How to Talk to a Family Member About Their Drinking?

How to Talk to A Family Member About Their Drinking

talking to a friend about their drinking

how to talk to a family member about their drinkingDespite the prominence of alcohol addiction, it’s difficult for many to know how to talk to a family member about their drinking issues. Below we’re highlighting a few practical ways to approach a loved one who may be battling alcoholism. For direct supportive services for your family member or friend, contact AspenRidge Recovery Center 24/7 at 855-678-3144

Many families nationwide live with a family member who abuses alcohol. About 10% of children in the U.S. live in a household where at least one parent suffers from Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). In a 2019 report, 21% of adults living in Colorado had a problem with excessive drinking. 

A study conducted by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA) showed that children of parents with  substance use disorder (SUD),  are at risk of experiencing direct effects, such as parental abuse or neglect. These children also suffer indirect effects, like  fewer household resources. Despite the obvious effect on children and the family,, knowing how to talk to a family member about their drinking is not always intuitive. 

The Difficulties of Alcohol-Related Conversations

Discussing alcohol and substance use can be a challenging topic. It often brings up many different emotions, such as anger, anxiety, fear, or worry. Historically, alcoholism has been viewed as a sensitive or taboo subject to broach, even if the underlying concerns are valid. However, ignoring these topics means that these difficult, albeit critically essential conversations sometimes never occur. In turn, problematic drinking continues. 

Avoiding a difficult conversation regarding a family member misusing alcohol can lead to further alcohol and drug use and is often considered  an enabling behavior. 

Enabling behaviors refer to dismissive or passive actions by family members struggling with alcohol use or dependence. These enabling or passive behaviors often perpetuate the use of dangerous substances, including alcohol. 

As a first step, it’s vital to minimize enabling behaviors to help family members or friends achieve a healthy and well-balanced lifestyle without using alcohol or other drugs. Having the difficult conversation that you’ve been avoiding can make a world of difference for your loved one’s future recovery. 

How to Have a Safe Conversation with a Family Member?

Discussing concern over a family member’s alcohol use is extraordinarily nerve-racking and panic-inducing. It is easy to dismiss the need for the conversation, which only exacerbates the existing problem.


talk to family member about drinkingDue to the difficulty in discussing addiction and concerns about alcohol misuse, it is vital to set a proper conversation framework. The term “frameworking” is commonly used in the field of counseling and psychology. It refers to the process of setting safe boundaries and expectations for a conversation or other therapy techniques. Frameworking is extremely important as it de-escalates the situation and minimizes reactivity. Having reactivity in a conversation causes many individuals to feel attacked, blamed, or misunderstood. Minimizing opportunities to react is an essential  step in knowing how to talk to a family member about their drinking. 

One way to set a framework prior to a conversation about alcohol use is to utilize the acronym H.A.L.T. This acronym stands for Hunger, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. If all of these categories do not rise to an acceptable level, it may be best to pause the conversation and wait for a more suitable framework to occur. Further definition regarding the H.A.L.T. method is available below.

  • Hungry – Do the person(s) receiving and initiating the conversation have proper nutrients? Has either party been drinking or under the use of alcohol? Are all parties properly fed enough to listen fully in a conversation?
  • Angry – Are the person(s) receiving and initiating the conversation frustrated about other factors in life? Does the person receiving the information have the emotional capacity to listen at this time? Are the person(s) initiating the conversation approaching the family member aggressively due to underlying anger?
  • Lonely – Consider if the conversation will be conducted  alone or with other friends and family? Will the person(s) receiving and initiating the conversation have social support to discuss the conversation with afterward?
  • Tired – Are the person(s) receiving and initiating the conversation adequately rested? Will members of both parties need time to themselves after the conversation? What time of the day is most suitable for the individual to receive/initiate the conversation?

Frameworking can create a sense of safety and can place all family members at ease.

How to Minimize Reactivity When Talking to a Family Member

Minimizing reactivity is essential when approaching a family member about their alcohol use. Setting the framework for a conversation with a family member (as outlined above) is an essential first step. 

The main focus of setting a safe and appropriate framework is to minimize reactive behaviors by initiating and receiving information. Reactive behaviors can cause a member of a conversation to feel estranged or attacked, leading to aggressive or defensive actions that are non-productive. Using the H.A.L.T. method helps to set the framework for a safe and useful conversation. There are other helpful techniques used by counselors to reduce reactivity. 

Active Listening

Active listening is critical when having a conversation with a family member regarding alcohol and drug use. It may be helpful to practice active listening with a partner before discussing alcohol use with a family member.

Another effective method used for minimizing reactivity is active listening. It’s a process of   listening with  empathy, compassion, advocacy, and genuine interest (e.g., voice inflection, underlying meanings, etc.). The majority of relationship concerns can be resolved by active listening as opposed to inattentive listening. Inattentive listening involves more passive interaction. This includes not being emotionally connected to the conversation, selfish or self-centered thoughts, disregarding non-verbal communication (e.g., hand gestures, facial expressions, etc.). 

How do I Practice Active Listening?

Practicing Active Listening is critical before having a conversation with a family member. Counselors encourage each member to practice this skill by engaging in a counseling technique known as dramatization. Dramatization allows each person to assume the different personalities in the conversation. This provides for practicing empathy and compassion. 

It may help seek further professional support from an individual therapist before discussing alcohol use with a family member. It is also beneficial to consider the possibility of an intervention with a trained professional. 

Interventions are often done alongside specifically trained individuals and are highly discouraged without the support of qualified personnel. Because of this, it may be helpful to discuss with primary care physicians or other clinicians about your current plans to discuss destructive alcohol behaviors for a family member.

How Can AspenRidge Help In Discussing Alcoholism with Family Members?

talking to family member about their alcohol useAspenRidge has developed a multi-faceted program that aids clients not only achieving sobriety but also in maintaining their sobriety. AspenRidge understands the challenges of being a family member of an individual struggling with alcohol and substance abuse problems. 

Substance use has a strong impact—not only on an individual—but those within proximity to the issue, namely loved ones. AspenRidge is dedicated to tailoring treatment as much as possible to each client, and this involves proper training and preparation for supportive family and friends. The challenges that occur due to mental health and substance abuse are challenging and impact several family components. AspenRidge provides a safe environment for all family members to experience long-term sobriety and recovery.

Prospective clients may contact AspenRidge Recovery Centers at 855-678-3144 to schedule an assessment, to speak to staff about various programs. Gaining knowledge before taking the steps towards recovery is essential, and AspenRidge is determined to provide transparent  information. Further information can also be found on our site here.

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