Confronting a friend with a drinking problem: What should I do?

Practical suggestions for how to talk with a friend about a drinking problem.

minute read

When A Friend Laughs Off Alcoholism

So you are pretty sure that your friend has a drinking problem. Maybe someone else close to you was negatively impacted by alcohol and you really want to stop your friend from going down the same awful path. At any rate, you’ve recognized all the signs and you are started to worry about your friend – and with good reason!

The facts about alcoholism are pretty sobering. Almost a 100,000 deaths a year are attributed to alcohol abuse and long term use can lead to devastating health issues.

You figure the first step is to say something, right?

So, you gather the courage and choose your words carefully. You bring the issue up in conversation and are met with derision.

You’re hurt, very worried, and feel helpless to do anything about the situation. What can you do next?

First, You’re Not Responsible For Your Friend’s Reaction

Thank you for caring enough about your friend to broach a difficult topic. They might not show they are grateful but you shouldn’t ever feel bad for showing concern for someone. Still, there is a fact that you must accept.

There isn’t very much you can do to change your friend.

If they do have an addiction, then most likely they are in the denial stage. This is standard for most alcoholics and can be a barrier to them getting the help they need. Your concerns will probably have little effect on your friend’s behavior.
There is a possibility that your comments will make your friend think about their relationship to alcohol and maybe even prompt them to attempt some changes. Things could get better for a while or they could even get worse. If they are truly addicted, the journey to getting well is going to take some time. There are no magic words you can say that will make them stop drinking or take their addiction away.

So what can you do to really help an alcoholic?

Second, Learn About Alcohol Addiction So You Can Help Your Friend When They’re Ready

Your friend has to be the one to choose to leave behind their addiction. However, one of the most effective things you can do is empower yourself with knowledge. Study addiction. Learn about alcoholism. Find out how and where people get help.

The best thing you can do for your friend is to turn yourself into a resource. When they are ready to seek help and want to change, you can give them solid resources and correct advice.

Third, Maintain Realistic Expectations About Addiction

All experts on addiction agree that you can’t expect someone to stop without the right treatment and support. Your friend cannot stop without the right help. In some cases, alcohol detox is life-threatening and must be done with medical help. Understand that recovery is an ongoing process that will have a lot of false starts.

Giving consistent positive feedback can truly help. Consider the following statements. Can you integrate them authentically?

“I love hanging out when you’re sober!”
“We do cooler activities when we don’t drink together!”
“I feel really good hanging out with you when alcohol doesn’t come between us.”

Learning about setting boundaries can help, also. The Community Reinforcement and Family Training Model teaches that significant closer others CAN have an impact on drinking outcomes, when you are trained and prepared. If your friend is closer than blood, look into this model to get training on how and when to intervene effectively. Families and concerned friends who successfully use the CRAFT Model over the course of 12-16 weeks have a better chance of successful treatment episodes than the shock-thrill-one-time intervention that you see in movies.

Fourth, Connect With Other Friends To Show Support

Sometimes after you confront your friend with things they don’t want to face… it can be awkward after. They might feel like being around you means they’re going to get a lecture every time you’re together. If you drank with your friend before, recognizing there is a problem may even feel hypocritical.

These conversations can change the dynamics of relationships for all sorts of reasons. So, hang out with friends that you have in common, friends that have both of your backs. Your friend won’t constantly feel like you are trying to corner them for serious discussions. Additionally, consider having conversations with your mutual friends to see if anyone else has recognized your friends drinking problem. They can help you talk to your friend in need which could make them more comfortable and ready to hear what you have to say.

Finally, Write a Letter, Get Your Thoughts Out

Important discussions make for big feelings and sometimes emotions can cloud our thoughts. Taking the time to write down our thoughts can help us process through them. Writing a letter to your friend can help you say the things you need to get off your chest without getting immediately shot down.

This can be a really therapeutic process.

Writing a letter and getting your thoughts out also gives you the ability to review your words and your thoughts and to evaluate what is helpful and what is not. The exercise can give you clarity and help you prepare to have a better conversation the next time the topic comes up.

You’re A Good Friend!

Being the friend of an alcoholic can be very emotionally demanding and difficult. Reach out to those you are close to when you need help. As always, our help line is always available to those that have questions or who are in crisis. Give us a call at 1-877-260-0656.

We are all in this battle against addiction together.

About the author
Tyler is a freelance writer/journalist, with past experience as the head content writer and outreach coordinator for HelpYourTeenNow. His areas of focus include: parenting, education, social media, addiction, and issues facing teenagers today.
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