Approaching someone you love about their drinking habits can be daunting, but showing your concern sooner rather than later could make a huge difference
According to Alcohol Concern, 7% of adults in England regularly drink more than the Chief Medical Officer’s low-risk guidelines suggest, and 2.5 million people report drinking more than 14 units on their heaviest drinking days. But when the culture of getting a bit tipsy is acceptable, it can be difficult to spot the signs that someone has gone from enjoying a few drinks to becoming dependent on alcohol. If your friend has problems controlling their drinking habits and it’s beginning to interfere with their career, relationships or their health, these tips can help you start a conversation:
Do your research
Before you say anything, it’s important to do some research to satisfy yourself that your friend does have a problem. Websites like Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon and NHS Choices have a wealth of information, so you know what signs to look for. Once you have more knowledge about alcohol misuse, decide whether you feel they might have an issue needing treatment. If in doubt, offer them help – it’s better to discuss it sooner so that your friend can seek support and begin recovery.
Being somewhere relatively peaceful will give you the chance to discuss the issue in a non-threatening way
Practise what you want to say
Speaking to a loved one about their drinking won’t be easy. They may become angry, defensive or upset with you for bringing it up, so you need to feel confident and calm when you have the discussion. It can be useful to practise what you want to say with another friend first, and write down your key points. Gather a few facts together, such as how excessive drinking can increase the likelihood of developing cancers of the mouth, throat, stomach and liver, to back up your concerns.
Choose the right moment
Avoid broaching the subject when your friend is under the influence of alcohol. Find a time when you’re both feeling calm and not too emotional. It might help to go to a neutral location, such as a café or park. Being somewhere relatively peaceful will give you the chance to discuss the issue in a reasoned and non-threatening way. If you or your friend become too emotional, it’s probably best to leave it for the time being and try again when everyone is a little calmer.
As hard as it is, honesty is the best policy. There isn’t going to be an easy way to tell them you think they have a problem with drink, so it’s best to be direct but sensitive. Dr Sheri Jacobson, psychotherapist and counsellor at Harley Therapy, says: “It can be humiliating to be told they may be drinking too much and their first response might be to be defensive and deny they have a problem. Show concern rather than disapproval and tell them you’re worried about their wellbeing.” If they can see you’re bringing up the issue out of genuine concern for their health, they’re more likely to listen.
Use positive language
Avoid using negativity, making judgements or placing labels such as “alcoholic” on them. Emphasise that you understand addiction is a disease and it can be treated. Using “I” and “me” can help communicate how their behaviour impacts on you and others. Encourage them to think about the effects alcohol is having on their life and how they feel about this.
There’s only so much you can do – understand that you cannot make your friend stop drinking; you can only offer support. They need to want to change their behaviour and this might take time. You might need to have the same conversation a number of times, which can be frustrating. But it’s important not to get angry. Let them know you’re there if they want to talk.
Point them in the right direction
As much as they need your support, it’s important to remember that you’re not a trained professional. If they’re receptive to the offer of support, help them to make an appointment with their GP or show them charities that offer support. Alcoholics Anonymous hold 4,487 meetings across the UK and their figures have emphasised that regular attendance at meetings, as well as having a home support group, is important to maintain sobriety. A massive 64% of members state they’ve been sober for two years, which should offer your friend hope that things can improve with the right treatment.
If you or your friend need further support, Drinkline provides a free, confidential helpline: 0300 123 1110. Alternatively, your friend may benefit from speaking to a counsellor – visit counselling-directory.