Admitting to yourself that you’re an alcoholic is one thing.
Telling yourself over and over that your drinking is out of control, you’re “powerless over alcohol” (as they say in 12-Step meetings), and you’re taking serious and unnecessary risks with your closest relationships, your mental and physical health, and even your liberty every single time you drive anywhere – well, that’s one thing, and it’s a good thing, too.
However, taking a leap into the great unknown by admitting to other people you’re an alcoholic… To people you care deeply about? To your partner, to your family, and to your closest friends?
That, my new online friend, as you can well imagine, is a completely different matter entirely.
Have I been there myself? Yes, I have. Now, here’s your first piece of advice:
It’s certainly not as bad as you’re imagining. Here’s why:
Those closest to you – your partner, your family, your friends – they already know. And if they don’t already know, or were just not entirely sure, you will give them clarification. And with clarification comes understanding and peace of mind.
Consider that as the likely outcome – understanding and peace of mind. How good would that feel compared to how you are feeling right now.
Whatever you are currently feeling about being open and 100% honest with your loved ones, just know you’re not alone in wrestling with this decision. Many more people in the U.S., even in some in your own city or town, are now considering exactly the same thing you are, and like you, they, too, are hoping it will put them on the path to recovery.
According to a pivotal 2017 study on alcohol use in the U.S., it is estimated that 1 in 8 Americans meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD) – that’s 12.7% of the total population.
Admitting you are dependent on alcohol probably summons up a whole spectrum of intense emotions and feelings, such as fear, embarrassment, shame, and guilt, even though these emotions are mostly unjustified. You have a disease, a medical disorder, you now need treatment, and you’re telling your loved ones.
However, we are all human, and one of the scariest parts of finding a long-term, sustainable recovery for yourself is worrying about the kind of reaction you will receive from family or friends.
Consider this: In 2019, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA) reported that only about 10% of those with alcohol use disorder entered into a professional alcohol rehab program.
Regardless of what happened to those 10%, let’s focus on the 90%.
There is one thing you can say for sure about the other 90% – they never found sobriety. The end.
And those people who did begin their recovery journey all did so in the same way – by admitting their disorder to their loved ones.
In time, you will meet people who have gone through what you are about to – others who found the courage to find recovery. I met plenty the first time I stepped into the meeting room of Alcoholics Anonymous in Rochester, New York, and I have met hundreds, maybe thousands since then on my journey to recovery.
Let me explain how those people and I found a way to tell their loved ones about their illness, and, just as importantly, why they did so.
Finally admitting to those around us that we are an alcoholic can feel like an overwhelming prospect. However, without this first step, you will literally stand still – not moving forward, and not moving towards the goal of recovery.
Finally admitting is not easy. This simple fact is usually the main motivation why most people with AUD spend some much time and effort simply hiding their illness – to avoid this moment. Trust me, life is better on the other side of this dilemma.
Why is it so difficult to reveal your issues with alcohol?
The answer is the combination of a number of factors – you have real difficulty doing something so seemingly everyday, while other view it as a normal part of life; alcohol affects you differently, unlike other people; you believe others will see this as a weakness, some kind of character flaw, and even a moral failing, in some way – as fundamentally wrong as that statement actually is.
All of these are your perceived ideas and concepts of what others will think.
However, we don’t seek recovery to please others, to make other people feel differently about us. We do want to feel differently about ourselves. We seek recovery for us, and us alone.
Honesty – 100% complete and clear honesty with others – will be your savior. Being honest about the extent of your alcohol problem is the first step to recovery. The people you love deserve to know the truth, and this will be hard for you – a person who has gone to tremendous lengths to hide their drinking. Honesty begins now, nothing less.
Here are some expert tips to consider when addressing how to tell someone you’re an alcoholic:
- Honesty with yourself and those you love is critical. If you’re lost, confused, or even unsure what to do next, tell your family and friends exactly that.
- Explain how you’re feeling, how you have been feeling, and why you think these emotions and thoughts have caused you to seek answers or relief from drinking.
- You will feel really vulnerable at this point, and this will keep you honest.
- You need to show and explain to those closest to you how you have come to this moment in time. Let people see what you have been going through, and why you chose to do it alone.
- Explain what you want to happen next, the action you’d like to take to seek recovery.
- Be totally clear about what you need help with to achieve these next steps.
- Ask for their help and advice.
- Explain what prompted you to ask for help – why you are telling them this. If you’ve started to attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings, or have seen your doctor, or something else, let them know.
- Be as transparent and open as you can.
- Be prepared for a range of potential reactions. This can vary from disbelief and shock, to disgust, anger, and resentment. On the flip side, the response could be one of relief, and shared tears and smiles.
- Remain calm. Many people are simply unsure of how they should respond initially.
- Remember, the only thing you are in control of in this situation are the words you choose to say. You cannot control how anyone else feels, or the ways in which they react.
- Give yourself time, and give your loved ones time.
- The truth may feel like a heavy burden you don’t have to carry anymore – however, for your loved ones, they may feel it’s somehow their burden to carry now.
Once your illness is in the open, and your loved ones have had time to process, it will become far easier to discuss the issue from now on, and to understand the best course of action for everyone involved.
You need to feel supported as you journey to recovery, and in taking this step, your journey to recovery can now begin – with the support of your loved ones. You should rightly be proud and pleased with yourself, too, for taking this important first step – no-one else can take it for you.