How To Communicate With An Alcoholic

This video on communicating with an alcoholic loved one comes from our Solutions For Alcoholic Relationships video series. These are proven techniques that you can use every day to make your interactions with the substance abuser in your life go much smoother.

Hey, I want to talk about communication in this video and the first thing I want to talk about is body language. It’s important that when we’re around the alcoholic and the addict and we’re interacting, a lot of times we feel like we’re walking on egg shells. We’re fearful of the confrontation. We feel all tense inside and it will show through our body language. So we need to kind of act as if. Act as if we are serene and peaceful. Act as if we’re happy.

What I found out through the training that I learned is that if I could just try and smile a lot while I was around the alcoholic, that it really helped me. It would help me when I would be setting boundaries with the alcoholic. Maybe I was face to face and we’re having a really heated discussion. Now I would have to set a boundary and I would smile and say, “You know what? I love you but I would really appreciate it if you wouldn’t do that anymore,” which goes over a lot better than having a facial expression like, “You know, I’m really,” “Would you please stop saying that?” If we can just learn, our body language says so much along with our verbal expressions.

So we want to work on just acting as if we’re happy, that thing about sit back, shut up and smile. There are some things that we can do in communicating that will help us like seeing the word “sick” tattooed across their forehead or maybe you might even want to take a moment to kind of picture them when an alcoholic is ranting or they’re really upset. You might want to just picture them in a diaper. You might get a good laugh out of that. It will help you change your body language

So another thing is learn how to say what you mean but don’t say it mean. This takes some thought and it also takes some restraint. So it’s a good little expression to grab a hold of. Say what you mean but don’t say it mean.

Learn to respond rather than to react. So responding is we respond whenever we think about what we’re going to say. That’s how when we journal, we learn about those buttons that the alcoholic is pushing to cause us to react.

Once we begin to recognize what those buttons are, we see the alcoholic using these various tactics where they try and start an argument with us and we can respond differently. We’re not reacting to defend our character. We’re responding to set a boundary and asking the alcoholic not to do this or that. All right. Learn how to respond rather than react.

What I have to say is, “Is it necessary? Is it kind or is it true?” We run things that are on our minds through that filter. A lot of times by the time we get to the end of that, “Is it kind, necessary or true?” what I have to say really doesn’t need to be said or sometimes something is really turning and bothering inside of me and if I will just give myself 24 hours, I may realize that what I have to say isn’t as important as I thought it was to say and I can let it go.

That’s another thing. How important is it? Ask yourself. How important is it? What is it that’s going on? Is it really that important for me to address the situation? That can help us from getting into heated conversations and can help us from losing our peace and serenity in many different situations.

Never argue with a drunk. That’s the number one rule. It takes two people to argue. When you separate yourself from that, it really will eliminate a lot of arguing. Avoid late night conversations. Late night is not a good time to have any kind of serious conversation whether the alcoholic has been drinking or not.

Don’t discus serious issues with the alcoholic or addict when they’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol. You wouldn’t have a conversation with someone when they first came out of surgery and they were under an anesthetic. It’s no different when you’re talking to an alcoholic and the other thing is don’t talk to them when they’re hung over abut serious issues because they’re just going to be in a bad mood and not reasonable.

This makes it difficult to find a place to communicate and talk with an alcoholic but it’s really important the timing of talking with them about serious issues, that they not be drunk or hung over because it will be a lot more effective when we talk to them and what we will be able to remain in our peaceful and serene state a lot better.

OK. Let’s talk about mind your own business a little bit. I mentioned that earlier in one of the videos that I made. One of the things that I like to use, I can just simply put my finger over my mouth. Whenever there’s something I feel like I just – I want to say, you know, it’s that reminder. Just to hold back on what I have to say.

Another thing that I’ve heard is that if it’s something that isn’t beyond here. Everything from here back is my business. Anything beyond here forward is not my business. That will help me practice restraint in my communication.

Another thing that I’ve heard is that if it’s not within my hula hoop, it’s not my business. So it’s all a part of that thing about me keeping my side of my life intact and letting go of the alcoholic and addict and letting them go on their own path.

All right. I want to share with you some verbal expressions. I know I’ve shared prior to about trying to get some armor on, so that the things the alcoholic say to us don’t affect us. I gave this illustration that once we begin to get that protective armor on and we feel stronger, it’s like we have that helmet with the big, protective shield and we lift that shield and we just say, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” and we close the shield. Then I say something else out of anger or rage. Then we left the shield and we say, “Well, that’s your opinion.” We close it back down.

So let me give you some responses that will help you to not react in a negative way, help you to maintain more self-control. All right.

One of them is, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Another one is, “You may be right,” “That’s your opinion,” “Let me think about that,” “That’s not true,” “Really? Tell me more,” “Thanks for sharing that with me,” “I will consider what you’ve shared with me,” “I love you but I don’t care to discuss this right now,” and the last one is, “No.”

When we say no, we don’t have to explain ourselves. No can be without any explanation and yes can be without an explanation. We can just simply say no and that’s good enough. So they’re a few tips about communicating with an alcoholic or an addict.

17 comments to How To Communicate With An Alcoholic

  • Ross

    “….if it’s something that isn’t beyond here. Everything from here back is my business. Anything beyond here forward is not my business….”
    *Would you elaborate just a little more on this comment you’d made?I need a little more understanding.

  • JC

    Hi Ross, first I want to say thanks for your continued participation on our site. You are greatly appreciated.

    I’ve heard several people in support group meetings say that they are responsible for their own behavior and not how others choose to live their lives. It seems to be an issue of control. I have a tendency to want to fix everyone around me at times; I want to tell them how I think they should be living their lives. The only person I have any control over is me.

  • Lauren

    JC, I wanted to say thanks for the suggestions in this video. I pictured my alcoholic husband in a diaper last night when he was ranting and raving about a whole bunch of nonsense. It worked!!!

    I got this huge smile on my face. When he asked me why I was smiling, I looked him in the eyes still smiling and told him I’d been horny all day…which I had… and that he was ruining the mood. I then told him to get in the shower, calm down a little and that I’d meet him in there.

    His steaming attitude changed for the good rather quickly. As we were enjoying an intimate cuddling secession when we finished making love, as I was running my fingers through his chest hair, I told him that I loved him and we should work on making love more than war…he agreed.

    I really do love my husband a lot. We have had some communication issues since he’s been drinking more. Last night all the things he was ranting about were minor issues. I asked myself the question you proposed JC, “how important is it?” All of his ranting was about minor things that really had nothing to do with me. I was glad that I jumped his bones and he was too!

  • Ross

    thanks JC .I think I knew what you were getting around to on that. I believe, i either slip into denial
    or just dont put enough confidence in my conclusions.Like I need affirmation on my thoughts.

  • Mia

    I’ve got a new phrase when my boyfriend says things are different or argues about nothing Bad. I’m trying to remind myself of what I’m doing for my serenity . My boyfriend says our relationship is better because I don’t nag anymore, ” no ” I said to him “I’ve simply decided your mood is not my mood and I’m just not taking that load anymore, whether you drink or not is your business, but if your mood changes to gamer then I will just go do something else that I enjoy “

  • Cheri

    JC. this site is great. So much valuable information. I have been using your suggestions when responding when the A tries pushing my buttons. So far I have been doing okay and definitely far better than previously. Need to work on smiling. Changing my attitude appears to make a difference. I have been married 40 years and wish had known the signs of alcholism years ago as slowly crept into my life. Deep inside My husband is really a good person and it hurts to see him hurt and struggle with this addiction. I am going to seek counseling and hopefully he will too. More later…

  • Mary

    I can appreciate the tactics you suggest but I have tried these and just get a higher level of frustration with the alcoholic. Especially when they’ve been drinking/drunk. How to I get through at those times? I know not to engage in an argument but when I don’t respond or tell him I would rather have this discussion at a later time he gets more upset. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

  • Bill

    Mary, thanks for sharing. The alcoholic I used to deal with would get upset too during those times you’ve described. I still didn’t engage in an argument or give into having a serious/senseless conversation with her when she was wasted.

    Using small phrases like, “I love you, I care about your concerns, I am interested in what you want to discuss…” all of those are good prefix phrases to use before saying let’s talk about this tomorrow or another time. Still, the alcoholic is going to keep pushing to engage, that’s just what they do. This is when methods of detaching, setting boundaries and letting go come into play.

    In my experience, the more I continued to communicate to the alcoholic that I didn’t want to discuss things with them, eventually they learned when I said, “I care about your concerns, but it’s really late and I’d rather discuss this in the morning”, that I wasn’t going to give in. Through repetition of holding my ground, this eventually caused them to quit pushing so hard.

    Yes, the alcoholic gets frustrated, but that doesn’t mean I have to give in and discuss something that I know is going to cause emotional harm to me. I detach, set boundaries and let go.

    Here are some good articles:


    Setting Boundaries

    Letting Go

  • Amy

    Mary, I too struggle with this…almost every night. I make a point to not be physically around him when he has been drinking. Yes, I make some sacrifices but the peace is well worth it. For example, if he goes to the bedroom to watch TV before going to sleep. I watch TV in another room until I’m ready to go to bed to sleep. Once there, I lay down, close my eyes and don’t say a word. If he is still awake (which he is usually passed out with no one there to talk to earlier) I pretend I’m already asleep. Being not physically available has been my solution. I hope it works for you. I live by the old saying “it takes two to fight.” During the early evening time I keep myself busy doing activities I enjoy. I’m learning to live my life as I enjoy and don’t sacrifice it for an alcoholic. Keep friends and family in your life. Best wishes.

  • sue

    I have filed for divorce from alcoholic Husband as He refuses to seek help and rehab . will be selling house that he loves .
    His choice . My choice to stay healthy . and away from negative people like him.

  • patti

    Mary, My experience is also similiar to yours. It’s a conundrum that they’re so anxious to discuss things when their brain cells are on “low to no charge”. I use phrases like “I don’t discuss business after hours”, “Let’s talk about it in the morning”, or I don’t want to discuss things when you’ve been drinking”. If he gets pushier I say “I’m sorry you feel that way” as I head up the stairs to our guest bedroom, where I can read or listen to music or sleep peacefully. In the light of the morning, my A doesn’t want to talk at all. No doubt in my mind why he’s not a “morning person” like me….I too have found Detachment works quite well, and am amazed to see my indifference has led to my A’s difference, when nothing else has…He still drinks, but I just “carry on with my big bad self”, and do the things I need and I want to do. It’s like we’re roomates. It’s hard for me to believe, but he’s nicer to me than he’s been in quite some time. I’m trying to hang in there and see if he decides to remove his head from the sand/bottle, and return to reality and it’s gifts. May God bless you on your journey. This is a great place to share, so hope to hear from you again.

  • Denise

    Dear JC,
    Just waiting. He has lost so much weight.Open sores not healing. Sleep apnea. All he has to talk about is work. We do not do anything together except drive to work. No hobbies. I have quite a few. I don’t feel sorry for him at all after 36yrs. My tears are gone. Like I had told you, we are expecting our first grandchild in August. He will never change. He is arrogant and a smart ass. He pretends to care and I am not having any of it. He does not yell . He is a sullen drunk. When he takes a vacation day I cringe at the thought of coming home. He’ll be all red-faced and not have done anything like he said he was going to. OR there will be something else that got broken.Front door ( slamming it multiple times ), washing machine door broke( just hanging there), lawnmower- broken. I told him he is pathetic every time and just walked away. Just waiting……..Denise

  • Paula g

    Irritable restless and discontent…is it a self inflicted sentence for something? Is it a chronic self pity? What ever it is, it is so unnecessary and there is no convincing them of it. My thinking is that the alcoholic doesn’t know and will not try to believe that they can actually have a say in their own disposition.

  • patti

    Denise, I’m sorry about your AH’s sad state. I know it is sad to see the downward progression, and especially when we are their life mates, yet we can do nothing to change their action or direction. It sounds like you’ve at least gained your inner peace and you’re prepared to go on with your own life. The good thing is that you don’t get caught up in/catch their disease. It is a disease, it’s not them. I’m praying for you and your family today.

  • I am still following the posts I have been away from my alcoholic 4/6 weeks it’s been rough but it’s been wonderful I can have some peace I don’t ever have to worry about the mood the drama the emotional toll of the daily life with him I still sit in anticipation waiting for that outburst it’s getting less. Absolutely the best thing I ever did

  • C

    Paula G: I, too, wonder why the alcoholic just cannot seek medical help to be sober? There is unending amount of info about the risks of drinking constantly – that doesn’t stop them!

    Filomena: Can only imagine the lovely feeling of freedom you have! I would be dancing in the streets! Best wishes to you for a marvelous life.

    All my life I have been upbeat, no matter what is happening. But, I think the A has finally gotten to me – I feel flat, no personality. When I am out and about in our town, I feel bits of my personality coming out, but then I return home and see the drink on the table and i lose my happy feeling.

    Time to move on.

  • Trish

    So many of these stories are like mine. I used to go to AA years ago and the A was so functional I couldn’t see these things happening to him. It was hard to relate to what the others were saying. Studying about the problem back then actually made me think he wasn’t that bad when I heard other stories. Well, he’s that bad now – 20 years. Awful – should have left years ago. He won’t leave or participate in life or earn enough or stop doing stupid things like driving illegally – Now that he’s in trouble you’d think that would motivate a person. There is no logic or rational mind left. What to do when they won’t leave or get help. I leave a lot stay away but if there was a way I could have him removed I would (for his own good).

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