What to do when your spouse is not able to acknowledge their alcoholism
Before an alcoholic can adequately get help, they need to acknowledge that they have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Due to various psychological factors, many alcoholics are unable to admit that they have an addiction. When confronted, unaccepting alcoholics often downplay the severity of the problem. Some may even lash out or make efforts to hide their drinking as a form of denial.
How can you effectively communicate with someone with alcoholism and reach a place where they accept their addiction and move forward to get help? Below is a list of strategies:
Avoid negative language and labels
Alcoholism is a medical issue. A person with this condition can no longer control their consumption of alcohol and they will become ill if they try to stop suddenly. Thus, it’s not helpful to use harsh, negative language when confronting your loved one even though you may be justifiably upset. Using negative attacks only amplifies the shame and guilt that prevents people from getting help. Specific language to avoid includes insinuating someone is selfish, weak, or loves alcohol more than their family. Instead, talk about alcoholism like the disease of the brain it is. You would not berate a person for having an uncontrollable medical issue like a cancer diagnosis. Likewise, attacking an alcoholic doesn’t often lead to successful medical treatment.
Ask a former alcoholic for help
Chances are you may know an alcoholic in recovery. Hearing from someone who went through the same hardship and came out on the other side can inspire alcoholics to get help. This idea is based on the theory of social proof. Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation. In other words, social proof explains how when we feel uncertain, we look to others for answers as to how we should behave, think, and do. This effect is even stronger when a person can identify with the person they are learning social proof from. Simply, hearing from a former alcoholic provides a current alcoholic with proof that they are able to get help and recover.
Prepare specific examples of their behavior
From Manor Clinic:
“If you think that they are in denial about their alcoholism, it’s important that you prepare specific examples of their drinking behaviors before you have the conversation with them. That way, if you’re immediately met with denial, you can gently point out the times that their drinking has been a problem and has had a negative impact on other people. Being able to calmly point out their past actions, and times when you think they have drunk too much, means they’re more likely to accept the fact that there is an issue.”
Ask for an explanation
If you have specific examples of behavior influenced by drinking, you can then ask for explanations. Having to rationalize actions like passing out, falling down, or acting out of character could start to unravel an alcoholics negation. When they can’t explain themselves or don’t remember what happened, the denial may start to fall away.
Interventions were mentioned in the introduction post. If none of the above were successful, you can consider trying an intervention – which takes a great deal of effort and planning to be impactful.
Some just can’t accept it for some reason. Don’t internalize this as a failure on your part, you are not in control of that person and addiction is an impossible foe. Make sure you are getting support and help yourself to work through the distressing emotions that come from dealing with another person’s addiction.