What NOT to Say to a Recovering Alcoholic
When a friend or loved one with a drinking problem enters into recovery, naturally we want to do everything in our power to support her path to wellness. But at the same time, we recognize the situation is fluid and we know that the person we care about is facing a long road back to sobriety. Consequently, we want to make sure that what we do and say makes the proper impact.
The risk of misstep is real and cannot be ignored. The wrong words spoken with the wrong attitude could indeed contribute to the failure of an alcoholic’s recovery process, and we must be careful and thoughtful about the approach we take in our social interactions with a person working to beat an alcohol addiction. But the right words and sentiments from supportive souls can boost the efforts of the recovering alcoholic significantly, so we should definitely not avoid our loved ones when they are battling a drinking problem simply because we are afraid we might do more harm than good.
The good news is that if we enter into our post-recovery relations with an alcoholic well prepared, we can easily avoid the pitfalls that can undermine our best efforts to contribute to her healing. Listed below are some of the things that you should most certainly not say to a recovering alcoholic, if you are seriously interested in helping her find and retain permanent sobriety.
1. “I really feel bad for you that you have to go through something like this.”
Let the pity party begin! Or better yet, let’s not. Instead, let’s call the police and file a noise complaint against the pity party so it can be squelched before it ever gets off the ground. Alcoholics in recovery need empowerment, not sympathy. If they are inundated with pity, it could lead them to start feeling sorry for themselves and weaken their resolve at a time when they need it the most.
2. “I admire your willpower, it must be hard to resist the constant temptation to drink.”
The common perception that willpower is the key factor that allows alcoholics to overcome their addiction is simplistic and wrong. Recovering alcoholics face a variety of triggers that can set off a relapse, and conscious awareness of the nature of the threat is much more important than sheer willpower. Reminding them to watch out for those triggers is more productive than talking about willpower as this can actually plant seeds of doubt in their minds (no one can be expected to maintain her willpower seven days a week/24 hours a day).
3. “You know, your drinking really wasn’t all that bad.”
You might think you are doing the recovering alcoholic a favor by humoring her with this type of rhetoric, but in fact you aren’t really helping at all. No recovering alcoholic should have illusions about the true nature of her disease, and encouraging her to take her alcoholism less seriously is irresponsible to the extreme.
4. “How are you feeling? What have you been doing? Have you felt like taking a drink today?”
Enough with the questions. You should be intimately involved in your loved one’s sobriety campaign and on a daily basis if possible, but pestering and annoying her with incessant verbiage will leave her feeling pressured and could literally drive her back to drinking. Keeping her constantly preoccupied with her problems will not be constructive, so you should rely on her to volunteer personal information as appropriate rather than demanding to be kept informed.
5. “Just know that I’m here to help you beat this horrible ghastly disease, no matter what it takes.”
Recovery is serious business, but that doesn’t mean it has to be unrelentingly grim. Laughter and gaiety are tickets to happiness and a better life, and anything you can do to bring smiles of enjoyment to a person battling alcoholism will only increase the odds of ultimate victory.