Do Ultimatums Work for Addicts?

Content medically reviewed by Vicky Magobet, PMHNP-BC, on June 28, 2022.

If you have a friend or family member who struggles with an alcohol use disorder, it can be hard to know how to approach them to discuss the severity of their usage and the importance of them receiving treatment.

Whether they've been struggling for a while or just recently relapsed, it can be easy to resort to an ultimatum when it feels like all other options have failed. An ultimatum can give them the motivation they need to quit and enjoy a healthier lifestyle.

Is an ultimatum the most effective approach, though?

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Should You Give an Alcoholic an Ultimatum?

Whether it's your employee or spouse, ultimatums involve threatening language. It can feel like these threats give you some control over the situation. After all, if the individual doesn't acknowledge and give up their drinking problem, they'll have to deal with the consequences you laid out.

An ultimatum is often not realistic. While you may want the individual to change and give up drinking, it's impossible to control anyone's behavior except your own — not to mention that substance use disorders are complex diseases that often can't be treated by willpower alone.

Why Ultimatums Don't Work

Ultimatums don't work for many reasons. You often end up delivering the ultimatum disrespectfully because you are frustrated with the situation. Many individuals also have a hard time backing up what they've threatened, which only allows the individual to continue drinking without fear of a consequence.

Remember that individuals with an alcohol use disorder are dealing with a condition that can affect how they think and respond, especially to cravings. Instead of giving an alcoholic an ultimatum, explain how their drinking affects themselves and those around them and provide them with an evidence-based treatment option.

Discover How Our Evidence-Based Treatment Options Can Help Your Loved One

Here at Diamond House Detox, we specialize in co-occurring disorders, a combination of substance use and mental illness. In our home-like environment, we follow the medical treatment model for clients living throughout Northern California. Through educational sessions, group counseling, medication management and dual diagnosis treatments, we ensure our clients receive the structure and support they need to reach their recovery goals.

We invite you to reach out today to learn more about how our individualized care can help your loved one or yourself.

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