Let’s face it: if we’re going to talk with an alcoholic about his drinking, we can’t expect a warm reception.
We probably won’t hear, “Wow, thanks for pointing that out. You’re a true friend.”
Instead we may get a burst of anger. A heated argument. Perhaps refusal to discuss it at all. Maybe the alcoholic leaves the room, the house, the city, the state. Peppers us with excuses for the alcohol-related problems that have led us to this point in the first place.
Or any combination of the above.
So if we’re seeking an easier, softer way to convince an alcoholic to do the one thing he or she dreads the most – which is change – we’ve come to the wrong place.
Instead, we can seek a better result through more effective communication with the alcoholic about the painful issue of his/ her drinking.
How? We begin by changing our approach. We strive to learn a new way of relating to the alcoholic about the issue of substance use.
The thing about alcoholism is that it strikes persons of all different ages, and achievements, and education, and religious beliefs, and sexual preferences, and makes them behave in remarkably similar ways. That’s why an organization such as Alcoholics Anonymous can include such a diverse membership – because in spite of their differences, they have one very large thing in common.
And that’s a particular sort of difficulty handling alcohol.
As alcoholism progresses, the alcoholic’s behavior becomes increasingly predictable. By behavior, I’m not just speaking of actions, but his thoughts, words, feelings.
That’s to our advantage as interveners. When we can predict someone’s behavior, we can prepare for it. And when can prepare for it, we can take steps to change it.
- First, we take a look at the way we communicate with the alcoholic, and the extent to which it works (or doesn’t), and why.
- Second, begin changing our behavior, prior to asking the alcoholic to change theirs.
- Third, once we discover what works best in communicating with our alcoholic, to make those changes a permanent part of our relationship, so that when the alcoholic does make up his or her mind to change, we’re ready and able to help.
That’s what this discussion is all about.