Concerned about a loved one’s drinking habits, but not sure how to bring up such a sensitive issue? We’ve got you covered.
Addressing someone else’s behaviour is never easy—people don’t generally like being told what to do or how to act. But if you care about someone, and you’re worried they might be damaging their physical, mental and/or social wellbeing with their drinking, then you may need to just bite the bullet and have the conversation.
Let’s be clear: we’re not suggesting you go out and stage interventions for all your friends and family about their drinking. After all, it can be very hard to tell—alcohol is such an ingrained part of our society that warning signs can often be overlooked, and what’s normal drinking for one person can be entirely unusual for another. But if you do have concerns about someone you’re close to, and want to try to talk to them about it, then there’s some groundwork you should do first.
There are two important things to remember here:
- This kind of conversation gets best results when conveyed with love, support and empathy.
- The other person’s decisions are their own to make. Your goal is simply to help make them aware of something they may not realise on their own—not to force a change.
Before the conversation starts
Ask yourself one question before you even begin to broach this kind of topic: are you the right candidate for the job? What’s your relationship with this person—is there someone else in their life who’s in a better position to talk to them?
You want them to be as comfortable as possible, because that will have a big impact on how receptive they are. Think about whether there’s a close friend or family member with the same worries, who might be able to connect better, so the message has more chance of getting through in a non-judgemental way.
Time and place
If you decide you are the right choice, the next consideration is the time and place for the conversation. Try to think about where you would want someone to talk to you, if the shoe was on the other foot. Find somewhere private to avoid interruptions or embarrassment, and make sure you have enough time to see the conversation through—don’t just drop the bomb and then rush off somewhere else! Instead, show you’re there for the other person, available and present. Lastly, avoid raising the subject in the heat of the moment during or just after a heated argument—remember: love, support and empathy.
Choose your words wisely
Your ultimate goal is to help this person you care about, so make sure your language reflects that. That means avoiding accusatory phrases like ‘You’re drinking too much,’ ‘You’re ruining our weekends,’ or ‘You’re spending too much on booze!’ Instead, try to have an open conversation with the aim of understanding and exploring, rather than judging.
There are so many potential reasons for why someone’s drinking habits would change or escalate, so try to gently ask about possible triggers rather than focusing on the resulting alcohol intake. Proceed with caution though—for some people, the triggers link to an emotional root cause they don’t want to face. Consider questions like ‘Has anything changed recently that’s making you unhappy?’, ‘Are you feeling under a lot of pressure?’, or ‘Do you feel like you need something to fill your time?’
Really listen to the answers
If the person you’re trying to help opens up to you, it’s important to fully listen to what they have to say, and there are two reasons for this. The first is that depending on the person and circumstances, there may be ways you can help. For example, if they’ve been drinking more because they feel super stressed, then perhaps you could lend a hand finding alternative stress-relievers. The second is so the other person feels heard—sometimes that’s more valuable than anything practical you can offer. Talking things through and voicing thoughts out loud can be enough to create the awareness needed to start dealing with the problem themselves.
The alcohol itself probably isn’t the problem—the drinking is more likely a reaction to something deeper. Listen carefully so you can uncover what this is, and to show the other person that you’re willing to be there for them.
Try not to expect instant results. You may have been mulling this over for a little while leading up to the conversation, but it might be brand new information for them. Give them time to think—and again, remind yourself that it’s not your job to change their behaviour.
Help and resources
For more information, support or resources for reducing alcohol intake or taking a break from drinking, OYNB is here to help. We have a stack of blogs, podcasts and other resources including our global community that are only a click away.
An entrepreneur and former senior oil broker, Ruari gave up drinking after excessive consumption almost cost him his marriage, and worse, his life. Going alcohol-free improved his relationships, career and energy levels, leading to him founding OYNB to provide a support network for others.