How To Help An Alcoholic Friend
Have you ever thought to yourself “my friend drinks too much” or “is my friend an alcoholic”? If you are worried about them and are wondering how to help, you first need to determine whether your friend truly needs help and whether or not they are ready to accept help. Educating yourself is another step on the path to knowing how to deal with an alcoholic friend and be able to give them the support they need. Once your friend decides to seek help for their addiction, you should be ready to offer help and make recommendations about treatment programs.
Is My Friend an Alcoholic?
There are many different signs for how to tell if your friend’s drinking has crossed into the realm of alcohol misuse. Having an occasional drink is not a problem, but if your friend is drinking heavily or seems to be unable to control how much they drink, these are symptoms of alcohol misuse or alcoholism. If your friend becomes violent when drinking, drives while drunk, or drinks at inappropriate times, these behaviors may also indicate a problem.
Signs of an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
Only a doctor or licensed addiction specialist can diagnose someone with alcohol use disorder (AUD). That said, some signs to look for include:
- Using alcohol in higher amounts or more often than intended.
- Continuing to drink alcohol no matter the negative effects it has on your life.
- Alcohol cravings.
Educating Yourself About Alcoholism
In order to figure out how to deal with an alcoholic friend and get them the much needed help and support, you first must learn about alcoholism and alcohol abuse. The more you know about the signs and symptoms of alcoholism, the easier it will be for you to spot problem behaviors in your friend. You might also want to attend a support group for people who care for an alcoholic, such as Al-Anon.
How to Talk to a Friend about Their Drinking
It’s probably not going to be easy to have the conversation, but preparing yourself in advance can help. Writing down your concerns in a list can help you organize your thoughts and feelings. It can also be useful to refer to your list during the conversation to help you stay on track. It’s also a good idea to wait until your friend isn’t under the influence. Otherwise, they will probably be less willing to hear your concerns. Choose a quiet moment in a private setting with few distractions, such as at home or on a walk.
Some things to keep in mind can include:
- Use direct but empathic “I” statements. For example, you could say, “I understand that you are struggling, but I am concerned about you.”
- Express your concerns directly—don’t beat around the bush. Focus on concrete, observable behaviors and consequences.
- Listen to your friend’s thoughts and concerns without interrupting. Ask them how they are feeling and what you can do to help.
- Be patient and don’t give up hope. It could take a few tries before they’re ready to seek help.
What Not to Say to Your Friend
There are also certain things you should try to avoid when talking to your friend about their alcohol use.
- Avoid ultimatums or threats. This could cause increased frustration and difficulty, because they may become defensive or combative.
- Don’t lecture or criticize. Again, this can cause your friend to become defensive and be much less willing to hear what you’re saying.
- Avoid blame. Remember that words like “addict” or “alcoholic” are stigmatizing and can make your friend feel attacked.
- Avoid confrontations. Research shows that confrontational interventions are not likely to help and could actually make the situation worse. Instead, you could try to get your friend to talk to a doctor if they won’t talk to you.
An important part of helping your friend is setting limits within the friendship. If you let your friend’s behavior impact your life or make excuses for your friend’s drinking, your friend may be less able to recognize the problem and less likely to seek help. Determine the boundaries you will live by and stick to them, even if your friend gets angry. Reasonable limits include:
- Refusing to lie for your friend about their drinking.
- Refusing to supply your friend with alcohol.
- Refusing to engage in arguments when your friend is drunk.
It is especially important not to do things for your friend that they should be handling themselves. If you do things to save your friend from the consequences of alcoholism, it could take your friend much longer to reach the point where they is willing to seek help.
How to Help An Alcoholic Friend
If your friend agrees that they have a problem, but is unsure how to stop drinking, you can help your friend by discussing potential solutions.
Below are a few ways to help a friend struggling with alcoholism or what to do when your friend drinks too much.
- Learn about addiction to become better informed on the disease and what the person may be going through.
- Talk to a professional such as your primary care physician or an addiction specialist to learn ways on how to discuss the situation with your friend.
- Choose a time to talk to you friend when they are sober and ideally in a comfortable setting in which they feel safe.
- Set boundaries with them. While you can’t make them quit drinking, it is important to protect yourself from the negative consequences of their behavior.
- Practice self-care and know that their decision to either continue or stop drinking isn’t something you can control. Be patient with them and yourself.
Helping a Friend with AUD Find Rehab
It is a good idea to also have some information on hand about treatment centers and how treatment for alcoholism works so that you can help your friend understand the process.
There are many treatments for AUD, which typically involve a combination of talk therapy and medications in an inpatient or outpatient setting. Common approaches to treating alcohol use disorder include:
- Detox is often the first step in treatment. It can help your friend safely manage withdrawal symptoms and get them ready for the next step.
- Inpatient treatment, where your friend will stay in a treatment center for the length of treatment and get 24/7 care and support.
- Outpatient treatment, where your friend attends set rehab appointments during the week but still lives at home.
You might also want to ask your friend how you can best support them. This might involve driving the friend to a treatment center or to an AA meeting. It could also mean helping them with daily errands or tasks while they are in rehab. To learn more about how to help a friend struggling with alcohol use, call us for a free, confidential referral at .