How Do You Talk to Someone About AA?

Robert Gerchalk

Robert is our health care professional reviewer of this website. He worked for many years in mental health and substance abuse facilities in Florida, as well as in home health (medical and psychiatric), and took care of people with medical and addictions problems at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He has a nursing and business/technology degrees from The Johns Hopkins University.

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Tips for Talking to Someone About AA

When someone you care about is suffering from alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), it can be a very challenging situation to approach. Addiction is a complicated and sensitive issue, and although you certainly want to help your loved one, it’s hard to know the right things to say or do. In truth, there’s no rulebook or universal answer for how to assist people in your life to overcome alcoholism. However, helping them start on the road to recovery is an excellent place to start. And when it comes to alcoholism, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is widely regarded as one of the most effective ways to move past the addiction and find a new outlook on life. So, if you truly want to help someone you care about who’s dealing with alcoholism, talking to them about AA may be a good idea.

What Is AA?

Alcoholics Anonymous is a free support group where people get together to help each other recover from alcoholism. AA was founded in 1935 by a New York stockbroker named Bill W. and an Ohio surgeon named Dr. Bob S. The group is known for holding regular meetings and encouraging members to complete a 12-step program for recovery. You can find a meeting almost anytime, anywhere. Not only are there daytime and evening in-person meetings in most cities, but you can also attend a virtual meeting via online video conferencing, phone conferencing, group emails, or chatrooms. If users decide to join AA and work through the 12 steps, they can gradually achieve a new perspective on life and peace within themselves. It takes commitment and hard work, but for those who truly want to improve their lives, the results can be rewarding.

How Do You Talk to Someone About Joining AA?

When you’re talking to someone with alcoholism about AA, you need to be sensitive with your approach. This starts with choosing the right time and place and rehearsing what you plan to say. When someone is dealing with addiction, it can often make them defensive. If you are too aggressive when discussing the topic with your friend, significant other, or family member, you might push them away. And if you aren’t careful, you may even turn them off to the idea of joining AA and starting on the road to recovery. Here, we’ll take a look at the best ways to talk to someone in your life about AA.

Don’t Be Pushy

When you’re talking to someone about AA, take care not to be overly pushy about the subject. Often, when those with an addiction feel like they’re being pressured or forced into something, their first instinct is to pull away. The person may want to achieve sobriety, but the idea of recovery can be scary. After all, when people are heavily reliant on alcohol, the thought of quitting drinking represents a huge change in their life, and that type of change is daunting. Even if your first instinct is to be firm or aggressive about the conversation, you need to push back against that instinct. Approaching the subject delicately is generally a much better choice. That way, the person will be more willing to listen, and the details you discuss about AA will have a better chance of hitting home.

Don’t Judge Them

It’s also important that you aren’t overly judgmental when talking to someone in your life about AA. As mentioned above, people dealing with AUD can often be very sensitive about their situations. If you bluntly tell them that they drink too much or “have a problem,” you’re likely to meet a lot of resistance during the discussion. Instead of telling them that they’re doing things wrong or making a mistake, approach the conversation from a place of personal concern. For example, you could explain to your loved one that you’re a bit concerned and just want to make sure that they’re doing OK. Ultimately, people suffering from alcoholism need to come to their own realization that change is necessary. Hearing from other people that they’re making poor choices isn’t usually going to be what convinces them. If you want to have a productive discussion about AA, avoid seeming judgmental.

Be Honest About Your Own Experiences

If you have dealt with alcoholism and have personal experiences with AA, it can help a lot when talking to someone in your life about the subject. For one thing, you’ll have much more credibility in the other person’s eyes if you’re talking about things you’ve experienced yourself. They will probably be more likely to listen to you and have an honest conversation. After all, it’s always easier to talk to someone about your struggles if you feel like they can relate to you. Additionally, if you’ve been to AA meetings and completed some or all of the 12 steps, you’ll be able to tell them exactly what AA is like. You can provide detailed explanations for how it has helped you in your life and what you think it could do for them. The idea of going to AA can be very intimidating for many alcoholics. So, if they’ve been told exactly what to expect, it may remove a bit of that trepidation.

With that said, you should be completely honest about your experience in AA. If there are things you didn’t like about the experience, be upfront about that. That way, your loved one will know that you’re being transparent, and it will help you gain trust. Don’t hype Alcoholics Anonymous up to be anything that it’s not. Don’t tell them that it’s a guaranteed miracle cure for alcoholism. AA most certainly works and makes a massive difference for numerous people, but for it to have the impact on your life that you want it to, you have to be willing to put in the time and effort. By being fully honest about AA, you can help ensure that the person you care about is fully prepared for the experience and will go into it with the right mindset.

Keep Calm

Unfortunately, far too many discussions about AA and addiction recovery turn into shouting matches. And once the participants in the conversation become angry, it’s very unlikely to be a productive experience. If you’re talking to others about their alcohol dependence for the first time, it may be difficult to predict how they’re going to react. It’s possible that they’ll take the situation in stride and remain calm and collected. However, some people tend to get upset when forced to confront their alcoholism. If that happens, it’s important that you keep your cool and prevent the conversation from escalating into an argument. Let them express their emotions and try to be understanding. If you don’t match their anger, there’s a good chance they’ll calm down shortly, and you’ll be able to continue with a reasonable discussion.

Focus on Your Own Concern

When you’re talking to someone about the idea of joining AA, you should make an effort to focus the conversation on your personal concerns. For example, you should regularly make “I” statements referring to your own worries about their behavior. Let them know that you’re concerned about their behavior and emphasize the different ways in which it has affected you. In many cases, people with addictions will reach a point where they have very low opinions of themselves and their own worth. When that happens, they’ll often stop prioritizing their own well-being, health, and happiness. So, for them to realize that they need to make major changes, they sometimes need to see how their actions are impacting the people who they care about. If you explain that their alcohol use causes you to experience worry, stress, and pain, that will clarify some of the consequences of their behavior. And that may be just the step they need to convince them that it’s a good idea to give Alcoholics Anonymous a try.

Be Empathetic and Understanding

Dealing with addiction is one of the most challenging experiences in life. If you want to get through to someone with AUD and truly help them, be empathetic and understanding about what they’re experiencing. If you have your own issues with alcoholism, then you know how difficult addiction and recovery can be. When you’re talking to them, keep your past struggles in mind. Doing so will allow you to be patient and understanding, which will make the other person much more likely to open up with you and have a productive conversation about AA.

Offer to Attend a Meeting with Them

If your loved one has never been to an AA meeting or any kind of group therapy session, the idea of starting AA may make them nervous. One of the best ways to help alcoholics get past this fear is to offer to attend their first meeting with them. It’s always easier to step out of your comfort zone when someone who cares about you is there with you, and AA meetings are no exception. Once the person you want to help has had the chance to attend an AA meeting, they’ll see how low-pressure and simple the experience is. After that, they’ll be much more likely to attend future meetings and start pursuing sobriety through the 12-step program. If you can get them in the door by attending their first meeting, that can be a huge step toward recovery.

What if Talking to Them About AA Doesn’t Work?

Before you start discussing AA with anyone in your life, you need to accept the fact that you may not be immediately successful. For most people dealing with AUD (alcohol use disorder), the journey to recovery is a long path with plenty of obstacles and setbacks. If those you care about aren’t truly ready to stop drinking or start improving their situation, you won’t be able to convince them to try AA. That doesn’t mean they won’t eventually come around and start making incredible progress, but you simply can’t force a timeline on them.

Even if you have a great talk with someone about AA and feel like you’ve persuaded them to give it a try, they may decide that they’re not interested. In some cases, your loved one may even handle the discussion poorly and lash out at you. In both of these situations, the best thing you can do is give them a bit of space. They may just need more time to come to their own conclusions about the improvements that are necessary in their life. Let them know that you’re always available if they need you and that they can come to you with any questions about AA or the recovery process. Even if they decline the idea of joining Alcoholics Anonymous, there’s a very real chance that your conversation has planted a seed in their mind. And it may only be a matter of time before they start seriously thinking about making positive changes.

Ultimately, the decision to join Alcoholics Anonymous has to be made by the person struggling with alcoholism. You can’t force someone you care about to make that decision. All you can do is show them that you care, make it clear that you’re willing to help in any way you can, and give them information about the organization. If you do those things, then you’re giving that person the best support possible, and you should feel good about your efforts.

Help Is Always Available

If you or someone you care about is dealing with alcoholism or any other addiction, remember that help is always available. Whether it be AA, Narcotics Anonymous (NA), or a quality treatment center in your area, there are resources that can make a major difference. Reach out, ask for assistance, and help your friend or family member start on the pathway to a more positive and fulfilling life.