How To Confront An Alcoholic

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on December 14, 2020

Trying to find the words to say to a loved one who is struggling with an alcohol addiction can be complicated. It is not always easy to tell if they will be receptive to the conversation or if they might respond with anger to the confrontation.

How To Confront An Alcoholic

Watching a loved one struggle with alcoholism is painful and incredibly difficult. Knowing what to say can be even harder. Confrontation is never easy.

On one hand, the hope is that saying something will provide enlightenment and help the person accept that they need help for their alcohol addiction.

On the other hand, there is a real fear that the conversation may evoke negative feelings and result in an argument or resentment. Upsetting a loved one with a substance abuse issue can be a scary situation, especially when you’re just trying to get them the help they need.

Learning how to confront a loved one about their alcohol abuse in a way that promotes love, acceptance and a plan can sometimes help the conversation go a bit more smoothly, but ultimately, it depends on how receptive the person is to hearing about their addiction.

Alcoholism And Alcohol Use Disorder

Understanding alcoholism and what an alcohol use disorder is can help someone who is trying to approach a loved one about their alcohol consumption problem.

There are eleven different signs and symptoms of an alcohol use disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

They are as follows:

  • drinking more or for longer than intended
  • failure to meet responsibilities
  • relationships negatively impacted by alcohol
  • unable to stop drinking, even if they try
  • exchanging hobbies for drinking alcohol
  • continuing to drink despite the negative impact
  • needing more alcohol to feel the same effects
  • drinking in a dangerous situation
  • tolerance
  • withdrawal
  • cravings

If a person has 2-3 of these criteria, they would be diagnosed with a mild alcohol use disorder (AUD). Moderate AUD if the person has 4-5 criteria. A person who has six or more meets the criteria for a severe AUD. Severe AUD would likely be considered alcoholism.

Observable Alcoholism Signs

When a person is struggling with an AUD, there are a number of noticeable signs that a person can watch for.

If your loved one is exhibiting any of these signs, it may be time to get some help:

  • slurred speech
  • bloodshot eyes
  • digestive issues
  • sleepiness
  • flush (reddening) face
  • blackouts
  • memory problems
  • decreased cognitive function
  • lowered inhibitions
  • anxiety
  • depression

If your loved one is drinking often and exhibiting some of these signs, and criteria for an AUD as outlined by the DSM-5, navigating intervention strategies may be a good idea. Especially if they have changed their social circles to include people who regularly abuse drugs or alcohol.

Planning To Confront

The first and most important thing a person can do when confronting a loved one about their alcohol abuse is to make a plan and attempt to stick to that plan.

Approaching a loved one about their addiction can evoke some intense feelings, and having an outline of the intervention ahead of time can make that process a bit easier for everyone.

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Ideally, recruiting a person who is experienced in interventions, such as a counselor, addiction specialist, psychologist, or medical professional to guide you through this process is helpful.

Whether or not you’ve decided to hire someone to assist in preparing for the intervention process, the following steps are suggestions to be as productive as possible:

  • have the support of family/friends and professionals if possible
  • make sure your needs are met (self-care)
  • have treatment options available
  • hold the intervention or confrontation
  • be ready to participate in treatment with your loved one

These preparations allow for whatever outcome occurs during the intervention, which can help guide the loved one towards an addiction treatment program and help them obtain sobriety.

Having Support

Making sure you have support when planning to confront a loved one with an alcohol abuse problem is one of the most important first steps. This includes friends and family, and it is strongly encouraged that an intervention specialist is brought in as well.

Intervention specialists are professionals who have significant experience with interventions and getting alcohol-addicted loved ones the help they need. These specialists can help create a plan, point out difficulties that may arise, and offer solutions. They offer guidance, resources, and even some training.

Family and friends can stage an intervention, even without the assistance of an intervention specialist. Surrounding the alcohol-addicted loved one with people who care for them, who can articulate their affection and concern for their alcohol abuse, while encouraging sobriety can be successful.

It is important that those chosen to participate in the intervention are able to remain calm and avoid intimidation during the confrontation. Being objective and working to offer support to the loved one during the intervention is the priority.


Although the intention of the intervention is to get a loved one to commit to treatment for alcohol addiction, it is equally important for the family and friends to create boundaries and prepare for the potential rejection by their loved one.

Outline what the consequences will be if your loved one refuses to go to treatment for alcohol abuse, and commit to those consequences, hold yourself, friends, and family members to those consequences as well.

This can be difficult and tremendously emotional. For example, if you consistently purchase groceries for your alcohol-addicted loved one because they spend all their money on alcohol, a consequence for them may be that you stop purchasing groceries.

If another family member pays utility bills for the loved one who is struggling with alcoholism, they may need to stop doing so until the person agrees to go to alcohol abuse rehab.

It can be helpful to write a letter to the person struggling with alcohol addiction. Explain how their drinking impacts your life, and how different it can be if they seek addiction treatment.

It may also be beneficial to consider seeking out the services of a therapist or attending Al-Anon meetings for yourself and others who are working to help your loved one get sober.

Make Sure Treatment Options Are Available

Prior to the actual intervention taking place, it is imperative that there is an alcohol addiction treatment facility standing by with a bed to take your loved one if they agree to treatment.

Having an available location actually increases the possibility that your loved one will accept and complete treatment.

This means someone will need to reach out to facilities that offer certified, evidence-based alcohol addiction treatment, and set up admission before the intervention.

Otherwise, there may be a delay in admittance, which gives the individual in need of treatment time to back out.

Time For The Intervention

Once these things are in place, schedule the intervention. The loved one may try to avoid the meeting if they are told what the meeting is for, so a level of deceptiveness may be needed here.

Having the meeting at a neutral location is a good idea, if possible. Conference rooms, community centers, or similar locations are ideal for holding an intervention. Otherwise, the person may feel set-up and reject the intervention.

Make sure everyone in attendance at the intervention knows that behaviors that are aggressive or unfavorable will not be tolerated, and they will be removed from the room.

The purpose of this meeting is to explain to the person how their alcohol abuse affects those close to them. Each person is given a chance to speak, read a letter, or ask them to go to treatment. They will also share the consequences of not going to rehab if the person chooses not to go.

Be A Part Of The Recovery Process

If your loved one agrees to go to treatment, they can proceed to intake almost immediately since it was set up beforehand. At the intake, an assessment will be conducted to determine the level of services needed and begin the early stages of a treatment plan.

Those that participated in the intervention may be asked to participate in group or family therapy sessions, or help the individual by being part of the necessary support system once they return home.

Recovery From Alcohol Addiction

From planning to executing an intervention, to alcohol addiction treatment, to sobriety, is quite a journey. Recovery from alcohol addiction is an intention, a plan that must be followed every day.

Support from loved ones is extremely important to a newly sober person. Although recovery can be difficult, it can also be inspiring and rewarding.

We are here to help you and your loved one start the journey to recovery. Contact our addiction treatment specialists today so we can find placement for your loved ones as soon as they are ready.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on December 14, 2020
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