Knowing how to start a conversation with your partner about their drinking is not always easy. In this blog, Anita Harris, Service Manager at Better Lives Family Service (part of Humankind), shares some top tips about what you can do if you are worried about your partner’s drinking.
It’s really difficult when someone you care about like your partner or loved one is drinking too much. It can feel like they’re two different people: the sober one and the drunk one.
It’s natural that you would want to care for them but it’s important to remember that it’s a big step for someone else to realise they’re drinking too much and need to cut down their drinking. First and foremost you need to be safe and mindful of your own health and wellbeing so that you can support them. Here are a few tips about how to raise the issue of drinking too much for the first time and how to look after yourself.
It’s important to choose the right time to talk
Don’t try discussing the issue if your loved one is drunk as they may get angry or even forget the conversation took place.
Try to be sensitive
Using words like ‘alcoholic’ or ‘drinking problem’ may make them defensive and put them on the back foot. Remember no one sets out to drink too much. It is seen as socially acceptable, advertised everywhere and reinforced by cultural norms so can be easy to slip into bad habits.
Be patient and stay calm
It can take some time and several conversations for someone to commit to changing. Remember that it’s their decision to change and not yours. If someone is angry, aggressive, or repetitive, just try and be as patient as possible and don’t react to provocation. Instead try doing an activity first and then bring up what you want to talk about.
Having them distracted while you bring up a tough topic allows them to focus their energy in two places instead of one and it gives them an ‘out’ from the conversation if they’re not up for it.
If they say they don’t want to talk be ready with this line; “Okay all good. I’m always here if you do want to talk about it.”
Don’t act as a counsellor but focus on their health
You can help them start to consider their drinking but the best person for them to talk to is their GP, nurse or a specialist alcohol worker. If you can get a general discussion going around health (such as sleeping or eating in general) your partner may be more willing to start by having a chat with their GP.
This approach allows you to listen to your loved one and allows them to see that your main concern is about their health and wellbeing. This builds trust with the hopes that they will eventually open up to you about their alcohol use.
You could encourage them to take the DrinkCoach Alcohol Test to find out how risky their drinking is and start making changes. Encourage them to make an appointment to see their GP or their local alcohol community service.
Take the curious approach instead of the worried approach
Often when you find out your partner is drinking too much you want to protect them. This is a good instinct and is a perfectly normal and natural way to respond. However, this often means you can be quick to give advice or enforce tough boundaries without listening to them.
Try to keep the discussion related to the consequences of their drinking (rather than about whether they do or do not have an alcohol problem). The important thing with this step is to ask open questions that start with; what, why, when, how, who, tell me about, describe to me. If you ask questions starting with do you or is that, it makes the question closed which allows the person to just say yes or no.
Use the 7 C’s
If your partner is drinking too much, you may feel a variety of emotions including feelings of denial, shame, fear, anxiety and feeling stigmatised amongst friends. Services such as Better Lives Family Service work to address that by offering direct support to you. Find your nearest support service on the Adfam website.
A good tool to use is the 7 C’s which aim to help you refocus your own self-care needs and work towards a healthy balance of supporting your loved ones and empowering you to maintain focus on your wellbeing needs.
The 7 C’s are:
- I did not cause it
- I can’t control it
- I can’t cure it
- I can care for myself
- By communicating my feelings
- By making healthy choices
- By celebrating myself
Written by Anita Harris
If you are worried about your own or someone else’s drinking, there is help available.
Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline. Calls are free and confidential. Call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9.00am to 8.00pm, weekends 11.00am to 4.00pm).
More information about organisations which offer help and support can be found on our support page.
This blog was published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alcohol Health Alliance or its members.