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Tips for talking to a loved one about their drinking

See how they feel about change

If they don’t see a problem, they may accuse you of nagging or over-reacting.

If they have been thinking about change, they may be relieved to talk about how they're feeling.

If they want to change, they might appreciate your support and advice.

What you might say:

“Are you worried about your drinking at all?”

“I feel like you’re drinking is getting a bit out of control. Do you think you might need to cut down a bit?”

“You seem to be drinking a lot lately. Are you OK?”

Plan what you are going to say

Being prepared can help you to avoid getting emotional or angry, or saying something that you may regret.

Pick a good time

Talk when they are in good form and not under the influence of alcohol. Avoid first thing in the morning or when they are suffering from a hangover.

Avoid blame and accusations

Your loved one may already be upset or worried about their drinking or feel guilty. They may get defensive or ‘switch off’ if they feel they are under attack. 

What you might say:

“I’m a bit worried about your drinking.”

“I want to talk to you about something: I feel that your drinking is causing you some problems.”

“You seem to be drinking more lately and I think it’s having a bad effect on us.”

Talk about your worries and feelings

Talk about why you are concerned, and explain how their drinking is affecting you.

Use examples to explain

Real examples can help to show the consequences of the drinking.

What you might say:

“John was upset when you were hungover and didn’t take him to football.”

"I was looking forward to watching the movie with you and I was really disappointed when you stayed in the pub.”

“You were very aggressive to me at the weekend when you had been drinking and it made me feel scared.”

Don't give mixed messages

Be consistent in what you say and do. If you believe the person has a drinking problem based on the symptoms and behaviour and you tell them that you're worried, continuing to drink with them could send a confusing message.

Be prepared for resistance

If someone has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, they may feel very defensive when someone brings it up, unless they are already thinking about change.

They may get angry, refuse to talk about it, dismiss what you are saying or laugh it off.

Not accepting there is a problem is a common response, as it is a way to protect ourselves from a difficult or painful reality and avoid thinking about making a difficult change. Read about dependence and denial.

Don’t push the issue

It’s not helpful to get into a verbal fight or to keep repeating the same argument. If they won’t talk about it, leave it for a while.

What you might say:

“OK. But I hope you’ll think about it, because it is worrying me.”

Don’t give up

This doesn’t mean commenting and criticising whenever they are drinking, but let them know your feelings and that you are there for them.

Return to the conversation again, repeating the steps above.

Remember  - you can't make someone change.

Get help for yourself and other family members if problem drinking is affecting you.

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