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How to Confront an Alcoholic – Without Losing Your Cool


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“I’m worried about your drinking, and I think you should get a professional assessment from an addiction recovery specialist.”

“You think I drink too much? Wow. I had no idea you were concerned. I will make an appointment this week.”

If only it were this easy.

Here’s a more realistic version of the above conversation:

“I’m worried about your drinking, and I think you should get a professional assessment.”

“What?! My drinking is fine. Relax. Why don’t you stop complaining? Then, I wouldn’t need to drink.”

Watching someone you love slowly destroy themselves with alcohol or drugs is one of life’s most painful experiences. The nature of the disease makes the addicted brain a clouded and dangerous foe. Under the influence of a substance use disorder, a person struggling with addiction will become someone unrecognizable, willing to say and do whatever is necessary to maintain their habit.

The truth, however, is a powerful antidote to addiction. Identifying the truth, in the face of a family disease like addiction, isn’t an easy task. This is especially true if you’ve been living with active addiction.

To help, we’ve put together some tips on constructively confronting someone struggling with alcohol addiction.

Six Tips for Confronting an Alcoholic

  1. Don’t go it alone. Seek the help of an addiction recovery professional and a 12-step group like Al-Anon for loved ones. Confronting an alcoholic can end up in chaos without the right support. It’s vitally important to have folks around you who understand addiction. This disease is cunning and baffling to most.
  1. Choose your timing carefully. Confronting an addicted person at 4 a.m. when they wander into the house isn’t the best idea. You’d be better off confronting the family dog. Plan your approach and timing with professionals or the support of others who have been in a similar situation. A 4 a.m. rant at someone who has had too much to drink is more likely to end in an argument, rather than the hoped-for result of treatment and help.
  1. Find your truth. People in active addiction are masters at shifting the focus away from their drug use. When your buttons get pushed, and your every weakness is put in the spotlight, stick to your truth that the person needs help. Choose a mantra: “When you break promises so you can drink, I feel hurt and don’t want to be around you. I’m concerned about you and hope you get help.”
  1. Know when to step away. When you sense things are headed into an impasse or feel tension beginning to escalate, step away. This is especially true if you’re attempting to handle this conversation without an addiction recovery professional present. Do not put yourself in harm’s way.
  1. Trust the process and wait for the gift of desperation. No one wants to hurt the ones they love, even an active alcoholic. Each broken promise takes a toll, even if the person shows no remorse. Follow your own truth. If you need to step away in order to save your own sanity, do so. It’s okay to put distance between yourself and the addicted person. Sometimes a person struggling with a substance use disorder needs everyone to step away in order to see themselves clearly in the mirror.
  1. Practice unconditional love and save yourself. Whether you are around to watch or not, the illness of addiction will continue. If the alcoholic understands he is loved and there are tools at his disposal for recovery, this may be the best you can do.

If you take nothing else away from these tips, remember this key point: No amount of arguing, nagging, lecturing, common sense, pleading, or begging will get an addicted person to stop using their drug of choice. When it’s all said and done, you will simply look back on a lot of wasted time and emotion. Addiction is not something you created and you cannot control it.

Addiction recovery isn’t about talk, it’s about action. Instead of waiting for an alcoholic to take their next drink, get yourself the help you need. Find support from addiction treatment professionals to have a strong conversation with the person you love, and make sure you have a strong support network to help you, too.

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