5 Things You Shouldn’t Say to an Alcoholic
In moderation, there’s nothing wrong with alcohol. Millions of people enjoy a drink after work or sharing a bottle of wine over dinner. But when rules of moderation are ignored and alcohol consumption becomes excessive, the results can be catastrophic.
The State of Alcohol Abuse in America
According to the most recent data gathered by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 86.4 percent of adults ages 18 or older drink alcohol at some point in their lifetime. Roughly 56 percent say they drink at least once per month.
Alarmingly, 26.9 percent of people report binge drinking on a monthly basis, while 7 percent admit to “heavy drinking.” The data shows that 15.1 million adults have an alcohol use disorder (AUD), though only 1.3 million receive treatment each year.
Another 623,000 adolescents (ages 12 to 17) have an AUD, while just 37,000 get professional treatment in specialized facilities.
Five Things You Shouldn’t Say
Chances are good that you know someone who has a problem with alcohol. Unfortunately, you probably don’t have a very good sense of how to handle these sensitive situations.
Too often, this often leads well-meaning people such as yourself to say the wrong thing. If you have a friend who appears to be laboring with an AUD, here are five things you should never say to that person.
1. “Starting now, you’ll never have another drink.”
If you’re someone who is tired of watching a friend suffer through the negative consequences of alcoholism, it’s easy to want to step in and fix the problem. And while you might assume the best thing to do is pour the alcohol down the drain and make sure your friend has no access to it, this can be terribly dangerous.
“When alcohol intake is suddenly stopped or drastically reduced, a person will experience withdrawal symptoms,” Leah Miller, MA, writes for Rehabs.com. “Withdrawal symptoms can include hand tremors, sleep disturbances, rapid heartbeat, perspiration, nausea, vomiting, hallucinations, anxiety, agitation, restlessness, and even seizures.”
It’s vital for alcohol addicts to detox in a medically supervised environment where doctors and experienced professionals can carefully observe them. Trying to force a friend to detox on his or her own is dangerous and potentially life-threatening.
2. “You’re being really selfish.”
It’s all too easy to get frustrated with alcoholics and point out how they’re hurting others. But to automatically assume that an individual is being selfish is short-sighted and ignorant on your part.
Alcoholism is a kind of mental disease in which an individual is unable to willingly go without alcohol for an extended period of time. An addict’s brain has actually been reprogrammed over time and the person doesn’t think and rationalize in the same ways the rest of us do. Instead of calling your friend selfish, sympathize and encourage her or him to seek help.
3. “You’ll never be able to quit. You’re hopeless!”
Although you can’t snap your fingers and get an addict to stop suddenly, you also shouldn’t give up all hope. One of the worst things you can do is tell an addict that he or she will always be an addict. This worsens the drinker’s mental condition and reinforces the idea that he or she already spends plenty of time brooding about on a regular basis.
4. “You haven’t hit rock bottom yet.”
There’s a commonly held notion in society that addicts have to hit rock bottom before they’ll finally take the necessary steps to recover. In some cases this is true, but to assume every person will operate this way is foolish.
There’s actually a lot of anecdotal evidence to indicate that people are in a better position to recover when they still have something to live for. If you want more information on the misconception of bottoming out, check out Maia Szalavitz’s book Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction, which debunks this myth (among several others).
5. “I know what an addict looks like and you aren’t one.”
Addicts generally know they’re addicts. They may not readily admit it on the surface, but deep down most of them recognize they have a problem.
Eventually, they may choose to confide in a close friend. If you’re a people-pleaser who doesn’t want to cause any conflict, you might be tempted to reassure your friend by declared that he or she isn’t an addict, but this is misguided on your part.
One of two things is apt to happen when you tell an addict everything’s fine. In the first scenario, the person may actually believe you and continue on with a destructive lifestyle.
In the second, the drinker gets discouraged and decides it’s pointless to open up to people who won’t understand what he’s going through. Either way, the addict takes a step or two back.
Though it’s not easy, you have to be honest with your friend and speak your mind in a way that’s loving yet stern. You need to tell the person how much he or she is hurting you and that nevertheless, there is light at the end of what seems like a very dark tunnel.
It may require multiple conversations to start to make any real progress, but it can only start with a willingness to open up.
Be a Help … Not a Hindrance
There’s nothing easy about talking to a friend about alcohol addiction. It’s uncomfortable and may put your relationship in jeopardy.
But the reality of the situation is that it’s selfish not to discuss a friend’s AUD. You’re primarily hurting him or her. As scary as it feels, you need to have a direct conversation on the topic. Just make sure you don’t say any of the wrong things above!