EP 44: Reader Question – How Do I Talk To A Loved One Who Is Drinking Too Much?

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It can be so difficult to have a conversation with someone about their drinking. Annie shares great personal insight and her research on how to approach this topic by providing five suggestions.

Your loved one is drinking too much

One of the touchiest subjects we can come across is when a loved one is drinking too much. How do you encourage them to drink less without offending, which is easy to do? It’s a very slippery slope. I was the person who was ‘talked to’ about my drinking. Since 1 in 3 households suffer from addiction the question of how can we help those we love is enormously important.

Scared to Change

I remember feeling like I was being judged when my husband said something about my drinking. When I felt judged I felt separate – apart. I knew my drinking was an issue but I couldn’t admit that to him – admitting it would mean I would have to change and the terrifying thing was that I didn’t know if I was able to change. Now I understand that him not saying anything would have felt -to him- like accepting or enabling my drinking too much. I did not understand that at the time.

Defense is the best offense

Defense was much less painful for me than any other avenue – I was afraid of my behavior and I felt like I had to justify my behavior or else the guilt, shame and helplessness of it would have eaten me alive. At some point in my drinking career even my husband ceased encouraging me to stop. When that happened – I had no funnel, no outlet for my defensiveness. Ironically, I had to start looking at my own behavior. As long as he was bugging me to drink less any change I made was for him (and I was resentful of it). When he stopped and just accepted that that was who I was then when I drank too much – and was not where I wanted to be – the only person I could look at was myself.

It is my belief that change cannot be forced.

Been There, Done That

So on one hand I have my own experience – first of feeling pressure, guilt, judgment and distance from my husband to then feeling accepted and loved for being me – despite my bad habits – and the change that ultimately did take place. I was the subject in the story of my loved one is drinking too much.

Research Says

On the other hand, I have done research into this very topic over the years and found five themes that seem to have the most positive influence in helping someone change their behavior – because the truth is that you can’t change anyone. Your job is to make the safe and loving space which allows them to come to their own understanding and desire to change. How you talk to a loved one who drinks too much will make a significant impact in their desire to change.

Understand the addict

First – Understand the addict; enough to go beyond sympathy to expressing true empathy. In contrast with sympathy, which is more closely aligned to pity, empathy means you actually experience another’s pain.

How?

So how are you supposed to understand, feel and experience the pain of an addiction when you are not addicted? In order to experience you must understand that addiction is much more like being in prison than like having a simple choice. While the addict made the initial choice to try the substance they became addicted to in the later stages of addiction their brain has actually been rewired, and they no longer enjoy the drug yet they still crave it. One of the aspects of craving is that the craving happens in the mid-brain – the survival part of the brain. This means the brain of the addict has been changed through time and exposure to believe that the substance is vital for survival. More important than practically anything else.

Science Says

We see this in rats that are addicted, they will forego food, water, sex even taking care of their young to get their next fix. This happens because the brain has been rewired. Just like exposure to a toxin can cause the disease of cancer, long term exposure to an addictive substance can cause the disease of addiction – disease being defined as an organ – in this case the brain – becoming damaged and unable to work as it should.

They don't want to

Those who aren’t addicted struggle with this because of the choice factor. Generally people drink or smoke because they want to and because they like to.

With addiction the liking and wanting functions actually separate, the addict desperately wants the substance even though they no longer enjoy it. So your loved one is drinking too much but it’s no longer a choice.

Addicts end up doing something they hate. Their justification and protection of their drug is a coping mechanism. They can’t explain why they can’t stop so they must tell themselves they enjoy it.

Reality is that addiction is like being in handcuffs. Placing them on yourself but not remembering when and now your life is in ruins. You want nothing more than to escape but you’re missing the key.

Trapped

Addiction is stealing the addicts freedom, trapping us in a maze without a clear way out. Further the addict feels they have no one to blame but themselves, so they pile on self-loathing and guilt. The internal pain of addiction is so severe that suicide – often through overdose – may seem like the only way out of the horror an addicts life has become.

I felt trapped in my drinking – and while it felt so inexplicably important I wasn’t even really enjoying it anymore.

Keep Listening

If your loved one is drinking too much, make sure to listen to the complete podcast so you can get all of Annie’s tips.

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Special music thank you to the Kevin MacLeod Funkorama (incompetech.com)
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