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Worried About Someone's Drinking?


It can be hard to know what to do when someone you love drinks too much. Like we say at OTI, there’s no objective answer to ‘how much is too much?’, but if you suspect someone is suffering because of alcohol it’s natural to want to help them.


I know that if someone had told me to stop drinking before I was ready, I wouldn’t have listened. I thought I was a party girl and that there was nothing wrong with my drinking. Because of drinking culture, and how well I hid how much I drank, it took a long time for anyone to intervene or talk to me about my problem. It was hard to hear, but it helped me get to where I am today.


Telling your loved ones about your concerns is far from easy. They might be vulnerable themselves, or it could be triggering for you if you are sober and struggle to see someone else go through something similar to you.


Drink Aware have put together an article that suggests how these situations can be addressed sensitively,, which could be useful for some members of our community. The rest of this article will outline some of their tips, and the link to the full article can be found here.


The first thing is spotting the signs. Signs that someone is struggling could appear in a multitude of ways – you might notice them getting drunk more often than usual, they might seem more tired, they might not be able to stop after a few drinks, or you might catch them lying about how much they’re drinking.


It could also be more subtle than that – you might notice their mental health declining, them not being as productive at work, or them being embarrassed about putting out the recycling because of the number of bottles in the glass bin.


For some people, they may outright tell you they struggle with drinking. Even if someone is self-aware and willing to share this, it can be hard to know what to say to them or how to address the situation.


The person you are worried about might not respond in the way you want them to. It’s important to be careful with your words and actions, because it’s likely this person is struggling, and to blame them may not be productive. Coming from a place of love and support influences the interaction in a positive way.


For us in the sober and sober-curious community, we can often empathise with how hard it might be to have a difficult relationship with alcohol. To hear someone else express concern about your drinking can be painful, so we should approach the topic with sensitivity and empathy, and choose a safe and comfortable environment to talk about it.


What to Say and What Not to Say


Language is a really useful tool, but when it comes to sensitive topics it’s important to choose your words wisely. Drink Aware have written out a list of phrases that may help when it comes to opening a dialogue about drinking:


  • "I've noticed that you aren't so positive since you've been drinking more. This isn't the kind of person I know you to be. I'm not bringing it up to upset you, but because I'm worried about you."

  • "I feel sad that we don’t do X, Y or Z anymore because it meant we had quality time together."

  • "I thought it was great when you were going to yoga/football/your night class etc."

  • “What are the things that make you drink more or want to drink do you think?”

Avoid criticism, making judgements, and using labels such as "alcoholic". Try to keep questions open, such as, "I've noticed X, Y or Z, what do you think?" rather than "don't you think you have a problem?"


Preparation


Drink Aware also points out the importance of preparation. Ideally, it should happen when you are both feeling calm, not one that should be approached in the middle of a conflict. It’s important to be ready and willing to listen and understand. Be ready with as much information as possible so you can offer advice on how to get support if they ask you.


What if someone you love doesn’t seem like the stereotypical ‘problem drinker’?


There are also people who you may think suffer at the hands of alcohol, but don’t seem to fall into that ‘alcoholic’ category. Problem drinking is more like a spectrum than something that's black and white. It is still okay to spark up conversations with these people about their drinking, in the least confrontational way and most loving way possible.


I have many friends who continue to drink the way I did, and I do try and speak openly about sobriety to spread the word without forcing it upon people. By opening up conversations and spreading sober positivity, you are indirectly influencing those around you.


Acceptance


People’s relationships with alcohol are very complicated. The reasons someone drinks are uncountable, and can be tied to a number of feelings, past traumas, and learned behaviours. We are taught to drink to be social, to cope with life, and to enjoy ourselves. It’s hard to admit that alcohol is having a negative impact on your life when you’ve been told alcohol is a good thing. This means it can be hard to accept that drinking negatively impacts your life. It seems almost unfeasible, and this can lead to denial.


I myself didn’t realise I had a problem or entertain the thought that an alcohol-free life might be the best way forward. It's important to remain calm and empathetic if someone responds in a defensive way, or says that they don’t have a problem. They might not be lying; they might genuinely believe this to be true.


It’s hard to change if you haven’t accepted that your struggling, but that isn’t any individual's fault. It is important to remain non-judgemental, encouraging, and try to understand, whether you have been through something similar or not.


Someone will only respond to an intervention if they are ready to hear it. Relapse, denial, and defense are all part of recovery and journey to a sober life. Be patient, and wait for them to accept their struggles are real.

Look After Yourself and Get Help


There is a lot of support out there for people who are worried about someone they know drinking. It can be incredibly hard for those dealing with this, and you should keep your wellbeing a priority.


Drink Aware have a free online chat service that operates between 9am and 2pm, Monday to Friday, and can help with confidential advice. There are many helplines you can call, people you can talk to, and ways to get help in these kinds of situations. You don’t have to do it alone.


Leave a comment below if you have any thoughts or advice when it comes to talking about drinking with someone you care about. Remember, we are a community, and always here to discuss, support, and signpost people to places they can seek assistance.

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