How do I get him to admit he's an alcoholic? I hear this question often.The rationale behind it appears to be that if he just admits to being an alcoholic, he will stop drinking.
Unfortunately, getting someone to admit to being an alcoholic is difficult; ask any therapist. Even if they do admit to being an alcoholic, there is no guarantee they will change because of acknowledging the issue.
The good news is that there is no need for the drinker to confess to being an alcoholic to change the problem. Some years ago, psychologists Bill Miller and Steve Rollnick wrote a book titled Motivational Interviewing. In it, they suggest that the most powerful forcse for change are "motivational statements." For example, "drinking is causing me problems at work" or "it interferes with my home life."
These are clear statements about the specific problems that the alcohol is causing rather than a more general statement about whether or not someone has a full-fledged addiction. This is now a common approach used in alcohol treatment units throughout the world.
If you want your drinker to change, don't get drawn into an argument about whether the way he drinks qualifies him as an alcoholic or not. The problem is that there are many definitions of an alcoholic; few people agree on a common one. In fact, I often say that most drinkers' definition of an alcoholic is "someone else; not me."
The best way to get your drinker to change his drinking habits is to talk about the specific problems that his drinking is causing you or your family, not about if he is considered to be an alcoholic or not.
Let's look at an example of this approach. You may find that he has a few drinks on the way home from work and then has a couple more before and during dinner. After dinner, instead of sitting down with you and the family to talk or watch TV, he falls into a drunken stupor. The family does not want to be around him, and when they are, he criticizes them before falling asleep.
Understandably, your first instinct is to try and make him see that he is drinking too much — but this will almost certainly lead to an argument. He probably says that he doesn't drink too much; he says that he is tired or at best, he drank a bit too much because he is under stress. This makes you angrier, and makes the subject even more difficult to raise in the future.
Instead of focusing on how much he drinks and whether or not he is an alcoholic, focus on how his behavior affects his family. For example, you could tell him how the kids want to spend time with him, but he often falls asleep, making it difficult to do so. They would love to get time to talk with their dad, but they seldom get that opportunity these days.
The idea here is that by talking about the consequences of his drinking as opposed to of the actual drinking itself, the discussion is less threatening. It is also more difficult to deny and more likely to lead to some positive change.
You may think that this is an unsatisfactory method of dealing with the situation, or that what you really want is the acknowledgement that he is an alcoholic. However, this method has been found to be more effective than a direct confrontation, as it leads to less resistance. You need to ask yourself this question: do you want to be effective or right?
For more on this topic and other related issues visit Bottled Up.