How To Help a Friend with a Drinking Problem

If You Suspect Your Friend Has a Problem with Alcohol, Doing Nothing Could Be Harmful

Problems with liquor

We all know the "one friend." He or she is the life of the party, always game for a good time. But the friend tends to go too far and ends up sloppy and troubling. Maybe she has gotten a DUI or lost her job. Perhaps he gets mean and is hard to hang out with after a certain number of drinks. Or maybe he disappears, has become unreliable and even very depressed.

One thing is certain. You have a loved one who is drinking too much and you're worried. Very worried. So what do you do?

  1. Arm yourself with the facts. One of the biggest mistakes people make when dealing with loved ones with a drinking problem is thinking that it's a willpower issue. The American Medical Association has long declared alcoholism a real disease, not just your stupid lazy brother being weak. If you don't understand the disease, read up on it first, so you are not pre-judging someone's character when he is really suffering from an illness and could possibly need your help. Al-Anon is a great resource for loved ones of alcoholics and can be reached online or in any city by picking up a phone and dialing 411.
  2. Choose your timing well. Remember in a situation like this, timing is everything. Do not, under any circumstance, bring up your friend's drinking problem while at a bar over drinks. She's in a drinking mode and will not be receptive to you spoiling her mood. Perhaps the next day, when she's not feeling so hot would be a better moment to discuss your concerns. She may a bit remorseful for her actions and therefore more willing to listen to what you have to say.
  3. Express your concern in a loving and non-judgmental way. Put yourself in your friend's shoes for a moment. Behavior surrounding alcoholism is almost always shame-filled. This is probably not a conversation your friend/loved one will welcome. Be graceful and kind when bringing it up. The way you bring up the subject can really dictate whether or not she can stand to listen at all. If you begin with, "You're drinking is out of control," you're bound to put your friend on the defensive.

    Try a more loving approach. Let your friend know that you are, above all, on her side. Try an approach something like this, "Susan, I want you to know first off, that I love you and you are a very dear friend to me. But I am concerned for you. I am worried that the amount of drinking you are doing is hurting you and those that care for you. If there's anything I can do to help you, I want you to know I am here for you. But I wouldn't be a good friend if I didn't tell you the truth."

  4. Listen. A good friend will give a person time to express how he is feeling and what's going on in his life. Don't come in with the intent of just lecturing. Let him express his side as well. And also listen for excuses, rationalizations or outright lying. Denial is a very strong factor in alcoholism. Kindly point these out to your friend.
  5. Don't Expect Miracles. Remember what you're doing. You are basically asking your friend to give up his or her best friend: Alcohol. This is what your friend depends on to feel better or to not feel at all. Alcohol has become her coping mechanism. To just tell her she needs to quit, without having something to take its place, would be terrifying, if not seemingly impossible. Not only that, she may not feel she has a problem or may just not be ready to deal with it. Don't be surprised if your concern isn't welcomed with open arms.

    But, you can plant a seed. You can let her know that there are solutions for her, whether it is therapy, attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or possibly going to a treatment facility for more help. But she has to be ready to make a huge change in her life. It may not be now. And you have to accept the fact that you may be seen as the bad guy. But a true friend will risk her friendship in order to help save a life.

Lora Somoza writes a sex advice column and is the author of Bliss in the Bedroom. Both can be found at


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