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Starting the Conversation

How to talk with a loved one about getting help

If you're helping a loved one find treatment, it can be hard to know how to talk with him or her about it. While it may be challenging, try to adopt a nonjudgmental tone. Showing some empathy may lead to a more productive conversation. Here are a few more suggestions:

  • Think about what you're going to say before you say it. Maybe even do a role-play practice with someone else. These conversations can get emotional—being prepared can help you stay focused.
  • Choose the right time to talk. Thanksgiving dinner is probably not a good time for a thoughtful discussion about alcohol treatment. Neither is when your loved one is intoxicated. (This conversation should wait until he or she is safe and stable. If your loved one is in crisis, call 911.)
  • Try to be calm and supportive. Chances are his or her life is in chaos right now. You can be a calming influence.
  • Don't gang up on the person or back him or her into a corner. You want your loved one to feel supported, not threatened.
  • Stick to the facts you've learned. A person with alcohol use disorder (AUD) has a medical problem—not a lack of willpower. There are lots of health professionals who can help. There are treatments that work. There are many options, and you can help find one that's a good fit. 

When he or she is ready to talk

If your loved one is willing and able to help decide on a treatment provider, engage him or her in a discussion. See if there's a preference for how to get started—for example, would he or she rather talk one-on-one with a therapist, go to group counseling sessions, or make an appointment with a doctor? With these ideas in mind, you can offer to find some options to consider or find a time when you can sit down and search together.

If you've already used the Navigator to do your search, you now have several options to share. You can refer to five signs of higher-quality care to help explain why some options might be better choices than others. Once you've described the options you've found, ask for your loved one's thoughts. If he or she doesn't like one choice, you'll have another to suggest—and you'll be able to share important facts (not just feelings or opinions) about the differences between the options.

If all the options are rejected

If your loved one rejects all the treatment options you've found, consider these suggestions.

Maybe your loved one just needs a break from the discussion. Give him or her some time to think more about it. If you filled out the Navigator Toolkit Treatment Options Chart [PDF-127KB], leave it with him or her—you might find that your loved one is more willing to talk after having some time to think about it.

If your loved one will talk but just doesn't like the choices you've offered, you can ask again what kinds of help he or she might be willing to try. The Navigator has taught you how and where to search for providers who offer higher-quality treatment, so go back and search again. You might even have your loved one sit with you and do an online search together.

Need more advice?

One excellent resource, drawing on years of clinical practice and scientific research, is The Crisis Toolkit from Addiction: The Next Step. This interactive guide offers real-world examples and easy-to-follow suggestions for talking with your loved one about getting help.