How to Help a Friend Who Has a Drinking Problem

Watching anyone struggle with addiction is difficult — especially when the person is one of your closest friends. You might feel hopeless or irritated by the situation and decide to ignore it to preserve your emotional health. But wishing the problem away only causes more long-term issues and delays the help your friend needs to stop drinking.

On the other hand, you might want to offer assistance but don’t know how to approach him. Remember, even though conflict is common when trying to help an addicted loved one, growth often requires discomfort to produce change.

Men often have difficulty expressing their emotions, which makes seeking or providing help challenging. However, open communication is necessary to solve your friend’s drinking problem. Now is the time to be completely honest — show him why you care and why he has to stop this addiction in its tracks if he wants to stay healthy.

Learn about alcoholism

Before confronting your friend, educate yourself on the signs of alcohol addiction. Many people have misconceptions about what alcohol abuse does and doesn’t entail. A better understanding makes it easier to battle the issue and can alleviate potential conflicts between you and him.

As with any disorder, symptoms of alcohol abuse manifest differently for each person. Of course, you can watch out for some core behaviors. Your friend might be grappling with addiction if he:

  • Becomes violent when drinking
  • Neglects duties like school or work
  • Lies about how much he drank
  • Struggles to reduce his intake
  • Consistently drinks much more than he can handle, leading to blackouts

Someone can be alcoholic even if they only drink a few nights a week and keep their social lives intact. Many individuals maintain thriving lives and relationships, which identifies them as high-functioning alcoholics. But even if your friend has a high-functioning demeanor, treatment is still necessary. They might not remain high-functioning forever, and alcohol abuse can affect them in ways you don’t immediately see — such as physical diseases.

Prepare for a face-to-face discussion

Think carefully about what you’ll say during the conversation. It’s understandable if you feel hurt, angry or betrayed by your friend’s drinking problem. You might not understand why he can’t stop drinking or why he doesn’t see its effect on his life. Avoid letting these emotions take over and cause you to lash out, though. You’ll have an easier time holding a productive conversation if you’re calm, confident and willing to listen.

Talk to him when he’s sober to ensure he hears and understands your message. Instead of immediately accusing him of alcoholism, express your concerns about his behavior and its effects on everyone around him. While you can suggest he try out rehab, don’t try to force him into it — expect denial and resistance at this stage. Let him think it over, and keep reaching out in the meantime.

Hold an intervention

You and a group of friends or relatives may decide to intervene if your friend’s problem is severe. People often choose this option when all other attempts to talk have failed. Be sure this step is necessary before taking it. Interventions require structured planning and full participation from every party.

You’ll know it’s time to intervene if your friend abandons his responsibilities, isolates himself or begins physically deteriorating. He might neglect his hygiene and fail to complete everyday tasks like cleaning or walking the dog. At this point, you have several types of intervention methods to implement, including

  • The traditional approach: Involves gathering your friend’s other friends and family members to communicate about how the addiction affects them all.
  • The confrontational technique: Centers around showing tough love — everyone talks about their concerns and the consequences of not seeking treatment.
  • The Johnson model: Includes a therapist or trained interventionist who meets with the family, develops some non-confrontational talking points and helps establish a treatment plan.

Support without enabling

Of course, you want to support your friend in different areas of his life, like buying him groceries or putting gas in his tank. But helping him monetarily could send a signal it’s okay for him to spend money on alcohol because someone else is taking care of the bills. Instead, cutting off monetary support is often necessary to kickstart realization. While you don’t want to see a friend deal with financial issues, this is often what finally inspires change.

Acknowledge his alcoholism. Don’t make excuses for your friend’s neglected responsibilities or cover up for him. Ignoring the problem encourages it to fester and grow, which will only set him back in his recovery. Your friend needs to acknowledge and accept his alcohol abuse before he can seek help for it. Talk with other people in his life and try to get everyone on a similar page. He’ll have an easier time kicking addiction if none of his loved ones enable his behavior.

Beginning the road to recovery

While you support your friend, remember to care for your own health. Many people get so wrapped up in their loved one’s treatment that they neglect themselves. You can only give your best support when you’re happy and healthy. Seek guidance from a therapist or AA group if you need a helping hand.

The journey to sobriety is filled with challenges. Encourage your friend with positivity, and provide encouragement and support even if he relapses. Addiction is a complex disease to conquer, and many people slip back into it several times throughout their recovery. Stay by your friend’s side and have faith he’ll see it to the end.

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