It’s fun to have a drink every now and then, and even though we all think we can handle our alcohol and understand the dangers of overindulgence, what would you do if you were faced with wanting to help a friend with a drinking problem? Would you know how to help? Alcohol can destroy lives. It breaks relationships and changes personalities. It can create money issues and it destroys reputations. If you know your friend is in trouble, or you have an inkling that she’s not only drinking too much but that it has the potential to get out of control, you can do a lot more for her than just trying to get her to have a diet coke rather than a vodka and OJ. If you want to help a friend with a drinking problem, here’s how.
The first step to help a friend with a drinking problem is to recognise that they actually have one. You may think your friend is drinking too much, but the key is to understand the difference between enjoying a drink and having a problem with drinking. There are 3 types of drinker: the social drinker; a problem drinker; and an alcoholic, all of which are different. The social drinker does not drink to get drunk, respects people who do not drink, obeys rules which apply to drinking and generally drinks slowly. A problem drinker is someone who drinks to gets drunk, believes that eating before drinking is cheating, changes personality after a few too many and drinks before class or work. An alcoholic spends a great deal of time thinking about drinking and planning the next drink. They keep a bottle of booze handy, deny their habit, drink alone and drink before a stressful situation. Identify which type of drinker your friend is and go from there.
Approaching your friend about the problem is going to be one of the hardest things you’ll do in this process. Your friend might welcome your comments, may have not realized their drinking was getting out of hand and is open to your help. On the other hand, you may face a fight in even getting your friend to admit there is an issue. Stay calm and explain carefully why you think she has a problem. Be understanding, explain your observations and don’t lecture them or be patronizing or critical. You need to be tactful when you talk to your friend too, and ask them questions. Be prepared that as much as you may want to help a friend with a drinking problem they may not appreciate your help right away.
Your friend might be defensive when you bring up the topic of their drinking and may become angry with you for mentioning it. This may be because your friend does not even know that they have a problem and may get upset or angry. You need to tell your friend that you think they are a different person when they are drunk, and much prefer who they are sober. Make it very clear that you dislike the problem and not them as a person. A person on the defensive may not hear what you are saying. Use your judgement to know whether you continue to press the subject or you drop it and allow your friend thinking space. Your friend may come back to you on their own auspices to ask for help. On the other hand you may have to settle in for another bite at the issue.
If your friend denies that they have a problem, you need to help them understand and get them to wake up and smell the coffee (forgive the pun). You have to guide them to see the reality, telling them how their drinking makes them look to others, and how it impacts your life and affects you. For example, you may want to tell your friend that you love spending time with them however, you do not like how things go when alcohol comes into play. Maybe they get violent, embarrassing, pass out or all three.
When you try to help a friend with a drinking problem you should consider the fact that they might actually agree with you. This might happen right away or after a period of denial and a few attempts on your part to make them understand. Whenever the acceptance happens, be prepared. You’ll need to explore further. You will need to ask them a few questions, such as why do you think you drink? How do you solve the cause of your drinking? What steps are you going to take? And absolutely above all, ask how can I help? It’s just as important to have some solutions. You have raised the issue which should be a signal to your friend that you want to help. Don’t undo the great work so far by not being ready with some advice.
When your friend is ready to admit that they have a problem then you will want to think about the help you can get. Some drinkers simply need the support of their friends to keep them on track, to help them moderate their alcohol intake on nights out etc. The important thing is to choose the right path. Someone who drinks alone at home is different to someone who binge drinks at the weekend. Overdoing social drinking is a very different issue to full blown alcoholism. Don’t believe you can do this on your own if the problem can be described as serious. If your friend needs more than just compassion, loyalty and support from you and others who care about her, encourage her to seek professional advice. You can still support and encourage her throughout the process but you’ll probably be following a more prescribed plan.
An important thing to remember when you are going to help a friend with a drinking problem is that they will need support through the whole thing. Don’t just drop the hot potato in her lap and leave her to deal with it. Be there to talk to whenever she needs it and listen to what she has to say. Make sure you are there for your friend and offer to go to any appointments with them. You should also remember that drinking in front of your friend or putting them in situations when they might want to drink will not be helpful. Arrange fun activities which involve being sober. And, don’t forget to respect her privacy and boundaries. She might not want your full circle of friends to know, so be a true friend and follow her wishes when it comes to who should be in the know.
You will note I haven’t mentioned anything about what to do if your friend simply won’t admit to the problem. This is when it then becomes a personal decision for you. Only you can decide whether you can continue being a friend or not, depending on how much the alcohol affects your relationship. Making the decision you want to help a friend with a drinking problem is a big decision for you both. If you fail, at least you know you tried. Have you ever been in this situation? Did you help your friend through?
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