How to Talk to Someone About Their Abuse of Alcohol and Drugs

Posted by Prelude on Apr 15, 2015 2:55:00 PM


Drop a pebble into a pool of water and witness the ripple effect the small stone creates.  Much like that pebble, the emotional and sometimes physical effects of addiction ripples out far beyond the person who has the problem. It affects their spouses, children, friends, and other relationships. Eventually, substance abuse ripples out into our communities.

Two-thirds of American families have been impacted by substance abuse.  No doubt, inevitably you’ll need to talk with a loved one, a friend or employee about their dependency on alcohol or drugs. While only you can steer this conversation, there are a few tried-and-true guide points that you should follow:

Be Prepared

Know the points you want to make, how you are going to express them, and plan your script.  Regardless of the response from the person of concern, keep returning to those points. 

Focus on the Behavior

Remember, your friend or loved one is not a bad person, no matter how bad you consider their behavior to be.

Use “I statements” to explain the impact your loved one’s behavior is having on you.  Your goal is not to belittle or shame, but to explain how the other person’s behavior impacts you, your family, the workplace. “When you come home late I ….. When you use money I …. When you miss family events, I feel ….”

Be Sincere

Just like a conversation you’d have with your boss, your spouse or anyone else—sincerity counts. The way you approach the conversation and your tone of voice are equally as important as what you’re trying to say.

Show you care with your words and behavior, and always act with sincere kindness and compassion.

Time It Correctly

If you’re considering talking to a friend or loved one about their addiction, the time you approach them to discuss their addiction is crucially important. Only consider having this conversation when they’re sober and aware of their actions.

Let Them Talk Too

You’re not having a conversation at your friend or loved one, you’re talking with them. This means validating their fears and concerns, giving them time to talk, too. Don’t stand on a soapbox and chew them out.

By giving your friend or loved one time to speak their mind, you’ll learn more about their state of mind and how they feel about the situation at hand. And they’ll get to speak their mind without fear of retribution or escalation of conflict.

Hold Your Tongue

When you have a conversation with a person who is abusing alcohol or drugs, at some point you’ll want to raise your voice. It’s upsetting to have this conversation, and you’ll likely get frustrated and angry.

The most important thing to do in this situation is to hold your tongue. Don’t say or do anything to escalate the situation. Only say reassuring things, and let your actions back up your words. Don’t back the abuser into a corner. Don’t risk saying something upsetting or you’ll alienate them.

Don’t Restate the Obvious

You’re having a conversation about addiction with a person who is abusing substances. Most abusers know they have an issue, and they don’t need someone restating the obvious for them.

Let Them Know They are Not Alone

Let your friend or loved one know you’re there for them, and that you’re hoping they seek help for their issue.

Tell Them What you Expect

Be prepared, do your homework and know what is reasonable to ask. Tell them you want to see a change.  Tell them you expect them to get assistance.  Have resources available for them to contact.

Then follow through.  At some point you may need to provide an ultimatum. I expect you to do X, or I will do Y.  Only make that ultimatum if you are willing and able to follow through.

Most Importantly

Know that you are not alone. There are professionals who deal with these issues on a daily basis and can offer advice or participate in the conversation. You may be able to control a conversation, but you cannot control the abuser. It’s important that you take care of yourself.


 There is hope.  Contact Prelude Iowa so you can begin your road to recovery from addiction.

Topics: Addicton

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At Prelude, we work tirelessly to improve the lives of individuals, their families, and members of their communities.

From prevention to intensive residential care, Prelude offers a range of services to help you and your loved one lead a full, productive life.  Prelude Behavioral Services has been providing comprehensive services since 1969. We are committed to serving hard-to-reach and disenfranchised populations and to breaking down barriers that hinder access to behavioral health care for all Iowans.



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