How to approach a friend about their alcohol use

If you’re worried about a friend’s alcohol use, you might not know how to start the conversation.

Written by spunout


Having a conversation with someone about their alcohol use isn’t easy, and if you have a concern about a friend, you might not know where to start. For many, this can be a difficult conversation, and it’s important you look after yourself while you try to help your friend. These tips will help you get the conversation going.

How to speak to someone about their drinking 

Picking the right time and place

It’s important that you consider the best time and place to have this conversation, with few distractions and space to talk openly about the issue. Avoid having this conversation when the person has been drinking or when they’re hungover. It’s best to pick a time when they have a clear head and can concentrate on what you’re saying.

Think about what you are going to say 

It’s best to know what you want to say before you have this conversation. If you don’t prepare, you might say something you did not intend to or forget some important points. Planning ahead of time means you can be clear and ready for how they might respond.

Starting the conversation

To start off the conversation, you could try posing it as a question rather than a statement. You could simply say “I notice you’ve been drinking a lot lately, I just wanted to ask if everything is okay?” or ask “Do you have any worries at all about your drinking?”

If you feel like you have a lot to say, try asking them if they would be willing to listen to you without interruption to what you have to say. Let them know they will have a chance to respond when you’re finished, but it’s important to you that they let you say everything you need to say.

Before you begin, make sure you emphasise how important this person is in your life as a friend or a family member, so that they know you are coming from a place of caring about them.

Be empathetic

This might not be an easy thing for your friend to hear. Be understanding, use non-judgemental language and tell them you’re bringing it up because you care about them. Avoid lecturing them about their alcohol use as they’re more likely to get defensive.

Use examples

Help them understand by focusing on the consequences of their drinking and use examples of things that have happened in the past as a result of their drinking.

Ask them about their understanding and memory of specific events, and then give your point of view, expressing what you saw, how you felt and how concerned you are. They may not realise the effect an event had on you until you tell them.

Remind them you are there to help

Emphasise that you’re there to support them and help them through their problem. Before you start, make sure to have the information for a support service or an addiction counsellor, or be ready to give suggestions as to what they can do next. If you’re comfortable doing so, you could offer to accompany them to the GP or another support service if they’re anxious about going on their own. 

What will happen if I speak to someone about their drinking?

Be prepared for any kind of reaction. There’s a chance your friend might not accept there is any issue with their use of alcohol. They might get angry, feel embarrassed, dismiss the conversation or refuse to talk to you at all. Regardless of how they react try to stay calm. You cannot force your friend to address their behaviour if they are not ready to, but you may have given them something to think about. 

If your friend accepts what you have said and agrees that they need help, this is wonderful and you should let them know about support services that are available to them. Although you can help your friend in certain ways, you are not a professional or expert when it comes to alcohol dependency. You will only be able to offer a certain type of support and it is important to not put too much pressure on yourself. 

Knowing when to step back

If you find your conversation is headed for an argument, don’t push it. Leave your friend to think about what you’ve said and come back to it at another time. If they become angry at you, you do not have to tolerate abusive behaviour. Let your friend know that you are there to support them when they have calmed down, but that they cannot treat you in that way. 

Finding help

Before you go into this conversation, it’s good to know what options there are for finding help. This means you can direct them to the right place to take the next step in overcoming their problems with alcohol. It’s a good idea to have one or two ideas as to where they could go next so that there can be a follow-on from your conversation.

Look after yourself

If your friend’s use of alcohol is really affecting you, don’t go through it alone. You should talk to a trusted friend or family member about it, or you can go to a support service.

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