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7 Things You Should Never Say To An Alcoholic

by Landmark Recovery

October 31, 2017
A woman holding out her hand. There are many things you should not say to an alcoholic

What You Shouldn’t Say To An Alcoholic

Updated 2/19/22

Determining the right things to say to an alcoholic can be difficult. You may feel compelled to offer advice to a friend or loved one who is dealing with an alcohol addiction. Knowing how to talk with someone, whether they are in alcohol rehab, have started recovery, or have begun looking for an alcohol treatment center be sure you careful consider what you say. The last thing you want to do is cause them to feel alienated and alone.
Your intentions may be good, but the words you choose could be perceived as offensive and even uncaring. There are ways to show you care and want to be supportive. Sometimes what you shouldn’t say is just as important as what you should say.

Follow these seven tips on what NOT to say to your loved one in alcohol recovery.

A woman in a button up shirt with long braided hair holds both hands over her mouth, as if to keep herself from talking.

“Do You Miss Drinking?”

If a friend or family member is struggling with an alcohol addiction then this question is rhetorical. Odds are the answer is “yes,” especially if they are in the early stages of detox or rehab. An alcoholic almost certainly misses drinking. They are likely craving a favorite drink, and need support to avoid social and mental triggers. What someone battling alcoholism doesn’t miss is the complete dependence on alcohol and the havoc it brings. People in recovery have reached a point where the benefits of sobriety far outweigh the temporary satisfaction of being drunk. Being able to reclaim your life and be in charge of your destiny is a beautiful thing and worth any discomfort or cravings that occur along the way.

“You’re Not An Alcoholic!”

What makes you think you know your friend better than they know themselves? No one wants their feelings and important life decisions to be discredited and undermined. It could have taken years of relapse and recovery to feel confident in one’s ability to abstain from alcohol. When you minimize their drinking as anything less than a full-fledged addiction you’re basically saying you know him best, and he’s over-dramatizing his alcohol usage. How degrading!
Alcoholism is a real disorder. People can develop a chemical dependency, which takes much more than willpower to overcome. Trying to tough talk someone out of drinking isn’t going to work. They need professional help, the kind only a drug and alcohol rehab center can provide.

“I Know How You Feel.”

Unless you have an addiction, you really don’t know how an alcoholic feels. While you may have been involved in unhealthy behaviors previously and felt the repercussions that go along with bad decisions, alcoholics experience suffering that you can’t understand unless you’ve been there too. Empathy is good. Just make sure you’re not comparing your lifestyle choices to his or implying that your problems are the same or equal. Remember that we’re all different and experience life in different ways. What works for you may not work for someone else. Instead of saying I know how you feel, try letting them know you’re willing to listen, and will do whatever you can to support their recovery.

“Do You Mind If I Have A Drink?”

Your friend or family member may have been in recovery for two weeks, two months or twenty years. Either way, it’s naïve to assume that they don’t experience temptation because they’re sober. Instead of asking for their approval to drink, try putting yourself in their shoes. There might come a day when they attend an event knowing alcohol will be served. However, the decision to do so should be made alone, without outside suggestions or influence.

“You Don’t Drink? I Feel Bad For You.”

Sympathy is the last thing your friend or acquaintance wants. Ask yourself, “Why do you feel bad for them?” It’s likely because you enjoy the experience of drinking. You should feel bad if they start to drink again. Why? One shot or glass of wine creates an overwhelming and uncontrollable desire to keep drinking. Your friend doesn’t feel bad for themselves. In fact, they probably feel empowered and set free from the ravages of addiction.

“When Can You Stop Going To Meetings?”

Recovery doesn’t have an end date. Many people continue going to meetings for a lifetime. Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, local rehabs and other support groups provide much more than tools that can be used to stay sober. Meetings offer connection and friendship to others that truly understand the devastating effects of addiction. These peers become a lot like family, and strong bonds serve to lift each other up in times of doubt, insecurity and hard times.
Try to recognize that in order to overcome an addiction a person needs a strong network of support. It helps to be around others who have experienced similar struggles and share strategies for what’s working. These alcohol support groups offer accountability and acceptance. Never suggest that someone battling an addiction give that up.

“Why Did You Start Using?”

For many alcoholics, this is a deeply personal question. Some people began drinking due to a childhood trauma, and alcohol numbed the pain. For others, occasional use led to alcohol abuse over months or even years. Some people are forthcoming about the things that caused an addiction. Other people are more private and need to establish trust before opening up about their past. The answer is likely complicated and often painful. Do you really want your friend of loved one to get into an introspective discussion about they began drinking? Are you equipped to provide the support and understanding they need if that question leads to an emotional breakdown?

So, What Should You Say to Someone in Recovery?

Choose words that send the message that you accept them without judgment. You don’t have to understand everything they’ve through. Being a good friend is enough. Let them know that you’re available to talk, and ask if they are comfortable in social settings where alcohol is present. Be mindful of your friend’s former lifestyle and aware of everything they lost. More importantly, acknowledge their courage and dedication for owning their addiction. Following these simple guidelines will ensure that you and your friend or loved one have meaningful conversations about alcoholism and recovery. Remember that the best thing you can say is nothing at all. Extend an ear, and listen to your friend with support and sensitivity, and you won’t have to worry about choosing the right words at all.
When your loved one is ready for the help they deserve, find the best alcohol rehab near them, where you can achieve the sobriety you always dreamed of.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.