How To Confront An Alcoholic In Denial

by pgh

Confronting an alcoholic and getting them to come to terms with their addiction is an extremely difficult thing to do.

Alcoholics – especially high functioning alcoholics – use standard alcoholic excuses and denials to justify their addiction and avoid reality.

In many cases, confrontation with an alcoholic simply results in denial and resentment on the part of the alcoholic, as well as frustration on the part of their loved ones. But remember that your confrontation with the alcoholic could be just one step in a long process that will eventually cause them to reexamine their life and make a change down the road. Even if your attempts to help are brushed off, you may be planting the seed for eventual recovery.

Things To Keep In Mind

If it’s your first time confronting your friend/loved one about their alcoholism, keep in mind that you’re unlikely to get them to take immediate action. However, bear in mind that your confrontation with the alcoholic may still be a necessary step in getting them to eventually come to terms with their addiction – just not overnight.

Keep in mind that there are no magic bullets when it comes to getting an alcoholic to recognize their addiction. Whether you confront them aggressively, or with understanding and soothing tones, you’re unlikely to spark immediate change. With that in mind, here are some techniques you can use and things to keep in mind confronting an alcoholic:

Do not confront the alcoholic when they’re under the influence – This should go without saying.

Express your feelings – Tell the alcoholic how his/her drinking has affected you negatively, and how it may be harming others, and even themselves. Avoid criticizing their actions directly, but instead show them how their actions have caused harm.

Avoid Direct Confrontation – To keep the alcoholic from getting too defensive, place the emphasis on your own feelings and concerns, rather than telling them how they should be living. Some people favor a more aggressive approach in attempting to pierce the alcoholic’s denial and it does work sometimes, but do know that their is a good chance that the alcoholic will resent you for it, making future attempts to intervene much more difficult.

Chip Away At Their Denial – When the alcoholic inevitably denies that they have a problem, don’t expect to overcome their denial with the blunt hammer of rationality. Instead, aim to open up a dialogue by expressing your concerns and addressing their excuses from a place of compassion, rather than judgment.

Put Boundaries On Your Relationship – If the alcoholic in your life is continually unwilling to get help and continues to abuse alcohol despite your efforts, you may need to set clear boundaries on your relationship. For example, tell them that you cannot spend time with them when they’re drinking, or perhaps even tell them you need a break from them until they’re willing to seek help (this can apply to friendships as well as romantic relationships).

Explain that you care about them and want to help, but that their drinking is having too much of a negative toll on your life. In the short term, this will likely lead to resentment, but in the long term it may lead to the alcoholic recognizing the impact of their drinking on those around them. It also helps protect you from the toll of having a chronic alcoholic in your life.

Consider A Formal Intervention – A formal intervention should be a last resort. If the person is still a high functioning alcoholic in the early stages of addiction, gathering friends and family for a surprise confrontation will only cause anger and resentment. Alcoholics never quit drinking when the going is still good.

On the other hand, if the addict has been tormented by addiction for awhile – if they’ve lost loved ones, friends, their job – perhaps they’re close to making a major change. A formal intervention might be something they need. You can seek the assistance of a professional interventionist to assist in the process.

Recognize That You Play A Small, But Potentially Important Role

These are just some techniques that can be used to confront an alcoholic. They might not be suited for everyone. It depends on the person, your relationship with them, and the stage of their addiction.

The most important thing when confronting an alcoholic is to manage your expectations. Don’t expect to get them to change overnight. But even if you don’t get the alcoholic to recognize their problem immediately, know that your actions, words and support may take them one step closer to recognizing their addiction and seeking help.

At the end of the day, the only person who can get through an alcoholic’s denial, is the alcoholic themself.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Matisse February 17, 2013 at 1:33 am

I confronted my brother that is an alcoholic and I almost regret it.
He yelled and screamed at me and put me down telling me who are you
to make judgements about me. Also, you aren’t around me how do you
know. However, he is a bad alcoholic and gets very drunk not remembering
blacking out,etc.. It’s sad because all I did was make him very angry and he
is drinking more then ever it seems blaming me.

Josh February 25, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Sorry to hear that Matisse, I really feel for you, but that’s a really typical reaction unfortunately.

It can be really tough when your loved one is an alcoholic, maybe consider attending an Al-Anon meeting in your area? It might give you more tools to help your brother when he’s finally ready to accept it.

Sarita April 15, 2013 at 7:54 pm

That is just like an alcoholic to turn it around and put it back on you. I have heard it all. My husband is an alcoholic and he is mean when he drinks. He calls me all sorts of bad names and curses at me and anyone that gets in his way. When you say anything then you become the self rightous “B”. When I say anthing like I can’t stand it any longer and how he needs to stop and take a look at his life and that we can never go any where or plan anything he just tells me to get out that he is going to live his life the way he wants to and I am not going to dictate to him what to do with his life. We have been married for 38 years and he has been sober around a total of 6 years of that 38. He has stopped several times and says he will stop when he gets ready to but he never seeks any professional help. When he starts back it is always something someone else does is his reason. If I tell him that we get along so well when he is sober and that we have no relationship at all with him drinking he says that is just in my minde. When he is drinking none of our children will come aroud and it so miserable. I wish I could leave but I have no where to go and I can’t afford to leave. I feel so trapped I just wish I could have a normal life without always living in fear.

Mary May 2, 2013 at 3:18 am

I have a sister in law who is an alcoholic. We have confronted her after her latest fall which resulted in a broken arm. After 6 hours in the ER which we drove her to and brought her home. The very next day she was drinking again. We showed her two empty vodka bottles that were in the trash and the full bottle under the sink. She said she did not know where they came from. We have not called or gone to see her in 2 1/2 weeks tonigh,she called and asked if we would,watch her dog because she thinks she might need surgery. My husband her brother said yes. I think we should say we love you but we can not help you till you sick treatment for your alcoholism . What is the right thing to do??? She has been an alcoholic for years. She is now 60 years old. She has no friends and her grown children have disowed her.