It can be difficult to witness someone you care for going through alcohol or drug addiction. When it comes to talking to a friend about a drinking problem, your approach needs to be empathetic, informed and pre-planned.
If you require support or guidance, you can call our addiction helpline for information.
Recognising the Signs of a Drinking Problem
When does drinking become a problem? It’s important to note that not all drinking behaviours are dangerous. Many people go through periods of slightly higher alcohol intake than usual – often due to factors like social occasions. However, when alcohol consumption seems to be used as a coping mechanism for someone, it’s appropriate for you to analyse their behaviour.
As alcohol tolerance increases the more someone drinks, it can sometimes make spotting the signs of destructive behaviour difficult. Signs that alcohol is affecting someone’s physical and mental health could be:
- Frequently attempting to cover up how much they’ve been drinking
- Binge drinking, or never being able to stop at just one or two drinks
- Neglecting their hobbies and responsibilities at home or work in favour of drinking
- Using alcohol to self-medicate for mental health issues like anxiety or depression
- Seeming more irritable and tired than usual
- Having trouble sleeping
- Continuing to drink even if it’s causing problems in their personal or professional life
How to Pre-plan a Conversation About Alcohol Intake
Planning out what to say to a friend with a drinking problem is crucial. This conversation is the first step in guiding them towards getting the help they need, so it’s important to avoid distress as much as possible.
Mentally prepare for the conversation
It’s normal to be concerned that talking to your friend about alcohol will come with a backlash. To prepare for a tough conversation, it’s good to familiarise yourself with the possible reactions that your friend may have.
Common reactions to these conversations are:
- Adamantly denying that they have a problem
- Getting angry and defensive
- Feeling attacked
- Retreating and distancing them for you
- Laughing it off and not taking it seriously
When and where should you have the conversation?
The best time to talk to your friend is when they are not drinking and you both feel calm. Choose a private, familiar setting where they’re likely to feel comfortable and not be interrupted. Prepare the environment by minimising distractions (make sure TVs are turned off, music isn’t playing and your phone is on silent) so you have their full attention.
Communicating about a drinking problem with empathy
Having a couple of key points prepared beforehand will help the conversation to stay on track. It’s advised to use specific examples of how their drinking is affecting people around them.
Make sure to express your concern in a non-judgmental way, saying that you care about them and want to help. Doing your best to stay positive will avoid making your friend feel as though they are under attack, which is likely to result in an emotional outburst.
Your friend could lash out at you even if you do your best. Try not to take negative reactions personally, remember that your friend is struggling and will likely appreciate your help once they’ve recovered.
How to structure the conversation
Some key points to cover during your conversation are:
- Sharing your concerns with your friend
- Giving them the space to voice their own opinions
- Offer them a couple of treatment options
- Explain the implications of them not seeking treatment
What Not to Say About Your Friend’s Drinking Problem
Don’t threaten them – threatening them will often lead to increased feelings of guilt, which could result in a stronger compulsion to drink.
Don’t swear at them – being aggressive could lead them to becoming equally angry, if not more, or shutting down completely.
Don’t make excuses for their behaviour – excusing their behaviour will prevent them from seeing the negative consequences of their drinking.
Treatment Options for Alcohol Addiction
Your friend needs to know that they’re not alone. There are several options for support, treatment and drug and alcohol rehabilitation. They may insist that they can manage on their own, but alcohol addiction can be very difficult to navigate without having guidance, developing new coping skills and sometimes, medical intervention.
Consulting a GP
Your friend’s GP or primary care doctor can assess their health and drinking problems, and provide referrals.
Also known as alcohol and drug rehab facilities, residential treatment provides on-site intensive treatment for alcohol and other substance abuse over a period of time.
Behavioural treatments can help your friend get to the root of their problem, and develop new coping mechanisms to deal with their mental health.
Attending a support group
Support groups allow people to share their struggles with a group that understands what they’re going through first-hand. The social connection achieved by these groups can increase confidence and reduce feelings of isolation.
Ways you can help
- Help them to make a plan of action for seeking help and getting treatment
- Offering to attend counselling sessions or doctors appointments for emotional support
- Provide them will helpful resources such as treatment options and support helplines
- Reach out to Addiction Advocates for support
Recovery is an ongoing process and will come with a range of challenges. You shouldn’t expect your loved one to overcome the problem quickly. With your support, your friend has a better chance of getting back on their feet.
Looking after yourself
Supporting someone through a drinking problem can take a toll on your mental health. Make sure that you have your own support network and that you take time for your own wellbeing.
Get Help Now by Contacting Our Team
Addiction Advocates has dedicated support services to help your friend through this difficult time. Our UK-wide network of private treatment centres provides specialised support for people going through alcohol addiction.
If you’re concerned about a friend, learn more about our friend referrals process.