One reason confrontation gets a bad rap: it’s often done incorrectly, so as to make the client more defensive rather than less.

Confronting someone doesn’t require us to ‘make them wrong’, thereby opening the gate to conflict. If we inadvertently activate the ‘fight-flight’ response, communication will come to a halt. We may still be talking but the discussion is effectively over.

Fortunately, there’s no need to do that.

Instead, we can confront through education. An example:

Ralph: I need something to help me sleep.

Doctor: You’ve had sleep problems for a while?

Ralph: Months. I wake up after a couple hours and can’t get back to sleep. It’s a big reason I drink.

Doctor: Have you been drinking before bed?

Ralph: Nods. And still I had to take a pill, too. Only way I could fall asleep.

Doctor: It’s also probably the reason you woke up a few hours later.

Ralph (puzzled): What?

Doctor: I’ll explain.

The physician takes advantage of an opportunity to teach Ralph something about the effect of heavy drinking on sleep. He’s not arguing with Ralph. He’s simply replacing bad information with good.

It’s also possible to confront through consensus, which is where family intervention draws its power. Team members learn to avoid arguing when the addict attacks or criticizes. Instead, they allow other members to jump in. Example:

Dorothy: Mom, you say you care about me but you were never there when I needed you, growing up.

Joyce (elder sister): We all had a hard time after Dad died, but today we’re here to express our concern about the problems you’ve been having.

Dorothy (scoffs): You always take her side, don’t you, Joyce? You think you’re the little mother.

Bill (younger brother): I’m here, too, Doro. I’ve been worried sick about you. We all have. We need to talk about this.

Dorothy can’t draw the others into old arguments she’s sure to win. Instead, she has to confront their joint concern — and that’s much harder to ignore.

Those are just two examples of constructive confrontation designed to be a positive force in recovery.