How to Help an Alcoholic Friend
It’s not always easy helping an alcoholic friend, but it’s important you act sooner than later.
If you notice a friend has developed a habit of drinking excessively, they may need your help pulling back. Like many addictions, alcohol addiction may start as a seemingly harmless indulgence. If you’re not careful, this can develop into a chemical dependence without notice.
In this article, you will discover how to help an alcoholic friend.
How to Help an Alcoholic Friend Kick the Habit
A friend in need is a friend indeed. When it comes to alcohol addiction, a problem can arise when both parties agree that there is a need. Someone in addiction may not yet be at the point of wanting to acknowledge – and much less change – the behavior. An observing friend, however, may see a dangerous situation very clearly. When seeking to help your friend to recognize and overcome an alcohol addiction, some preparation is necessary.
Here’s how to help an alcoholic friend.
Learn About the Problem
When seeking to help your loved one, coming in from an objective position of genuine knowledge about the situation can take the edge off of the touchy nature of the subject.
While armed with information about the identifying symptoms of alcoholism, the stages of addiction, and the underlying causes of alcohol addiction, you will be better equipped to present your loved one with indisputable evidence that changes need to be made.
You will also be better positioned to avoid wrongly labeling or stigmatizing the situation, improving the likelihood of mutual conversation.
Rehearse Your Communication
One of the most difficult aspects of attempting to help a loved one out of a difficult situation is the closeness of the relationship. When our emotions are involved, as with a friend, we can be easily tempted to go off script and interject our issues into the discussion. Before taking your concern and information about alcohol addiction to your friend, outline the key points you wish to bring up. Practice your pitch in the mirror or with someone you trust, and be prepared for the chance that your well-founded concerns may be dismissed or rejected by the addicted person.
Use Discretion in Timing
Just as the words you use and the ideas you present need to be carefully crafted, the time and place you initiate the conversation need to be calculated. Bringing up the drinking problem while your friend is intoxicated is rarely efficient, as the intoxicated mind is not typically capable of responding to a situation with careful consideration and rational output. You will also want to be mindful of your friend’s emotional state and mindset outside intoxication. Be sure that your bringing up the topic doesn’t come out of the left field and doesn’t make your friend feel blindsided by the approach.
With content and timing in place, you can move on to the deeper aspects of effective communication. If you have researched the factors that define and contribute to alcohol addiction, you are likely to have discovered that a person in addiction is rarely happy to be there. There are many emotional, mental, physical, and environmental factors that affect the likelihood of developing an addiction, and your friend’s situation will be no exception. Avoid blaming the addicted person, and extend compassion for your friend.
Your concern is primarily about your friend does not erase the fact that it is also about you. If your friend’s alcohol habits weren’t negatively affecting you in some way, you likely wouldn’t be considering it a problem. Failing to mention the impact that the addictive behavior has on you as a friend would not accurately communicate the urgency of the situation. When discussing the issue, practice using I-statements, and let your friend know how their drinking is making your own life more difficult. There is a chance that your friend has, thus far, been entirely unaware that alcohol addiction has been affecting others.
One of the easiest things to do – and one of the most harmful – is to respond to a stubborn friend by setting ultimatums. Ultimatums are threats used to attempt to coerce another person to behave in a way that the instigator desires. As most of us are inherently aware, changes made due to being forced are rarely genuine or lasting. An addicted person forced into a position of choosing friendship or alcohol may react with an initial agreement to stop drinking, but this is likely to be short-lived. If your friend falls back into the destructive pattern, they will likely experience intense guilt and temptations to lie about the continued behavior. These negative states of being are often associated with the descent into addiction in the first place.
Offer Personalized Support
In place of demanding changes, what you do want to offer is support. If you have followed the steps for effective communication, you have likely received insight into your friend’s struggle with alcohol. It may be the case that your friend is lonely, lacking in plans for the future, or suffering from previously undisclosed mental health issues. Rather than presenting ideas for recovery as you see them, you can be the best kind of friend by adapting your offers of support according to what your friend needs. Offer to get your friend out of the house to participate in new activities, suggest educational resources, or provide phone numbers for local counselors. Finding inspiration to replace addictive behaviors and perspectives with more adaptive ones is a big part of recovery, and you can play a role in fostering that inspiration.
Don’t Take Pushback Personally
If you know anything about the human nature of the stages of change, you know that we only change when we are ready to change. Until then, we are likely to defend our current state as acceptable, no matter what rational arguments are presented to the contrary. A person in the middle of addiction is unlikely to be receptive to input from a concerned friend, regardless of the level of trust, love, and respect for each other. Be prepared for the chance that your friend won’t appreciate your attempts to get them back on track and may even react to your suggestion that things are out of control with some hostility.
Now that you know how to help an alcoholic friend, you may consider introducing your friend to a professional.
Alcohol addiction often requires help from a professional. This ensures your friend is in the care of professionals dedicated to understanding how addiction affects the body and mind.
A professional will offer programs and therapy designed to assist the person recover from addiction in a safe environment, free from outside influence and temptation.
If you need help, please get in touch with a professional for assistance today.
- Gratis B. Overcoming emotional barriers to communication. Nulab. Published January 30, 2022. Accessed October 10, 2022. https://nulab.com
- Whitman C. Why Timing Is Important In Communication. Christy Whitman. Published May 20, 2019. Accessed October 10, 2022. https://www.christywhitman.com/why-timing-is-important-in-communication/
- Grace B. How To Break The Blame Cycle With Empathy. School of Modern Psychology. Accessed October 10, 2022. https://www.schoolofmodernpsychology.com/blog/breaking-the-blame-cycle
Last medically reviewed October 10, 2022