What to Say to Someone With a Drinking Problem –

What is drink spiking?

Drink spiking is a deliberate act. Public perception is that it is limited to slipping drugs into an alcoholic drink, however, drink spiking can include:

  • Putting alcohol into a non-alcoholic drink (such as water, soft drink, non-alcoholic punch or fruit juice).
  • Adding extra alcohol to an alcoholic drink.
  • Slipping prescription or illegal drugs (such as benzodiazepines, amphetamines or GHB – also called liquid ecstasy) into an alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink.


How to talk to someone about their drinking

It’s not easy to talk to someone about their drinking. You may be worried that if you bring up your concerns the person will get angry, defensive, lash out, or simply deny that they have a problem. In fact, these are all common reactions. But that’s not a reason to avoid saying anything. Your loved one’s drinking isn’t likely to get better on its own; it’s more likely to get worse until you speak up.

While it’s important to be open and honest about your concerns, you need to remember that you cannot force someone to stop abusing alcohol. As much as you may want to, and as hard as it is to watch, you cannot make someone stop drinking. The choice is up to them. What you can do, though, is offer them steps they can take to address their problem—whether that’s calling a helpline, talking to a doctor or counsellor, entering treatment, or going to a group meeting.

Tips for talking to someone about their drinking
Things that can HELP:
  • Choose a time when your loved one is not drinking and you’re both calm and focused. Choose a place that’s quiet and private, where you won’t be interrupted—and turn off your phone and other devices to avoid distractions.
  • Express your concerns in a caring way. Tell your loved one about the worries you have regarding their drinking and the effects it’s having on their health, your relationship, and the family as a whole. Try to remain neutral and be compassionate rather than judge your loved one’s behavior or try to shame them.
  • Encourage your loved one to open up about the reasons why they’re abusing alcohol. Are they stressed, bored, lonely, or anxious, for example? Many different factors could be contributing to their drinking, but to stay sober your loved one will need to address any underlying causes.
  • Consider staging a family meeting or an intervention if you’d rather not go it alone. Again, everyone needs to come from a place of caring, rather than see this as an opportunity to bully, accuse, or vent their anger at the person with the drinking problem.
Things to AVOID:
  • Don’t take any negative reactions personally. It may take several attempts to begin a real conversation with your loved one about their drinking. Expect pushbacks and denial. Give the person time and space to come to terms with your concerns and start to see the problem for themselves.
  • Don’t attempt to threaten, punish, bribe, or preach. Avoid emotional appeals that only add to the problem drinker’s feelings of guilt and increase their compulsion to drink. Offer advice, not ultimatums.
  • Don’t cover up for your loved one or make excuses for their behavior. Trying to shield them from their responsibilities will only prevent them from seeing the negative consequences of their drinking and could delay them deciding to get help for the problem.
  • Don’t blame yourself. You aren’t to blame for your loved one’s drinking problem, you aren’t guilty or responsible for their behavior, and you can’t make them change.

Dont Enable Their Behavior

There is a joke in recovery circles about an alcoholic in denial who screams, “I don’t have a problem, so don’t tell anyone!” Someone with AUD typically doesn’t want anyone to know the level of their alcohol consumption because if someone found out the full extent of the problem, they might try to help.

If family members try to "help" by covering up for their drinking and making excuses for them, they are playing right into their loved one's denial game. This is just enabling. Dealing with the problem openly and honestly is the best approach.

What Is Enabling?

Enabling occurs when someone else covers up or makes excuses for the person who has a SUD. As a result, the person with a SUD doesn’t deal with the consequences of their actions.

Often, in trying to "help," well-meaning loved ones will actually do something that enables someone dependent on alcohol to continue along their destructive paths. Make sure that you are not doing anything that bolsters their denial or prevents them from facing the natural consequences of their actions.

When You Enable Them

What happens when you enable them? The exact answer depends on the specific situation, but typically two things happen: They never feel the pain, and it takes the focus off of their behavior.

For example, if your loved one passes out in the yard and you carefully help them into the house and into bed, only you feel the pain. The focus then becomes what you did (moved them) rather than what they did (drinking so much that they passed out outside). 

When You Stop Enabling Them

Instead, if you do nothing and they wake up on the lawn in the morning with neighbors peeking out the window and come into the house while you and the children are happily eating breakfast, they are left to face the results of their own behavior.

In other words, their behavior, rather than your reaction to their behavior, becomes the focus. It is only when they experience their own pain that they will feel a need to change.

Natural consequences may mean that you refuse to spend any time with the person dependent on alcohol. This decision is not being mean or unkind. It is an act of protection for yourself.

It is not your job to "cure" your loved one's alcoholism, but allowing natural consequences to occur is one factor that can push a person from the pre-contemplative stage to the contemplative stage of overcoming addiction.

The contemplative stage ends with the decision to make a change, yet further steps such as preparation, action, and later maintenance and likely relapse are usually needed before the addiction is controlled.

Quiz: Are You Enabling and Alcoholic?

Best legal techniques

Arguing about what to do in case of contact with an insane drunk person, it should be borne in mind that there is always a risk of violating the law by mistake or ignorance and be held responsible.

There are absolutely safe methods that will help to bring the alcoholic to life even for a short while. It is they that need to be used if it is necessary to maintain a normal situation before the arrival of doctors or police:

  1. Talking to the drunk. It is unlikely that the alcoholic who has lost his temper will engage in a constructive dialogue, but you can try to find out what he needs and promise to satisfy all his needs in exchange for fulfilling his counter-requests. Usually this tactic works in women when trying to calm a drunken husband. In this situation, there is a clear advantage of kinship. Spouses know each other very well, which allows them to make contact even while intoxicated.
  2. Switching attention. It is important to consider the general mood of the alcoholic. If aggression and rage are just beginning to emerge, it may be possible to deal with them on their own. So, in a number of situations, the tactic of switching the attention of a drunk person helps. It is allowed to appeal to feelings of guilt or shame. However, you need to keep your phone close at hand so that you can call specialists at any time.
  3. Cold water. With light intoxication, sometimes it’s enough to wash yourself to restore clarity of mind. If a person shows aggression, this will not help. However, you do not need to debit the funds. You can pour a person ice water. It is important that the action is unexpected, otherwise the desired effect will not be. While the drunk is recovering, others will have extra time to ensure their own safety.
  4. Ammonia. It is believed that a few drops of this substance will quickly sober up a person and help pacify him. The difficulty lies only in how to give a person a drink.
  5. Repeated dose of alcohol. This is a legal but extremely dangerous way. If a person shows uncontrolled aggression, then you can offer him alcohol in the hope that he will be distracted and turn his attention to drinking. Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict how his body will react to an increase in ethanol concentration, therefore it is better to abandon this venture.

Caution! None of the methods gives a 100% guarantee. Perhaps the drunk will only get more angry and completely stop controlling himself. In this case, you can’t delay. The only right decision is to call the police or ambulance.

Related information

Supporting your loved one’s recovery

Recovery from alcoholism or a drinking problem can be a bumpy road. About half the people who complete alcohol abuse treatment for the first time stay alcohol-free, while the other half relapse and return to drinking at some point. It’s common for people to require treatment more than once to finally achieve sobriety. That means you’ll need plenty of patience when supporting your loved one’s recovery.

Encourage your loved one to cultivate new interests. When someone spends a lot of time drinking (and recovering from drinking), quitting or cutting down can leave a huge hole in their lives. Encourage your loved one to develop new hobbies and interests that don’t involve drinking. Looks for things that can enrich and add meaning to their life, such as taking a class to learn something new; spending time in nature, hiking, camping, or fishing; volunteering their time for a cause that’s important to them; taking up a sport; joining a hobby club; or pursuing the arts by painting, writing, or visiting museums.

Suggest social activities that don’t involve drinking. While you can’t shelter your loved one from situations where alcohol is present, you can avoid drinking with or around the person. When you spend time together, try to suggest activities that don’t involve alcohol.

Help the person address the problems that led to them drinking. If your loved one drank because of boredom, anxiety, or loneliness, for example, those problems will still be present once they’re sober. Encourage the person to find healthier ways of coping with life’s problems and rebounding from setbacks without leaning on alcohol.

Don’t enable the person. Enabling differs from helping when you shield the person from the consequences of their drinking. You hide or dump bottles, take over their responsibilities, or offer financial assistance when they lose their job or get into legal trouble because of their drinking. Helping them means holding the person accountable for their behavior and letting them maintain their sense of importance and dignity.

Help them find healthier ways to cope with stress. Making a major life change by giving up or cutting down on alcohol can create stress. Similarly, heavy alcohol use is often an unhealthy means of managing stress. You can help your loved one find healthier ways to reduce their stress level by encouraging them to exercise, confide in others, meditate, or adopt other relaxation practices.

Prepare for relapses but don’t blame yourself. Help your loved one plan how they’re going to avoid triggers to drink, deal with alcohol cravings, and cope in social situations where there’s pressure to drink. You can help your loved one find ways to distract themselves when cravings hit—by calling someone, going for a walk, or riding out the urge, for example—but ultimately only they are responsible for their sobriety. Setbacks are common in recovery. If your loved one relapses, it isn’t your fault. All you can do is encourage the person to recommit to overcoming their drinking problem and support them as they try again. With your help, they will get there.

What can not be done

As a rule, the list of basic tips for dealing with drunk people comes down to trying to pacify them without an open physical impact. Sometimes you can find other recommendations, however, it is worth analyzing what you have read and heard before implementing it.

So, one can often find advice to give a violent person sedative pills or tinctures. You cannot follow this recommendation, since it is impossible to determine how the body of a particular person will react to taking sedatives. Especially dangerous are all drugs of synthetic origin. They inhibit the nervous system so much that when combined with alcohol, they can lead to undesirable consequences, even death.

Important! Relatively safe are vegetable-based sed

Important! Relatively safe are vegetable-based sedatives, including tinctures of motherwort or valerian, or decoctions of these herbs. However, with strong uncontrolled aggression, they will not help. They can be taken with a hangover, when a person is worried about nervousness and irritability.

You must not use prohibited methods, in particular, to use physical force. This can have serious consequences. It is hardly worth putting your own life at risk, trying to pacify a drunk.

Counter aggression, an active dispute, and upholding one’s own position will also be a mistake. It is much safer to agree with an insane person, to make concessions to him, to promise to fulfill all his requirements. This will save some time.


elastigirl on April 03, 2013:

im my opinion i wouldn't get a cab home, in fact a lot of women would be scared to get in a taxi half drunk on their own….RAPE DUHH all about safety first. same to sleeping outside a nightclub so randomer will walk past and probably b a sober male. im not judging people or being sexist but from a womans point of view that should be the first thing on their minds if their on their own and drunk

Kitty Fields (author) from Summerland on September 23, 2012:

appsthatpayyou – Thanks so much!

Kitty Fields (author) from Summerland on July 18, 2012:

TK – Haha! Me too…sadly enough. Yes, I always make sure to drink water throughout the night and then again right before bed…it makes a world of difference! Thanks for the comment.

TKs view from The Middle Path on July 17, 2012:

Boy, have I been there, kitty.

Though it's been quite awhile since I was that far over the line, I've found the drinking water tip helps a lot. Usually I'll order a large glass of ice water along with whichever preferred pint I'm having, and I alternate between the two. Makes for a much more pleasant evening as well as a happier next morning.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on July 12, 2012:

Who can say?lol

Kitty Fields (author) from Summerland on July 12, 2012:

phoenix – LOL! Hopefully they weren't flashbacks of your bra on the nearest ceiling beam! Thanks!

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on July 12, 2012:

This brings back memories…or are they flashbacks. lol

Funny hub with good infor.

Voted up, funny and interesting.

Kitty Fields (author) from Summerland on July 11, 2012:

CyclingFitness – That's very true, but the drink is hard to put down once you start. Thanks!

Liam Hallam from Nottingham UK on July 11, 2012:

Deep down we all pretty much know what we should do and what not to do. Yet we still allow alcohol to take its effect. Nice hub