How to Talk to a Loved One about Their Alcohol Use

We all know what a Hollywood-style “intervention” looks like, but that’s not the only way to have a conversation about heavy drinking with someone you love. In fact, staging an “intervention” can feel very threatening to a person struggling with heavy drinking.

Consider, instead, engaging that person you care and are concerned about in a two-way conversation about how drinking is affecting their life. Talking with someone about their relationship to alcohol can be a pivotal first step towards making a change.  

Starting a conversation with someone you love to discuss their drinking is never easy, but it’s important to speak up if you feel you should. Remember, one in four U.S. adults binge drink, which means there are a whole lot of loving friends and family members out there navigating these same waters!   

Here are some steps to help guide you through a conversation about heavy drinking with someone you care about.

Ask before you start.

Before you raise the issue, ask them if it’s okay for you to share something that’s been on your mind for some time. If they say yes, the conversation is beginning on their terms (which is always a good idea when you dive into tough topics with someone). If they say no, respect their choice. They are not in a place to hear you right now. Try again at another time.

Keep your questions open-ended.

Once you’ve started a conversation, try to avoid yes or no questions to keep the dialogue open. Here are some examples:

  1. What have you noticed about your drinking?
  2. How do you feel about your drinking?
  3. How does your drinking affect your life? 

Open-ended questions like these help the person you’re talking to share what is most important to them and only as much as they feel comfortable.

Show that you care.  

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Make sure, throughout the conversation, that you lead with compassion. Be aware that concern can sometimes be misconstrued as suspicion. Maintaining a caring demeanor will help the person feel comfortable opening up to you.  

Stick to the facts.  

The best thing you can do is demonstrate that you are not there to judge by keeping your comments straightforward. If you need help steering the conversation towards specific drinking behaviors, try stating something you’ve observed, without any judgement, and following that with another open-ended question. For example: “I noticed you’ve been having three or four glasses of wine after work when you used to only drink one or two. Why do you think that is?”

Let them think it through themselves.

Open-ended questions also encourage someone to self-reflect while reducing their natural inclination to be defensive. Once you’ve asked your question, stop and really listen. In fact, leave them more space than you think they need to reflect on your questions and answer you. Allowing someone to come to their own conclusions is an important step in their decision to make a change.

Check in afterward.

You can offer to collaborate with them in the next steps like seeking resources but, again, make sure you keep the conversation on their terms. Here’s some more information about what to look for in treatment.

Most importantly, make sure you are genuine at every stage of the conversation. This is the best way to keep your conversation going in a positive direction.

Good luck! I know these conversations aren’t easy, but they are so important.