take care of your own mental and emotional health during this challenging time.

Exploring available support groups and addiction programs designed for families can offer valuable insights and a sense of community to help navigate this journey together.

WATCH: Free, confidential workshop that explains how to "Love Another Way"

The Journey Towards Recovery and Healing

Confronting an alcoholic family member is a journey towards recovery and healing. It requires patience, persistence, and a lot of courage. Celebrate small victories, like a day, a week, or a month of sobriety. Encourage your loved one to seek help and maintain sobriety, and remember, you’re not alone in this journey. There are resources and support groups available to help both you and your loved one navigate this challenging path.

Frequently Asked Questions About Confronting an Alcoholic Family Member

What do you do when a family member won’t stop drinking?

When a family member won’t stop drinking, it’s crucial to express your concern, provide support, and encourage them to seek professional help. It’s important to approach them when they’re sober and talk about specific behaviors that worry you, without blaming or criticizing. Remember, you cannot force them to stop drinking – they have to make that decision themselves. But you can provide them with the information, resources, and emotional support they need to make that decision.

What to say to someone who won’t stop drinking?

When talking to someone who won’t stop drinking, it’s important to express your concern in a non-judgmental way and encourage them to seek help. Use “I” statements to communicate how their drinking affects you, such as “I feel worried when I see you drinking every day.” Avoid blaming or criticizing, which can lead to defensiveness and resistance.

What are 3 effects on family members of an alcoholic?

Family members of an alcoholic often experience emotional turmoil, financial problems, and increased stress. The emotional turmoil can include feelings of fear, anger, guilt, and shame. Financial problems can arise from the alcoholic’s spending on alcohol or their inability to hold down a job. The stress of living with an alcoholic can also lead to physical health problems, such as sleep disturbances, headaches, and high blood pressure.

What happens to the family of an alcoholic?

The family of an alcoholic often experiences a range of negative impacts, including emotional distress, financial instability, and relationship strain. The home environment can become unpredictable and chaotic, leading to anxiety and fear. Family members may also take on harmful roles, such as the enabler who covers up for the alcoholic’s behavior, or the hero who takes on adult responsibilities to maintain a sense of normalcy. These dynamics can lead to long-term emotional and psychological harm for all family members.

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