How to Help an Alcoholic Friend

This Page was last reviewed and changed on June 23rd, 2020

Content Overview

It is devastating to watch someone you care about suffer with alcoholism. To see them deteriorate before your very own eyes is heartbreaking. Do not despair though, although you may feel unable to help, there is much that you can do.

Although you can’t save them, you will be able to support them and guide them through these difficult times and help them make the choices that will hopefully set them up on the path of recovery.

Does my Friend have an Alcohol Problem?

To truly understand whether or not your friend has a problem with alcohol, you will need to understand what addiction is. According to healthline.com, ‘Alcoholism has been known by a variety of terms, including alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. Today, it’s referred to as alcohol use disorder. It occurs when you drink so much that your body eventually becomes dependent on or addicted to alcohol. When this happens, alcohol becomes the most important thing in your life.

People with alcohol use disorder will continue to drink even when drinking causes negative consequences, like losing a job or destroying relationships with people they love. They may know that their alcohol use negatively affects their lives, but it’s often not enough to make them stop drinking.

Below we have listed a number of signs that could indicate that your friend is suffering from an alcohol use disorder:

Signs Your Friend May be Struggling with Alcoholism

  • Your friend no longer wants to partake in activities you used to enjoy doing together.
  • Your friend refuses to do anything social unless it involves a drink.
  • You have noticed when you do go out drinking with your friend, that they are drinking at double the speed, and double the quantity to everyone else.
  • Your friend is always complaining of not feeling well.
  • You can go for weeks without seeing your friend. They refuse to answer their messages or pick up the phone.
  • When you do speak to your friend, more often than not, they get angry or snap at you for something.
  • You think it’s possible that your friend could be suffering with a mental health issue such as anxiety or depression.
  • You have caught your friend out in lies on more than one occasion recently.
  • Every time you see them, they are nursing a hangover or drunk.
  • Your friend no longer spends much time with your old friendship group, preferring instead to be alone or hang out with other people who drink as much as they do.
  • Your friend no longer takes any pride in how they look, constantly appearing unwashed or disheveled when you go out together.
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How do I Approach my Friend About Their Drinking Habits?

It can be really difficult to know how to talk to a friend about their drinking habits. You don’t want to come across as judgemental or accusatory, but equally, you want to be able to say how you’re feeling and hope that your message gets through. We have listed a number of tips to help you approach your friend who is drinking too much:

Arrange to have a proper heart-to-heart – it’s not going to be easy to bite the bullet and talk to your friend about alcoholism, however if you do it with empathy, sensitivity and compassion, you may well be the influence that begins the tide of change in your friend’s life. It’s obviously best to talk to your friend whilst they are sober, so try to arrange a time, probably in the morning, where you can meet, that is quiet and you are alone and unlikely to be interrupted. Your friend should feel safe in the space, so perhaps at their house, or somewhere the two of you regularly go.

Don’t judge or accuse – speak to your friend with love and compassion, you are more likely to see a positive outcome for your friend if you love them well, rather than try to beat them with their own perceived failings.

Discuss treatment options – There are a number of resources available, both on the NHS and privately, that can help your friend. Talk through the options together, reinforcing that you will be there to support your friend every step of the way, whichever way they choose to go from here.

Things to Avoid

  • Don’t nag or accuse as this will only lead to arguments and potentially stop your friend from coming to you for help or guidance in the future.
  • Don’t judge your friend. Until we have walked a day in someone else’s shoes, we have no real idea of what they are going through.
  • Don’t try and coerce your friend to change.
  • Don’t drag up the past and make your friend feel uncomfortable about their behaviour. They will already be feeling uncomfortable enough.

How Can I Help my Friend into Treatment?

The only real way to help your friend into treatment is to support them fully once they’ve made the decision to go in. It’s not an easy decision for anyone to make, and often outside responsibilities can be used as an excuse not to access a treatment centre. If you make it clear to your friend that you will support them in any way that they need whilst they are in treatment, it could make their decision to start the process much easier.

You can also help your friend research the options that are available to them. Discuss what they feel they need and look online to find the options that are most suited to your friends individual requirements.

Private Alcohol Treatment vs NHS Outpatient Services

We are lucky in the UK to have the choice between private alcohol treatment and the NHS funded options. Obviously, the NHS options will be cheaper and, in most cases, local to where your friend lives. They will be able to access treatment through the NHS during the day and spend the night at home.

However, the disadvantages with NHS treatment is that there is often a lengthy admissions process, your friend may not be seen for weeks, or even months after he has first asked for an appointment with his GP. Secondly, often treatment on the NHS will only be once a week, leaving your friend to fend for themselves and stave away their cravings on their own the other 6 days.

On the other hand private rehabs, although more expensive and potentially a further distance from where your friend lives, offer next day admissions. The number of therapies available are much more diverse. The therapists in a private treatment centre will also be the same for the duration of your friends stay, which offers continuity – something extremely important in order to build trust. Finally, it is also much more likely that your friend will create bonds with other people seeking recovery. Feeling part of a recovery community is vital, especially in the early days of recovery. As most private rehabs offer good aftercare treatment, this sense of community can continue long after your friend leaves rehab.

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Frequently Asked Questions

My Friend Refuses to Seek Treatment – What Should I do?
The truth is, that if your friend is refusing to seek treatment, there isn’t really much that you can do other than support them 100% until they do decide what they want to do. You can’t force them to do anything that they aren’t willing to do. What you can do if it is really badly affecting you, is seek treatment yourself, or access a 12 step group for family and loved ones of addicts and alcoholics. Al-Anon for example host groups that ‘provide support to anyone whose life is, or has been, affected by someone else’s drinking.’ Al-Anon has meetings in most large towns and cities. To find a comprehensive list of meetings locally to you, go to their website: https://www.al-anonuk.org.uk/
Can I Force my Friend into Treatment?
As mentioned in the previous question – we can’t force our loved ones to do anything that they don’t want to do, and the truth is, even if we could, it would be pointless as recovery from addiction can only really start once the alcoholic has a true desire to stop drinking. You friend may really want to stop drinking to stop hurting you and the rest of their family and loved ones, but until they want to stop drinking for themselves, no treatment centre will really be able to make that much difference to their sobriety long term.
What is a binge drinker vs an alcoholic?

A binge drinker is someone who drinks excessively at specific times but is not dependent on alcohol. An alcoholic is a person whose body and mind are dependent.

How to convince an alcoholic to get help

You are probably already aware that you cannot force someone with alcoholism to get help if this person is not ready, but you can try to convince him or her that this help is required. Talk to the person and explain the harm that his or her actions are causing to their life and the lives of others. Remind him or her of the importance of getting help and, if necessary, issue an ultimatum. However, if you do this, it is important that you are prepared to follow through on it.

Sources

1. https://www.healthline.com/health/alcoholism/basics – Accessed 28/1/2020
2. https://www.al-anonuk.org.uk/ – Accessed 28/1/2020

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