How You Can Help An Alcoholic Who is in Denial?

help alcoholic in denial

How You Can Help An Alcoholic Who is in Denial? Most of my posts are directed to recovered alcoholics or to folks who think they might be alcoholics.

But this time I’m writing for friends and family who know someone who’s an alcoholic but hasn’t yet sought help.

You have realized that the person in question has a problem with alcohol and they need help. Confronting an alcoholic in denial in such a way that they will not get angry is difficult.

It becomes dicier if the person–we’ll call him Nick–is a high-functioning alcoholic, which means that most things his life may still look, sound, feel and appear normal. Nick is probably not yet ready to listen.

But you know that what you have to say to Nick is for his own good and that it comes from your good will. I’ve been Nick, so here are some ideas I have that might help you encounter him.

Think about the reasons why you want to confront the alcoholic

You must be very clear in your mind, in terms of intention, what to say and the expectations that you may have after the discussion. Know exactly why you are initiating the conversation; it may be his shabbiness, violent nature, loss of a job or spouse or a combination.
His behavior, one assumes, is unacceptable, but you have to be very specific.  You can’t just be angry and confront him in terms of some general problem.  The biggest thing that has to motivate you is legitimate concern for Nick himself. 

>Never start the discussion when he /she is drunk

This might sound slightly comical, but it’s actually true that a lot of people confront alcoholics when they–the alcoholic–is drunk.  It happens all the time–you’re angry because Nick is being a jerk, but if there’s a problem with Nick at the time, you have to defuse that situation first, and then wait until the next day to have the serious addiction conversation.
It has to be planned, and you have to be ready.  And Nick won’t listen when he’s drunk.

Avoid directly confronting or criticizing

So, you’ve gotten Nick at a time and place where you can have the big conversation.  Be sure to place the emphasis on how Nick’s drinking is affecting you as a person or family. Give specific examples; cite dates and places to bring Nick out of denial. You don’t want to make things personal, criticizing Nick as a person–you’re criticizing the sin, not the the sinner.
I know I was sensitive to people telling me about damage I’ve done–who wouldn’t be?

Place some boundaries on your relationship

The question then becomes what happens if Nick doesn’t change.  At some point, you’ll have to lay down some boundaries.  Let Nick know that things won’t be the same if he doesn’t clean up his drinking.  Your friendship or romantic relationship won’t be the same–you won’t give as much–if he doesn’t snap out of denial and make some changes.  I know things like this worked on me.

Dissect their Denial

Even though it is true that the hammer of rationality may not succeed with an alcoholic, it is advisable to reason with him.  Break down Nick’s excuses. While Nick’s emotions may get in the way from time to time, and while he may be a bit defensive, just because Nick is an alcoholic, that doesn’t mean he’s not at heart a rational person.

You know, sometimes alcoholics are actually waiting for someone to call them out–they’ll be more accepting than you think to having their thinking broken down.  At heart, they want to quit.

All in all, tact, patience and finesse are critical traits that you must develop and fully utilize when you plan to confront an alcoholic who is yet to accept that he has a problem. Don’t give up if you initially fail. Keep showing your concern and love through persistence.

Photo Credit Hamza Butt on Flickr