How to talk to loved ones about alcohol this Christmas: Priory therapist shares expert guidance

Date: 19th December 2024

  • For most people Christmas is a time for family, but problem drinking can ruin the festivities
  • Priory expert offers guidance on how to talk to loved ones about alcohol problems
  • Talk to loved ones at a time when they aren’t drinking, and try to be non-judgmental, says Priory therapist Debbie Longsdale
  • There are a number of services people can turn to for support

A leading addiction and therapy expert at Priory – the UK’s leading independent provider of mental health services – has urged families to consider the impact of alcohol this Christmas, and has offered advice for people dealing with a problem drinker in the family.

Debbie Longsdale, therapy director for Priory, said: “This is a really significant and common problem, especially at Christmas time when families tend to gather together.

“Let's say there are ten people in the room and Uncle Joe, or even your own partner, is just drinking too much, and off they go again. You might feel that you want to speak to them there and then. I would predict probably that wouldn't end well. It’s difficult to raise issues with a loved one in front of everybody else, especially while they’re having a drink.”

“It is usually much better to clock that you want to have the conversation and think about when would be a good time to do it. I would suggest that we do that when they're not drinking or when they're on their own. That is usually a more effective, sensitive time to have a quiet word with somebody and just share your concerns.

“Raising the issue of problem drinking with loved ones becomes even more complicated if the family member is older than you. It can be especially hard to question somebody who is your parent or grandparent. But it's ultimately about care; if you care for somebody, you want the best for them, so it's important to sensitively call out unhealthy habits. If not, there are possibly very negative consequences to health, to wellbeing, to employment, to families.

“When you do talk to your loved one about their drinking, it might be quite a shock for that person to hear you've got concerns about them, so they might not embrace your thoughts with open arms. They may not immediately open up and say that you've saved them and that they’ve been waiting for someone to ask this question.

“Therefore it’s helpful to be really careful about the language you use and your tone of voice. Try to be non-judgmental. That person may just need some space to come to terms with the issue themselves, and they will need your support, and they will need to know that they are accepted.

“Approach the conversation with a strong sense of empathy. Why is my loved one drinking so much? It could be things like insomnia, it might be anxiety, they might be really low and depressed. It’s important to start the conversation from a place of empathy, putting yourself in their shoes, and trying to understand their feelings.

“Finally, it’s good to end the conversation by talking about positives. Tell the person how much you enjoy spending time with them when they're sober and what you like about them when there isn't alcohol around, about all the things you get to do with them, the conversations you have, all the things you enjoy together when there's no alcohol. It’s never going to be an easy conversation, but it can really help if they leave the conversation feeling good about themselves.”

More than 10million people in the UK regularly exceed drinking guidelines, including 1.7 million who drink at higher risk and around 600,000 who are dependent on alcohol.

Priory is the UK’s leading independent provider of mental health and addiction services, and will support thousands of people struggling with addictions this winter.

Debbie Longsdale adds that is be important to seek support, and stresses that people ideally should not tackle difficult issues alone: “You might find it helpful to talk to somebody else in the family and see if they feel the same way as you about your relative.

“It’s even more difficult for children to speak to an adult, particularly when they are drunk, angry or abusive. So in this instance it’s really, really important to speak to school teachers or aunts, uncles, grandparents, people who can support you.

“Even for adults, this conversation is a lot to carry on your shoulders alone. So if you don’t have family members you feel you can turn to, or even if you do, then there are also some amazing charities. Alcohol Change UK, Adfam is another charity specifically for the family members of people who have addiction, or you can go to a service like Priory to speak to the addiction therapy teams and get some advice.”

For people wanting to address harmful drinking habits, GPs can offer advice on appropriate treatment, while Priory offers free addiction assessment consultations at sites across the UK, available by calling 0330 173 7690.

Debbie Longsdale shares further guidance on addiction issues via Priory’s YouTube channel, in a new panel discussion series called Perspectives, which is available to view now.

Key takeaways - guidance for talking to loved ones about problem drinking:

  • Choose a quiet time to have the conversation, when they’re not drinking.
  • Use non-judgemental language, and remind them how much you enjoy your time with them when they’re sober.
  • Remember you are not alone and can seek support from family members, specialist charities or expert professionals.




Contact: [email protected]


About Priory and MEDIAN

Priory is the UK’s leading independent provider of mental health services. We treat more than 70 conditions, including depression, anxiety, addictions and eating disorders, as well as children’s mental health, across our nationwide network of sites. We also support autistic adults and adults with a learning disability, Prader-Willi Syndrome and brain injuries, as well as older people, within our specialist residential care and supported living facilities – helping as many people as possible to live their lives.

Priory is part of the MEDIAN Group, one of Europe’s leading providers of high quality mental health and rehabilitation services. The MEDIAN Group comprises 290 facilities with 5,000 beds caring for 28,000 people in the UK, 120 facilities with 20,000 beds caring for around 250,000 patients in Germany, and 15 facilities with 2,000 beds caring for 13,000 people in Spain, with more than 29,000 employees overall.

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