How to Talk to a Friend with a Drinking Problem

Written by Chloe Nicosia

Many people wonder how to talk to a friend with a drinking problem. Here are some tips.

A Gallup Poll found that while 94 percent of Americans think it’s their duty to intervene when a friend has an alcohol or drug problem, only 38 percent feel comfortable approaching their friend about it. If you are close to someone who abuses alcohol, you may be unsure about how to talk to a friend with a drinking problem. But knowing the best way to approach it is important for success.

Here, then, are some helpful tips for how to talk to a friend with a drinking problem.

1. Know what you’re talking about.

It’s essential to understand at least the basics about alcohol abuse and addiction before you talk to your friend, because there’s a good chance she’s in denial. Denial is very common, and it’s the result of some of the changes going on in the brain when you engage in heavy substance abuse. When thinking about how to confront an alcoholic in denial, having some knowledge of alcohol abuse and addiction can be helpful.

Alcohol abuse is the act of using alcohol in unsafe ways or ways that cause problems. The most common form of alcohol abuse is binge drinking, which occurs when you drink enough in two hours to bring your blood alcohol content to .08 percent, the legal alcohol limit in most states. For women, this is usually four drinks, and for men, it’s five. Changing your drinking habits can help prevent alcohol abuse from transitioning to addiction.

Addiction is characterized by compulsive alcohol use despite the problems it causes. People with an addiction will keep drinking even though alcohol causes serious problems with their relationships, health, or finances. They’ll drink despite the legal trouble it causes or the unsafe situations they get in while under the influence. Addiction is the result of changes in the memory, learning, and reward centers of the brain that affect thought and behavior patterns.

Once an addiction sets in, willpower won’t usually end it. Professional help is almost always needed to overcome an addiction for the long-term. Understanding this is essential for knowing how to talk to a friend with a drinking problem.

2. Pick the right time to talk.

Don’t try to talk to your friend about his drinking problem while he’s drinking or drunk. This is guaranteed to be a counter-productive conversation. Timing your message is important when considering how to make someone realize they have a drinking problem. A good time to talk is after your friend has suffered consequences from drinking, such as fighting with his significant other, getting a DUI, or injuring himself in a fall.

3. Focus on the consequences of the drinking.

If your friend is in denial about the problem, and even if she’s not, pointing out the consequences of her drinking helps her realize how the drinking is hurting her. Let her know that it hurts you to see her going through these negative experiences. If the drinking affects you, personally, explain how so. Citing specific ways in which the drinking caused problems is how to confront an alcoholic in denial most effectively. Most importantly, don’t lecture, scold, sermonize, blame, or criticize.

4. Realize that there are probably underlying issues.

Heavy substance abuse and addiction often have underlying causes. These commonly include chronic stress from a job, family dysfunction, or financial problems; a history of trauma, such as abuse or witnessing death or violence; and a co-occurring mental illness like depression or anxiety. These issues should be addressed through therapy for the best chances of recovery. Part of knowing how to talk to a friend with a drinking problem is understanding that she may be going through some serious stuff.

5. Offer to help.

Once you figure out how to confront an alcoholic in denial and how to make someone realize they have a drinking problem, offer help and encouragement. Offer to help your friend find ways to have fun without alcohol or find a therapist or high quality treatment program. Offer encouragement and support no matter the outcome.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, get help right away. Make a phone call that will connect you to a professional drug treatment center. The call you make may save your life or the life of someone you love. Call us today at 1.800.429.7690.