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5 Ways to Convince Your Loved One to Join AA

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In Alcoholics Anonymous it’s widely acknowledged that the first step of dealing with a problem is admitting you have one.

But for many of us, that first step may actually be the most difficult to take and we may need some additional help moving in the right direction.

If you have a loved one who’s struggling with alcoholism, you may have experienced this firsthand. Addiction can be a stubborn disease, and sobriety is, always, an ongoing process, with many twists, turns, and detours.

But there are some strategies for how to help someone with a drinking problem that may present an easier—and more effective—way to help them acknowledge the issue and start addressing it.

#1 Rehearse Positive Lines

Before an actor gives a performance, they read a script over and over again. This is partly to memorize their lines, but the process also allows them to test out different ways to deliver the words.

The way a message is presented can be just as, or even more, important than what’s actually said. It can make or break the way the words are received.

When figuring out what to say to your loved one, it might be helpful to first make a list. Why do you want them to start attending AA meetings? Why is this important, not just to you, or to others, but to them? It might be helpful to write or type these out, so you can go back and reference them later.

Still, while your notes may read like a list of personal grievances when it comes to addressing your loved one, it’s important to keep things positive. (Remember, it’s all about how the message is delivered.)

We want Alcoholics Anonymous to be associated with good things rather than negative things. Guilt and depression are already big culprits in many drinking problems, and piling negative comments on top of these feelings may only make the situation worse. Give your loved one positive notes to look for and look forward to once they start regularly attending AA meetings. For example, “When you’re sober, you’re so productive and happier!”

Practicing what to say beforehand also helps for that second reason actors rely on it: it gives you a script to fall back on.

When it comes to convincing someone that he or she has a problem or should be doing more to address it, the conversation can quickly become fraught with emotions, which makes clear communication even trickier. Having mental, or even physical, notes to help you stick to your message, then, can be even more critical.

You’re likely not an actor, and you’re not feigning concern for your loved one, but, like those on the stage and screen, you do want to evoke the right emotions from your audience—a key part in cultivating cooperation from the person you’re trying to help.

#2 Choose the Right Time and Place

Timing is equally as important as how the message is delivered.

We know this is, and probably has been, weighing on your mind for some time. But just blurting out what you’re thinking may make the whole conversation moot. You want your loved one to actually be receptive to your words, so creating the right environment to foster that state of mind is key.

Think of a time when the person might be the most open and amenable—a time when they’re likely to be relaxed and able to give you their undivided attention. If there isn’t an inherent time that comes to mind, schedule one.

It might also be helpful to keep potential stressors in mind and to keep them to as low a level as possible. Make sure there are no other lingering chores or duties on the horizon. If you have children, maybe arrange for them to stay with friends or relatives for a few hours.

You want this moment to be as much about this message as possible—don’t sabotage or shortchange yourself by inviting distractions.

#3 Stage an Intervention

You’ve practiced your lines and you’ve arranged your setting. Now it’s time to act.

You can certainly go it alone if you feel that’s a safe and effective option. But staging an intervention is another strategy to help convince a loved one he or she should be attending AA meetings.

The general concept is to show this person how many people out there care about and are concerned for them. It usually involves a number of friends and family members speaking up and showing support.

The process can certainly be nerve-wracking. It takes a lot of planning and cooperation, and you ultimately can’t predict how your loved one will react. They might feel trapped or targeted, lash out against the group or recede into themselves completely, to block out the experience.

For this reason, it’s paramount that not just you but everyone involved in the intervention also comes prepared with positive lines, knowing what they want and intend to say and sticking to the script as much as possible.

There are also several different ways to plan an intervention, all meant to help different types of people struggling differently with different aspects of their alcoholism.

#4 Don’t Be Judgmental

This is perhaps the most difficult task on this list, but possibly also one of the most helpful, both for you and the person you’re trying to reach.

Sobriety is an ongoing challenge, one which may be tested many times. It may take a person through a number of fits and starts; they may lash out against any attempts to help or “change” them. Indeed, many people will respond to these initial overtures for help with outright denial, if they’re not ready to admit they have a problem.

Shaming” your loved one for these actions, or piling more guilt onto the process, can be extremely detrimental both in convincing them to attend AA meetings and for their recovery effort in general.

According to a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, people going through recovery are already more prone to shame and depression than the general population. And a National Institute on Drug Addiction study found that feelings of guilt and shame actually lead to higher occurrences of relapse.

If you find yourself feeling fed up with your loved one’s struggle, take a moment to take a breath, then try to put yourself in their shoes. Think of the monumental changes they’re going through, and how difficult it may be to deal with that, on top of their everyday stressors, without their usual, if unhealthy, crutch.

Still, there are places to draw the line. You should absolutely never stand for verbal, emotional or physical abuse from a friend, loved one or partner. And make sure you know your boundaries before entering into this process.

Yet by and large, your support will likely be one of the biggest strengths your loved one draws on during this difficult endeavor.

#5 Stand by Their Side

Indeed, on top of refraining from judgment, showing up for your loved one will give them physical reassurance of your support.

Sobriety is an incredible challenge, one which can be extraordinarily difficult, and even frightening, for one to manage on one’s own. It’s one of the main reasons why Alcoholics Anonymous itself is centered around meetings: To share stories and experiences and create a support network for anyone going through similar troubles.

Being by your loved one’s side will help them feel they’re not alone on this journey. It can offer them a safe harbor, help them build strength through positive reinforcement, and possibly even help them build a positive image of themselves, which they may be struggling to conjure.

Again, it’s important to be mindful of your personal boundaries during this process. Protecting your own emotions and energies is very important, and seeking out therapy or attending Al-Anon meetings might be a helpful way to strike that difficult balance.

But staying by your loved one’s side while they make strides to better themselves might be the best possible way to make sure everyone involved gets what they need out of the experience.

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