What Not to Say to an Alcoholic in Recovery: 6 Things to Avoid


In the past few years, Americans have paid a lot of attention to the opioid epidemic -- with good reason. It causes thousands of tragic deaths each year.

However, even as we shine a spotlight on dangerous narcotics, it's important to remember other substances can be just as deadly. Take alcohol; each year in the U.S., some 88,000 people die directly or indirectly due to alcohol consumption.

If you have a friend or family member who has recently become sober, it can be tricky to know how to react. That's what we've compiled this list of what not to say to an alcoholic.

1. "I Know What You're Going Through"

It's presumptuous to tell someone you understand what they are going through. This is especially true when you are addressing an addict.

Everyone's experience is unique. Even if you're in recovery yourself, you shouldn't make assumptions.

Instead, try saying, "I'd like to understand more about how you're feeling. If you are comfortable talking about it, I'm all ears."

2. "How Long Have You Been Sober?"

This is another well-meaning question. You're probably eager to congratulate the recovering alcoholic -- but sobriety is a slippery concept. A person can be sober for years, relapse once, then get clean again. They might not want to explain their entire history.

A better question to ask is "How's it going for you?" It's vague, but it's the best approach because it's so open-ended. It lets the recovering alcoholic choose what, and how much, to reveal.

3. "I Bet It Saves You a Ton of Money!"

We get it; you're focusing on the positive. But there isn't a recovering alcoholic in the world who quit drinking as a cost-saving measure.

Additionally, your friend might not want to be reminded of the money they've squandered over the years. Or they may owe their family for the high cost of rehab.

This statement is insensitive, plain and simple.

4. "You're a Better Person Than I Am. I Could Never Give Up My Wine!"

Why is this problematic? Just as alcoholism isn't a moral failing, getting sober doesn't equal moral superiority. 

Try telling the recovering addict that you admire their strength or courage. Don't make any comparisons to yourself or anyone else. 

5. "So You Really Believe All That Higher-Power Nonsense?"

Getting sober is incredibly difficult. Questioning an addict's method is rude and doesn't accomplish anything. It's none of your business what an individual -- alcoholic or not -- believes in as far as their religion goes.

"I'm so glad you've found a path that works for you" is a better alternative.

6. "You Can Never Drink Again? For the Rest of Your Life?"

Ever heard the expression "one day at a time"? People in recovery can't think too hard about the rest of their life. Sometimes each minute spent sober feels like an achievement. So when you express incredulity this way, you make a difficult thing sound impossible. 

Instead, say, "Please let me know how I can help. I care about your well-being."

That's What Not to Say to an Alcoholic

Knowing what not to say to an alcoholic isn't always easy. You may put your foot in your mouth anyway. If you do, apologize sincerely and reiterate your love for your friend or family member. 

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