This is the first article of an interventions tips series - don't miss the second and third articles - Tip #2: Assessing Addiction Severity and Tip #3 Assessing Treatment Need.
Tip # 1 - Whether in a formal intervention or a more casual discussion of concerns, don’t get bogged down in debate and don’t get into a waste-of-time discussion about how much or how often.
For example, here’s what you don't want:
"Mom, we’re all worried about you because you're drinking too much - You have 2 bottles of wine almost every night…"
"No, I do not! I do not drink that much at all. If you’re talking about last night when you saw those 2 bottles in the kitchen you should know I spilled half of the first one and shared the second bottle with a neighbor that stopped by - actually she had most of it!"
"OK, but what about last Tuesday when I came over and I had to use my key to come in since you were passed out on the couch?"
"Last Tuesday! You know I wasn’t feeling well and I had taken an antihistamine. Maybe I shouldn’t have had glass of wine with dinner but I have high blood pressure and it’s good for my heart so I try to have at least one every day. So what now - is taking an antihistamine a crime then? Why don’t you stop bothering me and go harass Doctor McClain who prescribed them. It’s more her fault than mine for not warning my of the side effects."
And so on and so forth…
In an intervention, it’s best to stick with 2 things:
- Undeniable facts
- Your own experiences and feelings (also undeniable)
You stick with these two incontestable types of statements to reduce the impact of denial and to avoid distracting squabbles about what’s true and what's not - after all, you’re running an intervention in the first place because a person you love either denies the existence of a problem or at least denies needing help.
Based on this reasoning, avoid:
- Centering your arguments for treatment need on how much or how frequently he or she drinks - do this and you’ll likely get pulled into a smokescreen debate. This line of reasoning leaves you wide open to distracting wiggle room.
- Focus on the problems that result from the use of alcohol. She may say she doesn’t drink much but a DUI can't be denied, nor can medical problems like high blood pressure, nor can the way her drinking makes you feel…
Deception, Delusion and Manipulation of Truth
Alcoholics are grand-masters at minimizing the extent of their drinking. This is done to protect the drinking and to deter people from questioning the habit.
For example, you think your mom needs help for her drinking but she insists she only has 2 or 3 glasses of wine with dinner at night.
She swears it’s true and since this doesn’t sound like an outrageous amount you drop the issue, even though you’ve seen her looking worryingly intoxicated in the evening and haggard come morning.
In truth, she does only have 2 or 3 drinks per night, but when she pours from her box of wine into her oversize glass she easily adds 3 or 4 units of alcohol per ‘single glass serving’ and by the end of the night she’s well on her way to downing 2 whole bottles of wine.
She didn’t lie, but she didn’t exactly tell the truth either…
Instead, Focus on the Consequences of the Drinking
When drinking causes problems you have a drinking problem...
It doesn’t matter how much you drink, if your drinking causes you problems then you have a drinking problem, and if you can’t stop drinking even when it’s obviously causing you problems, then you probably need help.
Some examples of the types of problems you might want to bring up include:
- Legal problems stemming from alcohol use
- Health problems exacerbated by or directly attributable to alcohol use
- Falls or personal injuries resulting from alcohol use
- Problems at work or school related to alcohol use
Remember, Binge Drinking Can Be a Problem Too
Really heavy daily drinkers may get more attention, but people do not necessarily have to drink every day to have a problem that warrants intervention.
You might run a brief casual intervention just to express your concern over a binge drinking habit.
Regular binge drinking causes significant health problems. (Binge drinking is defined as drinking to a blood alcohol concentration of greater than 0.08 in a single session…usually about 5 or more drinks in 2 hours for a man, and 4 or more drinks in 2 hours, for a woman.)
People who regularly binge drink are at increased risk of:
- Sexual dysfunction
- Hypertension and other types of cardiovascular disease
- Trauma injuries
- Liver disease
- Brain damage1
So of course, the amount consumed matters - it matters a great deal, it’s just not always the most useful lever to employ when convincing someone to get help.
Why does consumption matter?
Well, alcohol is a toxin and consuming a toxin in greater quantities tends to cause greater health problems. In fact, with alcohol, your risk of early death increases in a pretty much linear fashion with the amount you consume - the more you drink over a lifetime, the greater your risk of early death.2
The frequency and intensity of binge drinking sessions also relates directly, in a dose dependent fashion, with increased health consequences.
Interventions Save Lives
So the amount consumed matters, and though you can’t change the past you can always influence the future - and this is why life-changing interventions matter so much.
- Don't get sidetracked by denial and manipulation
- You may not convince a person to quit drinking overnight, but by expressing your concerns honestly and openly you increase the odds of meaningful change at some point
- By helping someone begin recovery you perform a great act of love and kindness, and if it goes well, you could add years of health and happiness to the lifespan of someone you care about
Keep reading for the second and third articles - Tip #2: Assessing Addiction Severity and Tip #3 Assessing Treatment Need.
Page last updated Jun 15, 2022