Addiction impacts more than just the person who’s using. Friends, family, and even coworkers can feel hurt or confused, or unsure whether they should intervene or let a person work out their own problems. They might talk themselves out of taking action, convincing themselves it’s just their imagination, or rationalizing that a person has to “hit rock bottom” before they will change. This simply isn’t true.

When people minimize the effects of substance use, no one wins. Though problematic alcohol use can be a complex disorder, there are common signs and behaviors that indicate your friend or loved one has a problem and needs help.

  • Having trouble stopping drinking or controlling intake
  • Consistently using alcohol to relax
  • Experiencing blackouts or forgetting what happened while drinking
  • Lying to others about drinking habits
  • Experiencing work, legal, or relationship issues due to drinking
  • Having other family members who express concern about drinking

Many people choose not to intervene with someone’s drinking behavior because they have heard one of the many myths about substance use. For example, they might assume that an alcoholic has to drink every day. The reality is that an alcohol use disorder isn’t diagnosed by the amount a person has to drink but by the impact the drinking has on their life and their daily functioning.

A person might also see a colleague continuing to complete work on time, and assume they don’t have a problem, when in reality that person is a high functioning alcoholic. Or they might have heard that a person has to “hit rock bottom,” when the truth is that intervening early during substance use issues can prove very effective.

Another popular myth is that you can’t help a person stop drinking if they aren’t ready. The reality is that a loved one can assume a powerful role in recovery by helping a person see the impact of their drinking behaviors. They might not change overnight, or ever, but there is always a possibility that you can help them take a step in the right direction. Let’s take a look at some effective ways to intervene when you think a friend is engaged in problem drinking.


Skip the Lectures

Using scare tactics or giving lectures about what’s right and wrong probably won’t get you far. You can share your concerns without turning yourself into a martyr or feeling like you must scare someone into changing their drinking behavior. Above all, never try to have a conversation when a person is intoxicated. In this state, they will be even more likely to deny, become angry, or forget the conversation ever happened.


Prepare Before The Conversation

Consider talking to a doctor or a mental health professional before you have a conversation with your friend about their drinking. You might find that you have incorrect assumptions about drinking behavior or recovery. You can also prepare yourself for a negative response. Try not to take it personally if your loved one responds angrily or denies they have a problem, as this is a common symptom, or if they begin to make promises they are not likely to keep.


Be Specific

You should also prepare yourself to be as specific as possible when expressing your concerns about alcohol use. Generate examples of how their drinking has caused problems in their own life and the lives of others, rather than making blanket statements like “You drink too much,” or “You’re ruining your life.” Above all, let them know that they have your support if they choose to start the path toward recovery. Though they still may lie or refuse to quick, by providing specific examples you have planted a seed for change in their life.


Take Care of Yourself

Because problematic alcohol use impacts many people, it’s vital to seek out support for yourself as you attempt to navigate your relationship. Consider seeing a counselor, talking to a friend who’s been through a similar situation, or joining a recovery family group. If you’re not taking care of yourself and prioritizing your own health and wellness, then you won’t have the energy to support your loved one through recovery.

If you can remember one thing before you talk to your friend about their drinking, remember this. Recovery doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not like winning the lottery or waving a magic wand or waking up to find that the world has changed. Relapse may be a part of your loved one’s recovery, or maybe it won’t. But recovery requires ongoing support and it means celebrating the small victories when they do occur. Don’t blame yourself or convince yourself that you’re responsible for someone else’s drinking behavior. But you can take responsibility for the kind of friend you can be when they need you the most.

Last Updated: Nov 25, 2018