What to do when they are in denial and become aggressive when you confront them?



Just when I thought my mom’s struggles with alcohol were improving, they got worse. This morning, my 15-year-old brother came home to find my mom passed out under her dining room table with shattered glass around her. My sister told me over a phone call that she is ok now and napping, but that she found a bottle of alcohol nearby where she was laying. And that the glass seemed to come from an unstable new glass piece put in our back door’s window.

I was shocked at how this all happened, and I’m still missing some details from the story. I"m just glad my mom is ok— she must have drank too much and passed out at a certain point. My sister told me that when she woke up, she was crying on and off wondering where my dad was (My dad took his life a year ago and my mom sometimes enters into these bouts of depression). I’m just so sad that my little brother had to witness that.

When my sister confronted my mom about her drinking, my mom completely denied it— the same thing she’s always done. Sometimes, if we confront her, she becomes aggressive and defensive, so it’s sort of reinforced our decision to not confront her-- or not dig too deep. I’m just concerned because she drinks a lot while also being on depression meds, and I know this can’t be safe.

But I know this only makes things worse. I just finally want her to get the help she needs. How can I get her out of her denial?


Oh @ashleykm3, I’m so sorry. How sad and scary for you and your siblings.

I share in this post about a letter I wrote my dad when he was in denial about his drinking.

It had been about a year since my mom had passed (from cancer), and he was really spiralling. Anytime my sister and I confronted him about his drinking, he too denied it - becoming aggressive and defensive. I was really stressed about the amount of $$ he was spending on wine (he’s got expensive taste!), his mental and emotional state, and mixing alcohol with his sleeping pills.

I decided to write a letter. Putting all my thoughts down on paper a) allowed me the freedom to edit & refine what I wanted to say, b) allowed us both to give & receive the communication more “objectively.” I highlighted the impact his drinking was having on me - his daughter - and I think that helped. He didn’t need to “confront” me face-to-face about something that I’m sure was embarrassing for him to admit to his daughter(s) - just as I’m sure your mom is embarrassed. (I mean, I would be if someone found me passed out under my kitchen table!)

If I could do it differently now, I might focus less on the substance use itself and get more curious about what is ‘beneath’ the substance use? How could I support his grieving process, or otherwise? He heard what I said in the letter but instead of diving deep, he just swapped his alcohol use for more pills. I think expressing more care and concern for his mental and emotional state, and then a better follow up would’ve yielded a better outcome.

How are you doing with all this? When will you see your mom next?


Something I’ve learned over time that’s helpful to cut through the defensiveness and protectiveness of the substance use is to focus on the harmful outcomes instead of the drinking or using.

Focusing on a omething you’re loved one, in your case your mom <3, might be more likely to agree is a downside of the drinking can help get on neutral ground, if she’s not ready to question the drinking itself.

For example: I’m worried that you were alone when you broke a window. How might we make sure that doesn’t happen again?

Or I’m concerned that my brother discovered you under the table, how might we avoid that in the future?

This can help wedge open space to have more conversations like this that build on one another over time.

Plus love what @katie said


@katie thank you so much, I will. You guys are the best!


Thank you so much @katie and @polly for your incredible and detailed help! I really like Katie’s idea of the letter, I think doing something like that really helps to get your thoughts together and avoid saying the wrong things. I’ll also definitely try @polly’s idea, I think it’s definitely really important to ask questions without assigning any blame. I actually tried this before I saw these responses yesterday. I texted my mom I was really scared that she passed out, and asked her what do you think happened? She FINALLY, magically admitted head-on for the first time that she “had some brandy”. I almost cried when I got this text— out of happiness for her finally being open about her drinking after years of being in denial! My sister also told me she apologized for “being irresponsible”— and my mom would never apologize for these types of things in the past. I’m not sure where the switch flipped but I’m not going to question it and just hope she remains open and honest so that when I actually sit down to talk with her over the holidays, we can make a plan together.


I looove this @ashleykm3. :two_hearts: Finding clues and cracks! I’m glad you found a sliver of hope yesterday! Keep us posted, okay!?


Thank goodness she is ok.
I wish you the best.


@dadpop2007 thank you so much, I appreciate that.


This whole situation must have been a lot for you and your siblings to handle @ashleykm3, and I’m so happy you got support and suggestions from our community.

I’m also so glad to hear that she broke through her denial and shared the truth. This is a great step for all of you! If you want to go over specifics for the sit down you plan on having feel free to shoot me a private message.

When thinking about having these types of conversations I think it’s great to write down what you want to say before you say it, kind of like the letter @katie mentioned!
In addition, the following three tips are really helpful if you’re dealing with someone who tends to get defensive/be in denial:

  1. Ask permission to have a conversation: by doing this you allow her to invite you in rather than intrude, it allows her to be a participant in the conversation versus a passive recipient, and by asking permission you increase the likelihood that she will listen to what you have to say and be open and receptive.

  2. You can now provide her with information you may want to share: offer, don’t impose, provide options to achieve the goal (for support until she gets into treatment AA (you can go with her), go to a therapist, talk to her doctor, go to group therapy, etc), if there is disagreement flow with it so it reinforces that you want to be an ally in helping positive change for the both of you. However if she becomes aggressive or worked up in any way you can feel free to get up and leave, and return to the conversation at another time. Make sure you have people you can reach out to and call them if you need support!

  3. Check back in with her by asking “does that make sense to you”, or “I just want to check back in about…”

Thinking of you and sending you and your family loads of love this holiday season! :yellow_heart:


@erica Thank you so much, these are great tips and I’ll surely integrate them into my plan. :slight_smile: