Chances are, if you’re not an alcoholic yourself, it’s not easy to determine what to say to someone who struggles with addiction — whether they are in recovery or not.
Alcoholics in active addiction tend to be defensive of their actions, and even more so when someone confronts them about those actions and the role that alcohol plays. Due to this defensive nature, it can be difficult to sit down and have a conversation with them about their drinking habits.
On the flip side, it can also be hard to approach a conversation about alcoholism with an alcoholic in recovery for fear of saying the wrong thing or offending them in some way.
Based on personal experience, I’ve learned there are certain things you should and should not say to get the most out of a well-meaning conversation with someone who has a problem with alcohol or is in recovery from alcoholism. These guidelines for engaging in conversation can help when you’re concerned about someone’s drinking or just want to understand more.
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What To Say to an Alcoholic in Active Use:
“I’m concerned about you because _______.”
When approaching a conversation with someone in active use, it’s important to have concrete examples to back up your statements of concern. Simply saying “I am concerned about you” isn’t likely to impact the person because there is no reasoning behind the statement. A solid example makes them more likely to take what you have to say to heart. For instance, you may say, “I am concerned about you because you have been going to the bar each night, having six or more drinks, and then driving yourself home.”
“If you continue to drink, we can’t _________.”
Sometimes alcoholics need to understand what’s really at stake because of their drinking. While this may not always help them see the reality of the situation immediately, they may begin to think about what you said over time. It could eventually play a role in them deciding to get help for their drinking. You might tell them, for instance, that you will not continue to go to dinner with them if they’re going to become intoxicated.
“I will be here when you decide you’re ready to get help.”
Most alcoholics aren’t going to be ready to get help when their loved ones want them to. Because of this, you may have to remove yourself from that person’s life until they are ready to admit to having a problem. This does not mean you should shun them forever. Make it known that while you’re going to distance yourself now, you will be available when they decide to go to treatment or if they need help getting started with recovery.
What To Say to an Alcoholic in Recovery:
“I’m here if you want to talk.”
When I was new to sobriety and recovery, this phrase meant the world to me. Just knowing that someone was there when and if I was ready to talk about getting sober was a calming feeling. It made me feel less alone to know someone was available to talk to and that I had some control over the conversation because it would be when I was ready.
“I am proud of you.”
These five words can make a world of difference for someone in recovery. Just knowing that someone else sees the effort you are making and appreciates it can set a positive tone for sobriety. It lets you know that while this may be your journey, you are far from alone in it. Knowing other people are investing in your well-being is an irreplaceable feeling.
“Are you OK with _______?”
Whether we are going to a party or a restaurant, it feels good when people stop to take a moment and make sure I will be comfortable in an atmosphere where not everyone will be sober. Even though I have the tools to speak up if I feel uncomfortable, someone asking this question first shows that they are paying attention and care about my life choices.
Keep in mind that recovering from alcoholism requires the person in recovery to avoid the people, places and things associated with their addiction. If going out to restaurants and drinking was a part of a person’s active addiction, it’s important to understand that something as simple as going to dinner with you can be triggering, so it’s considerate to ensure the alcoholic in recovery is comfortable with your plans, no matter how harmless they may seem to you.
“Are you willing to tell me about why you no longer drink?”
I feel better telling people about my life choices when they ask kindly rather than demand a reason. If someone asked for more information about the reasoning behind my choices, I would never refuse to tell them more. I enjoy talking about recovery and what got me to where I am in sobriety, and spreading that message is important. However, when people phrase it like, “So are you, like, an alcoholic?” it sounds judgmental and makes me not want to elaborate. As with most conversations, it’s all about how you approach a topic.
Though every person and situation is different, these suggestions provide a starting point when opening the doors of discussion surrounding alcoholism. When it comes down to it, a successful conversation is about being kind and empathetic without enabling destructive behavior to continue.
4 Consequences I Faced In Active Alcohol Addiction
When in active alcohol addiction, many aspects of a person’s life become affected—and usually not in a positive way. Just because alcohol is legal does not mean it cannot impact your life negatively when abused. Still, many people, including myself, find this out the hard way.
When I was drinking, I faced many consequences because of my addiction. At first, these were small consequences, but as time went on they became larger. At the time it was hard to recognize that alcohol was the root of all the problems in my life, but in retrospect, it has become very clear that alcohol and I didn’t mix. When I removed it from the equation, I found myself facing fewer consequences and able to start building back a life I loved. The following are some of the consequences that I faced as a result of my addiction and over time, sobriety has allowed me to repair.
- Relationship Deterioration
When my drinking really picked up, it began to affect the relationships in my life. My friends became irritated with always having to look out for me to make sure I stayed safe. They were fed up with my inability to control my drinking, to the point that one of my good friends told me he no longer wanted me coming over. That was one of the lowest points in my drinking, and the amount of guilt and shame I felt was immense.
My family became worried about me, but I constantly brushed aside their concerns and made excuses for myself. Though people thought there might be a problem, I was in denial. But their concern should have made me worry.
Instead, I was always denying or pushing the blame elsewhere. Since getting sober, I have come to realize the positions I put them in. I’ve done what I can to repair the relationships I had damaged, and for the most part, people have been forgiving and kind. If I had drank longer, I doubt that would have been the case. I was lucky to get sober while I was still fairly young before more damage could be done to the relationships in my life.
- An Unhealthy Physical Appearance
I didn’t realize it at the time, but drinking took a large toll on my body. Though I didn’t suffer any lasting health problems from my drinking, I did gain a good amount of weight.
Vodka was my drink of choice, and one shot alone has 100 calories. If you multiply those calories by the multiple drinks I was drinking on multiple days of the week, the calorie intake of alcohol alone was through the roof.
But when drunk, I was also always hungry, so I ate whatever I wanted and as much as I wanted. When I stopped drinking, I rapidly started to lose weight. In the time since I have gained it back, but it distributes itself differently, especially in my face. When I see photos from when I was drinking, my face was always bloated, and my skin had a yellowish tint. It’s beyond me how I didn’t realize this at the time. But today I feel healthy and happy with my appearance the majority of the time, and even when I don’t, I no longer drink to forget about it. Instead, I go to the gym or try to make better daily choices.
- Ability To Perform Daily Tasks
This is a large indicator of alcoholism. Towards the end of my drinking career, the days following drinking became harder. I often felt intensely hungover, to the point that the thought of going to class or work felt too overwhelming and impossible. I remember dragging myself to class one day and making it to the door of the building, only to promptly turn around after realizing I was going to vomit.
I should have realized the extent of my drinking problem when it began to affect my day-to-day life like this, but I tried so hard to convince myself that I was in college and excessive drinking was the norm. But that wasn’t the case. My friends drank, but they could control themselves and feel well enough the next day to do what they needed to do. In contrast, I felt completely incapacitated and needed a day of recovery after drinking.
- My Reputation
In high school, I was generally known as a good kid with a stable head on my shoulders. In college, I decided that wasn’t what I wanted to be anymore. As my drinking picked up, I became known as the crazy drinker, the one who never stopped when she should have. People knew who I was because of what I had done or said at parties when I was intoxicated. At the time I found this funny, but looking back it was just embarrassing. I should have wanted to be known for being a kind person, or a good student, but instead, I settled for being the party girl. Luckily in the three and a half years since I stopped drinking, I’ve been able to rebuild my reputation and start over with a clean slate. Having a good reputation is something that people should consider important, and if drinking hinders that reputation, there may be a problem.
Though in active addiction it may seem impossible to overcome any of these consequences, it is possible. Sobriety gave me the chance to repair the damage that I had inflicted both upon myself and others, and it can do the same for anyone who gives a sober life a real chance.
If your loved one is struggling with alcoholism and you want them to seek treatment, holding a successful intervention often involves having a professional interventionist supporting you and a treatment facility in mind. Contact The Recovery Village to discuss treatment options and next steps with their helpful representatives.
Melemis, Steven M. “Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery.” Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, September 3, 2015. Accessed July 29, 2021.
- Medical Disclaimer
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.