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Alcohol and Mental Health

How To Help a Friend Who Is Struggling With Alcohol Misuse

August 30, 2023
18 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
August 30, 2023
18 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
August 30, 2023
18 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
August 30, 2023
18 min read
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Reframe Content Team
August 30, 2023
18 min read

You and your friend routinely get together. You usually meet at your favorite spot for dinner and have a drink or two. But lately, you’ve noticed some changes. Every time you get together, your friend is gulping down drinks. When you talk to them later in the week, they don’t seem to remember much of your conversation. 

You’re starting to get concerned and want to be a good friend, but don’t know where or how to start. You don’t even know if you should start. Is this something they can manage on their own, or can you do something to help? 

In this post, we’ll explore how to talk to a friend about their drinking (and how to confront an alcoholic). We’ll also offer tips for what we can do to help an alcoholic friend. Let’s dive in!

How Can We Tell If a Friend Has a Drinking Problem?

Sadly, for many people, drinking is an ordinary part of life. Alcohol’s effects vary widely from person to person, so it’s not always easy to tell if someone’s alcohol intake has crossed the line from responsible, social drinking to alcohol misuse. 

While there’s no specific amount of alcohol that indicates someone is struggling with alcohol, certain signs indicate that they might need help. Here are some of them: 

  • Inability to control their drinking. Someone struggling with alcohol misuse is unable to control their drinking. Alcohol becomes the center of their world. If our friend can’t leave their drink unfinished, or if they seem unable to reduce their alcohol consumption, they most likely are misusing alcohol.
  • Their drinking has increased. A telltale sign that someone is struggling with alcohol is an increase in the amount they’re consuming. For instance, maybe our friend started out having one drink a day, but now they’re drinking several glasses of wine a day. Or perhaps they’re drinking at odd times of the day. Changes in alcohol consumption patterns are also indicators of a larger problem.

    If our friend participates in binge drinking several times a month — defined as having four or more drinks for women or five or more drinks for men in one sitting — our friend likely is misusing alcohol. 
  • Their personal and professional life is suffering. Heavy alcohol consumption can lead to an inability to focus or a loss of interest in activities we previously enjoyed. Our friend may be misusing alcohol if their drinking impedes their ability to fulfill daily responsibilities at home, work, or school, or if they’ve lost their motivation and productivity.

    Similarly, our friend might continue drinking even when it’s causing problems in their relationships with you or others. We may also notice changes in their behavior or personality, such as being more irritable, tired, secretive, restless, forgetful, or even aggressive.
  • They deny or lie about how much they’re drinking. Oftentimes, friends and family members can recognize the signs of alcohol misuse before the person struggling does. If someone has already raised concerns about our friend’s drinking and they become defensive or deny they have a problem, this likely means they need help. 

The bottom line? Educating ourselves on the warning signs and symptoms of alcohol misuse is an important first step in helping our friend. The more we know, the easier it is to spot problematic behaviors or patterns.

How To Talk to a Friend About Their Drinking

Talking to someone about their drinking is never easy. We might worry that bringing up our concerns will make our friend angry, defensive or lash out. What if they stop talking to us? These concerns are understandable and valid, as these are all common reactions. 

However, our friend’s drinking will likely get worse unless we speak up. No matter how hard it is, it’s worth having a conversation. It might be uncomfortable in the short-term, but in the long-run, they’ll probably thank us. Here are some tips for having that conversation: 

  • Choose the right time and place. Pick a time when they’re not drinking and when you’re both calm and focused. Choose a quiet, private place, like their house, where you won’t be interrupted. Remove distractions by silencing your phone or other devices. 
  • Express your concerns directly with love. Tell your friend about the worries you have regarding their drinking and the effects you see it having on their health, relationships, career, and/or family. Try to be as specific as possible, pointing to concrete examples, behaviors, or consequences. 
  • Be mindful of your tone of voice. Try to remain gentle and compassionate, rather than accusatory or judgemental. Use direct, but empathic “I” statements. For instance, you might say, “I understand that you are struggling, and I am concerned about you.” 
  • Invite them into a dialogue. Encourage your friend to open up about why they’re drinking. For instance, you might ask them if they’re stressed, bored, lonely, or anxious. Many different factors could be contributing to their drinking, some of which you might not even be aware of. 

    Listen to their thoughts and concerns without interrupting. Ask what you can do to help. And remind them that alcohol tends to mask symptoms and won’t help them get to the root of the issue.
  • Consider staging a family meeting or intervention. We can also consider inviting close family members or other friends for an intervention if our friend is resistant to getting help. But this should really be a last resort, as research shows that confrontational interventions can actually make things worse. Instead, you can try to get your friend to talk to a doctor if they won’t talk to you. If you do choose to have an intervention, be careful to approach it from a place of care and concern and not use it as an opportunity to accuse, shame, or vent anger
Diagram about things to avoid when talking with a friend about their alcohol use

Things To Avoid When Talking to a Friend About Their Alcohol Use

In addition to knowing what to do and say, it can help to know things to avoid when having a conversation with our friend about their drinking. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t take things personally. Depending on their personality and situation, your friend might get angry, deny, or push back at what you’re saying. Try not to get offended or take things personally. Keep the focus on them and remember they’re probably not their best self. You’re trying to help them, but they might need time and space to come to terms with what you’re saying and start to see the problem for themselves. 
  • Don’t threaten, push, bribe, or preach. Avoid ultimatums or threats, which could increase frustration and lead them to drink more. Make sure not to lecture or criticize either, as this could cause your friend to become defensive and much less willing to hear what you’re saying. Avoid words like “addict” or “alcoholic,” as these are stigmatizing and can make your friend feel attacked. Again, focus on your concerns and express them with compassion and love. 
  • Don’t cover up for their behavior. Try not to make excuses for your friend’s behavior or drinking. If you do, your friend may be less able to recognize the problem and less likely to seek help. Set boundaries by refusing to lie for them about their drinking, refusing to supply them with alcohol, and refusing to engage in arguments when they're drunk. Stick to these limits, even if your friend gets angry.

    It’s especially important not to do things for your friend that they should be handling themselves. For instance, if they ask you to call into work “sick,” don’t agree to do this. In general, if you’re saving your friend from the consequences of alcohol misuse, it could take them much longer to reach the point where they’re willing to seekhelp.
  • Don’t blame yourself. Keep in mind that you’re not to blame for your friend’s drinking problem. You’re not responsible for their behavior, and you can’t make them change. As much as you may want to, and as hard as it is to watch, you can’t make them stop drinking. The choice is theirs and theirs alone. 

How To Help Someone Stop Drinking

If our friend agrees that they’re struggling with alcohol, but is unsure how to stop drinking, we can help them by discussing potential solutions:

  • Make a doctor’s appointment. Our friend’s primary care doctor or a general practitioner can evaluate their drinking patterns, assess their overall health and any co-occurring disorders, and provide treatment referrals. If appropriate, they may even prescribe medication approved to treat alcohol dependence. Depending on the severity of your friend’s condition, a doctor might be necessary to help manage withdrawal symptoms during detox.
  • Attend a 12-step program or other support group. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is one of the most common treatment options for alcohol misuse. Support groups like these are beneficial because they’ll allow your friend to spend time with others facing similar problems. They also provide advice on staying sober and help reduce any sense of isolation they might be experiencing. Studies show that the social connections provided by these groups can help people build confidence in their own ability to avoid alcohol in social situations and maintain their sobriety.
  • Behavioral treatments. Individual, group, and/or family therapy can help your friend identify the root cause of their alcohol misuse, repair damaged relationships, develop skills to stop or reduce their drinking, and learn to deal with the drinking triggers that might cause them to relapse. CBT is a particularly effective tool, and it’s one of the many types of therapy for alcohol misuse
  • Residential treatment or “rehab” facilities. Both inpatient and outpatient treatment centers provide intensive treatment for alcohol misuse. Choosing which one largely depends on the severity of your friend’s condition. Inpatient facilities are more intensive, as they require people to stay at a special facility for 30 to 90 days to receive treatment such as detox, therapy, and medication. During outpatient treatment, your friend would attend set rehab appointments during the week but still reside at home. 

Whichever treatment option your friend chooses, it’s important to support and encourage them. This might involve driving them to a treatment center or AA meeting. It could also mean helping them with daily errands or tasks, taking their dog or cat, or looking after their house while they’re in rehab or getting help.

The Bottom Line

Alcohol misuse is a serious problem that can significantly interfere with a loved one’s personal and professional life, health, and well-being. If we’re concerned about our friend’s drinking, the first thing we should do is educate ourselves on alcohol misuse and treatment options. Once we do this, we can have a discussion with them — at the right time and place — and express our concerns in a gentle, loving way. While we can’t make an alcoholic friend stop drinking, we can play a role in getting them the help they need.

If your friend or loved one is looking to cut back on their alcohol consumption, you can also encourage them to try Reframe. Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), our neuroscience-backed app has helped millions of people cut back on drinking gradually. 

Summary FAQs

1. How can we tell if a friend has a drinking problem?

Generally speaking, someone might be misusing alcohol if they have an inability to control their drinking, the amount of alcohol they consume has increased, their personal and professional life are suffering, and they deny or lie about how much they're drinking. 

2. How should we talk to a friend who is misusing alcohol?

If we decide to talk to a friend who is misusing alcohol, we should choose a private place at a time when they’re not drinking, express our concerns directly with a loving, non-judgmental tone, and ask them to open up about why they’re drinking. 

3. What should we avoid doing when having a conversation with a friend who is misusing alcohol? 

We should never try to threaten, bribe, lecture, or criticize a friend about their drinking problem. We also shouldn’t cover up for their behavior or make excuses for their drinking. It’s equally important to remember not to take things personally or blame ourselves. 

4. What type of treatment options are available for a friend who is misusing alcohol?

If a friend agrees they have a problem with drinking and wants to get help, we can support them by encouraging them to make a doctor’s appointment, attend a 12-step or other support group, participate in behavioral therapy, or go to an in-patient or out-patient rehab facility. 

Say Goodbye to Alcohol With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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