What’s the best way to tell someone that you suspect they have a drinking problem? What if you’re not sure they have a problem? Maybe you just have a gut feeling—a feeling that they might be hiding the extent of their drinking from you. Is that enough to go on?
I’ve been in the frustrating situation where I’ve confronted someone about their drinking, been shot down, and dropped the whole thing. Then I get that “if only” sinking feeling that I’m not doing enough to help that person—if only I could find the right words, if only I could give them that ah-ha moment. If only–
Here’s a re-creation of a conversation I’ve had:
“I’m worried about your drinking.”
“Well, it’s genetic, and your mother’s an alcoholic, for one. Every time I’m with you, everything revolves around getting that next drink.”
“Every time you see me, I’m on vacation. Everyone drinks on vacation.”
Good point. Good point. “But you always seem to have a headache the next day, and you’re down for the count, but you still do the same thing, the next time.”
“You and your husband drink.”
“True, but we can take it or leave it.”
“I can stop drinking if I want. I just don’t want to.”
“I was worried because you were drinking during lunch. You had two glasses of wine. I don’t do that.”
Exasperated: “I was on vacation. You’re just paranoid because you’re the daughter of an alcoholic.”
“Okay, maybe I am, but I just have a weird feeling about your drinking. Remember the time you hit your head?”
“You have a weird feeling about everyone’s drinking, and I was upset about something.”
And so on and so on. These conversations can go on forever, circling around and around until you’re sorry you brought it up in the first place.
Then there’s the fear: fear of alienating someone altogether, and then what help will you be? You don’t want to drive the person underground, so they feel they have to hide things from you even more than they already do.
Maybe you have to wait until someone hits rock bottom for an intervention. Or perhaps it’s better to round up a group of that person’s friends and family, and do the intervention in person. But only when you know for sure. Maybe the person is just a heavy drinker. It’s a gray area, because no one wears a sign on their forehead saying, “I’m an alcoholic.”
And what about the Al-Anon credo to “Let go and let God?” There’s the school of thought that says people have to learn from their mistakes, and they have to want to change.
So what’s a person to do? Have you ever been in that situation? If so, how did you handle it, and did your approach work?
Problem or heavy drinkers can possibly stop drinking by behavior modification. Alcoholics, on the other hand, are different. Here are some points, culled from Rebos, at Allexperts.com. These points apply to someone who is actually an alcoholic, and not just a problem drinker.
1) Stopping drinking is not a matter of willpower. Alcoholism is a disease. Drinking alcoholically is but a symptom of a deeper underlying problem that must be faced up to in order for an alcoholic to recover. For the alcoholic there is no such thing as cutting down, drinking only on weekends, changing what they drink, smoking pot or taking other mind altering drugs or even switching to “near beer” with 0.5% alcohol. For the alcoholic nothing will work short of total and complete abstinence from any thing that contains alcohol or other mind-altering substances (drugs).
2) Unfortunately, all alcoholics must hit their own bottom before they do anything about stopping (if they ever do). I am sorry to say that hitting a bottom for some many may mean going as low as a person can go…plus six feet! Don’t let her take you there with her. Let her go if you must and get on with your life.
3) Until she “admits and accepts” that alcohol is causing her problems there is little you can do for her. Even those poor unfortunates who are in shelters “admit” that they are having a problem with drinking, but their “acceptance” to the point of doing something positive about it is what counts. No one can scare an alcoholic into stopping drinking. Cajoling, hand-wringing, threatening, begging and even putting them away against their will, will not get them to stop doing what they have not made up their own mind to do.
4) An active alcoholic’s choices become limited to: attending a recovery program like AA, or entering an in-patient detoxification clinic that has an after care outpatient program. I personally have never seen an alcoholic stop drinking on willpower alone. The disease (addiction) is too powerful.
The bottom line is—someone has got to want to stop drinking in order for anything to work.