A common occurrence among alcoholics and friends of alcoholics is denial. We oftentimes deny that there is ever a problem with alcohol because it is such an uncomfortable subject to approach. Other times it can be difficult to tell whether someone truly has a problem with alcohol.
However, if you are concerned about a friend’s drinking, it is alright to approach them. By skillfully approaching the subject, you can hopefully help them make important, potentially life saving changes.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over 15 million adults ages 18 and over qualify for having alcohol use disorder. That’s more than 6.2% of the adult population in the United States. Odds are, you know at least one person with alcohol use disorder. Since only about 6.7% of those 15 million ever get clinical treatment, the odds are also high that you know someone who needs help.
While it can be uncomfortable to approach someone regarding their alcohol usage, there are some steps you can take to ensure that you do more to help than to hurt. Here are general guidelines for bringing up and discussing the subject in the most supportive way possible.
Time Your Approach Carefully.
The first thing to keep in mind when planning your approach is to talk with them while they are sober. You’ll have a much better chance of reaching them if they aren’t under the intoxication of chemical substances.
If your friend is someone who is frequently drunk and it’s difficult to find a moment of sobriety, then you may want to try them early in the morning or during a period when they are supposed to be sober, such as while driving or at work.
It’s also best not to approach your friend during times of great stress or anguish. The added difficulty of dealing with alcoholism on top of personal issues may cause them to shut down. Instead, try to find them at moments of relative peace and solitude.
Approach as a Friend, not an Authority
Make sure they know you’re approaching as a friend, not an authority. Some people assume that taking a hard-line approach is the way to go, but you may wind up only alienating your friend further and hurting them even more. Scolding a child or a pet for their behavior may work, but you need to have respect for your friend as an individual with free agency.
Instead of condemning them, take a compassionate approach and use non judgemental language. Don’t label the person as an alcoholic or demand that they get treatment. Simply offer your love and support as a friend and state your concerns about their drinking.
Offer Help, Don’t Demand It
It’s important to offer your help as a friend and loved one, not to demand that your friend seek it. You can tell them about treatment options, or just urge them to consider an assessment by an addiction professional. You’re not there to save them, you’re just there to let them know that they have a friend available who is concerned about their well-being.
If your friend is ready for help, you can come prepared with treatment centers, counselor contact information, and directions to local AA meetings. You can even offer to drive them if they need it. They may refuse to seek help, and in this case there is not much you can do. A person who gets treatment for addiction needs to be ready to receive it.
State the Consequences
When speaking with your friend, make sure to mention specific instances or events that made you concerned about their drinking. This could be one too many nights they can’t remember, a drunken brawl, or destroyed property. Chances are that there have been multiple events you can reference.
Sometimes however, alcoholism can be more subtle and less physically evident. This doesn’t make the pain and destruction of the disease any less valid. Your friend may have grown distant or verbally abusive. They may appear depressed, anxious, and aloof. You should mention the specific ways that their drinking has affected your relationship in negative ways. Using real, concrete examples brings their drinking behavior into the real world.
You can also look up information about the health consequences of drinking. Explain how drinking can be negatively impacting their health and how it can only continue to cause harm.
Be Prepared With a Plan of Action
If your friend winds up being open and receptive to the idea, you will want to have some sort of plan of action in place. Have some concrete steps for them to take, such as the location of nearby AA meetings and treatment providers who work with their insurance.
In some situations, it may be useful to call treatment centers and get pricing information beforehand. You can have admissions representatives hold a bed for your friend so that it only takes one car ride to begin treatment.
In some cases, the situation may not be so dire as to need treatment. In these cases, you can provide your friend with informational resources or the contact information of another friend in recovery. Offer your love and support and make sure that they know this conversation stays between you two.
Be Prepared For Pushback
Some people may become hostile when they are confronted with their drinking problem. It’s important to stay resolute and not cave to their pressure. Try not to take their hostility personally, as it’s a natural defense mechanism to deny a problem and direct the anger back at the accuser.
If your friend becomes angry, it’s best to remain calm and approach them at a different time. However, do not consider this backing down. Restate your concerns and tell them that if they continue to drink this way, you will continue to have an issue. Assure them you will be there to offer love and support and that you only wish to see them well.
There you have it! Every person and situation is going to be different, but these are some general guidelines for approaching a friend about alcoholism.
About the Author
Matthew Boyle is the Chief Operating Officer of Landmark Recovery, a chain of drug and alcohol rehab facilities in Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Indiana. He has been working in the healthcare space for 7 years with a new emphasis on recovery. Before his ventures into healthcare, Matthew graduated from Duke University in 2011 Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree. After Duke Matthew went on to work for the Boston Consulting Group before he realized his true passion lies within Recovery. His vision is to save a million lives in 100 years with a unique approach to recovery that creates a supportive environment through trust, treatment, and intervention.