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Carole Bennett, MA Headshot

Communicating with the Alcoholic/Addict: Concepts for Neutral Dialogue

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Communication is an art all to itself. Whether it comes trippingly off the tongue, through expressive eyes, facial inflections, foot taping, moans, groans or whatever body language we are transmitting, it's all some type of communication.

In an instant we hear or see what that person is saying to us and react accordingly. Most of the time we are prepared for what's coming and consequently engage accordingly. But it's a whole new verbal ball game when we communicate (or try to) with the alcoholic/addict.

Obviously, there can be little or no communication if the alcoholic/addict is so entangled in their addiction that they can barely string two sentences together, but let's look at some common banter your loved one might try to rope you into in order to engage you in a senseless round of dialogue. The alcoholic/addict doesn't see this as anything other than keeping you an active participant in their life, regardless of whether you have covered the same ground over and over. As the family member/friend, after a while we are exhausted and weary from answering the same questions/concerns repeatedly, with nothing being resolved.

Do the following comments sound familiar to you?
  • "I'm always letting you down."
  • "I guess I'm just a bad person."
  • "You don't care about me, or you would do this or that."
  • "I can't do anything right."
  • "You've always liked my sister (or brother) better than me."
  • "You just want me to leave."
  • "I don't know why you don't trust me."
  • "I guess this is what you want, right?"
  • "You have no respect for me."
  • And my favorite....
  • "You just don't love me anymore."
The family member/friend is usually trapped into defending and justifying with the following responses to any of the above:
  • "Of course not."
  • "Don't be silly."
  • "That's not true."
  • "OK, what would you like me to do to show you that you're wrong?"
  • "No, I never said I wanted that" or "No, let me explain."
  • "That's not what my intention was."
  • "Why would you think or say that?"

Remember that the alcoholic/addict isn't really looking for the answer and even if you give them a loving, thoughtful response, it will most likely only appease them for a short time.

After the weariness of going over this same diatribe for months, possibly years, and getting nowhere, let's redirect this routine by responding differently. Try hard not to respond with a question as it can be loaded with potential conflict. In addition, it allows the alcoholic/addict to control the response and gives them a sense of power, for you are held captive in waiting for their reply.

The following responses are neutral, kind and loving without giving way to anger, confrontation or frustration... at least on your part. However, be prepared that your loved one might not like that you are not engaging with warm, fuzzy answers which in turn would make sure that they still have you on an emotional tether. Note that many of these responses can be interchangeable as a perfect comeback to your loved ones verbal fishing expedition.
  • "I'm sorry you feel that way."
  • "I never said that."
  • "You must have misheard me."
  • "Please don't put words in my mouth."
  • "This must be difficult for you."
  • "I'm sorry you're sad (or unhappy, or lonely or frustrated)."
  • "That just won't work for me."
  • "It is not healthy for me to participate in this with you."
  • "I have answered this before and don't believe my answer would be any different now."
  • Or just walk away calmly, without any discussion, anger or invoking of your own punishing intentions.

Like learning a new language, communicating with the alcoholic/addict can be frustrating and surely exhausting especially when your loved one may still be in denial about their disease or is picking and choosing their recovery path.

Do yourself a favor and don't try to come up with a magic set of words or the answer that will be the alcoholic/addict's eye opener to a clean and sober lifestyle. If they don't heed your advice, opinion or whatever discussion you think you are having with them, please know it is not a personal reflection on you, your love or desire to be of service. The more you can disengage and stay neutral with your dialogue and emotions, the more your loved one will have to rely on him or herself for their own emotional comfort... or discomfort. And such just might propel them to an honest and healthy recovery program.

If I can be of service, please visit my website and I invite you to explore my new book "Reclaim Your Life - You and the Alcoholic/Addict" at or on Amazon.

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