If you think your partner has an alcohol addiction, you might feel the need to speak with them about it but don’t know where to start.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that your partner’s drinking has increased and you’re starting to get concerned. Or maybe your partner’s alcohol consumption has been concerning you for some time.
If you want to talk with your partner about their alcohol use but aren’t sure how to go about it, you’re not alone.
Heavy alcohol use is very common in the United States. Research from 2019 found that 25.8% of adults reported binge drinking, and 6.3% reported heavy alcohol use in the past month.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, binge drinking refers to having five or more drinks (for men) and four or more drinks (for women) in a 2-hour span.
See this article on alcohol use disorder (AUD) to learn more about how healthcare professionals diagnose AUD and what counts as moderate, heavy, and binge drinking. “Alcoholism” is an older term for AUD.
Speaking with your loved one about their alcohol use requires both strength and empathy — you’ll need to talk about difficult subjects, but you’ll want to avoid having the discussion feel like “an intervention.” Below are eight tips to help you make the conversation go more smoothly.
Before you talk with your partner, take some time to research how AUD might be affecting them, their personality, and their behavior.
Quitting drinking can be a scary thing for many people. Consuming alcohol may have become a significant part of their daily routine or social life. They may also be using it as a coping mechanism for stress or other difficult feelings.
Consider learning more about alcohol withdrawal, too. Quitting an alcohol addiction, especially when it’s more severe, can lead to serious withdrawal symptoms.
Understanding the experiences they might go through when they stop drinking may give you a more well-rounded view of the situation.
It may help to research treatment options and plan to be involved if they choose to seek treatment.
It’s a good idea to start the conversation when your partner is sober — not intoxicated or hungover. Also try to make sure you’re both in a relatively good place mentally and emotionally.
For instance, avoid trying to start the conversation if he or she comes home intoxicated and you’re feeling exasperated or angry.
If you’ve been arguing a lot lately, consider putting the conversation off for a few days. Wait for a time when you’ve been getting along and have built some trust.
Try not to criticize your partner while they’re drinking. This may only make them feel hurt and put their defenses up, making it harder to have an open and honest conversation about it later.
It might help to take notes in the days leading up to the discussion. Write down the topics you want to talk about most, so you don’t forget them.
Your partner may put up their defenses right away if you try to start the conversation with a phrase they think sounds accusatory or confrontational, like, “We have to talk.”
Instead, consider speaking in a neutral tone and keeping an open mind. You could start by letting them know that you’d like to talk about something that’s been on your mind, and asking them if they have a few minutes to talk with you about it.
Keep the conversation factual, stating what you know has happened and how it has made you feel.
Provide facts, if necessary, like, “You were intoxicated Monday night after you had several drinks, but you said you were fine to drive home. I’m worried for your safety that you’ll do that again.”
It’s a good idea to avoid making accusations. Consider being mindful of your language, avoiding words that might make them feel stigmatized — like “addict” or “alcoholic.”
It’s understandable that you might find this discussion upsetting. However, it will help you both if you try to remain neutral. Expressing anger or upset feelings at your partner may end up working against you, and you might say something you regret later.
If you’re feeling angry or fed up, consider waiting for another time to have this conversation.
Another aspect to plan for is your partner’s reaction. Expect them to challenge you, and be ready to explain your reasoning in an empathetic, neutral way.
They may have started drinking after a particularly stressful event, such as a job loss or the death of a parent.
If this is the case, consider discussing the underlying issue as well as treatment options with your partner. Perhaps seeing a therapist would help. If your partner has alternative ways of dealing with negative emotions and stress, it may remove some of the pressure to drink.
Read this article to learn more about how to find a therapist.
Having an addiction can feel very disempowering. Many people who live with addiction, whether to alcohol or another substance or activity, carry a heavy sense of shame and guilt.
Consider trying to see things from your loved one’s point of view, even if it doesn’t make sense to you. Your partner will be more likely to listen if they feel like you’re approaching them with genuine concern and love, not criticism.
Be careful not to be judgmental or act as if you have all the answers. If you’ve ever experienced substance use disorder (SUD) or AUD yourself, bring it up now. Discuss how you dealt with it. You might say, “I’m not sure if this will work for you, but it worked for me.”
Be a good listener. It helps to say things like, “I can see your point,” or “I know you’ve been really stressed lately.” Try not to use guilt, bribes, or threats.
If your discussion leads to an argument, take a break.
It might help to remind your partner about the things they love to do that don’t involve alcohol — or perhaps the activities that drinking has prevented them from doing.
Perhaps your partner has always loved a particular sport, but their drinking has interfered with their ability to engage in it.
For example, it might help to say something like, “I know how much you used to love hiking. Reducing the amount you drink could help you do that again.”
If your partner’s alcohol use isn’t severe, it might be helpful to encourage them to taper it down.
Consider encouraging them to set attainable goals and celebrate their small victories with them. For instance, if your partner typically has several drinks at dinner and decides to only have one, reward them with genuine encouragement. They are making progress.
Look for opportunities to build trust with your partner. For instance, it’s probably not helpful to bring up their alcohol use if you also tend to binge drink on the weekends. They might think you’re being hypocritical.
Instead, you could demonstrate that you can have a good time and not overdo drinking. Try suggesting fun activities you could do together that don’t involve alcohol. Partners can have a significant influence on each others’ behavior.
Being in a relationship with a person who has an alcohol addiction can take a significant toll on your mental health.
Alcohol or substance use is one of the most common reasons people divorce.
Don’t go through this challenge alone. Seek support from friends, other family members, or a mental health professional.
A therapist can be a direct ally to help you navigate the situation and set healthy boundaries with your partner.
You may also want to consider joining a support group for loved ones of people with AUD. It may help a great deal to speak with others who are going through similar situations.
Remember that no matter how much you care or want your partner to get help, they need to make that choice for themselves. What you can do is offer your support and love.
There are many other resources you can explore to help you prepare for a conversation with your partner.
Put the Shovel Down is an informative YouTube channel hosted by an addiction counselor who offers many tips for loved ones.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers resources and information about SUD and more. Consider calling the SAMHSA helpline at 800-662-4357 if you’d like to speak with someone directly. You can also explore treatment options through the organization’s behavioral treatment locator.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism is a government organization that provides lots of background information and links to resources for people with alcohol addictions and their loved ones.