How to Help a Friend with a Drinking Problem
Support from caring friends and family is crucial in helping individuals in recovery stay sober, but knowing how to approach a friend’s drinking problem isn’t always easy. If you’re worried about your friend’s alcohol use, this article offers tips to help you express your concerns and encourage your friend to seek treatment.
Addiction is a biologically based brain disease and not the result of a lack of willpower. Someone with a substance use disorder will continue to abuse alcohol despite experiencing negative consequences. The compulsion to drink overcomes all other desires.
Your friend can’t simply will himself to stop drinking. In fact, quitting alcohol cold turkey after an extended period of regular abuse can result in serious or life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Professional addiction treatment and a medically managed detox is the safest and most effective way for your friend to get sober.
To learn more, you may want to review the following resources:
- Alcohol’s Damaging Effects on the Brain
- Delirium Tremens and Alcohol Withdrawal
- Is Alcoholism Treatment Needed After a DUI?
- Life in Alcohol Addiction Recovery
Honesty Is the Best Policy
Friends tell each other the truth, even when it’s difficult to hear. If you’re worried about your friend’s drinking, you need to speak up. Pick a time when your friend is sober, then list specific actions you’ve noticed. For example, you might point out that your friend only wants to spend time together at the bar or that he recently received a DUI. Blackouts, missed work, or trouble with intimate relationships are also signs of a drinking problem that a good friend shouldn’t ignore.
There’s a Difference Between Helping and Enabling
It’s painful to watch a friend suffer, but you must remember that there’s a difference between helping and enabling. Loaning your friend money for groceries after she spent her last $20 at the liquor store or providing a place to crash because her husband won’t allow her to come home drunk isn’t being a good friend. All you’re doing when you step in to protect your friend from the consequences of her actions is enabling the bad behavior to continue.
Even if your friend is reluctant to admit there is a problem, you aren’t helping the situation by staying silent and allowing alcohol abuse to continue. Helping a friend with a drinking problem means providing information about the disease of alcoholism and the treatment resources that are available. You could offer to provide transportation to treatment or to attend an appointment with her as a source of moral support. Or, you could listen without judgement as she comes to terms with the nature of her disease.
Get Others Involved
If you have a good relationship with your friend’s spouse, parents, or other loved ones, consider talking to them privately about your concerns. You may find that they’ve noticed similar issues and were just too worried or embarrassed to confront the issue directly. By working together, you may have a better chance at convincing your friend to seek the help she needs.
Depending upon the severity of your friend’s addiction, planning an intervention might be an effective tactic. An intervention is a structured meeting where concerned loved ones confront someone with a substance use disorder and list specific examples of behaviors they are worried about before presenting options for treatment and the consequences of refusing to seek help. The Mayo Clinic website has information about intervention planning that you might find helpful.
Learn to Have Fun Sober
After your friend has completed treatment, learning to socialize without drinking will be a challenge. Since alcohol is legal and widely available, it can feel like there is no place to go where you won’t be surrounded by people who are drinking. You can help by suggesting alcohol free activities such as volunteering at a local nonprofit, visiting a museum, hiking, planning a picnic, or having a group of people over to play a favorite board game. Show your friend that spending time together is all you need to have fun.
When you do attend larger social events where alcohol is being served, be mindful of how this makes your friend feel. Practice ways your friend can refuse a drink without providing too many personal details about his recovery. Discuss beforehand how your friend can signal to you that he is uncomfortable and needs to leave the party.
Be Prepared for a Lifelong Battle
Addiction is a chronic illness that requires continued care. Just as a diabetic may need insulin to stay healthy, your friend will need continued therapy and support to stay sober. Detox and rehab are only the first steps in the recovery journey.
To learn more about what to expect during the recovery process while getting support for your own needs, you may wish to attend a nearby Al-Anon meeting. Al-Anon is best known as a family support group, but membership is open to anyone who is concerned about a loved one’s drinking problem.