How to Help a Friend with a Drinking Problem

If you think a friend has a drinking problem, you’re probably right, and shouldn't be afraid to talk to them about it. Excessive drinking can harm the drinker and other people in their lives, but you can help. In fact, many people with drinking problems say that talking with their friends empowered them to seek professional help or gain better control of their drinking habits.

Tips for Talking to Your Friend About the Problem  
Dealing with Agreement  
Setting Limits  
Aim for Progess, Not Perfection

Tips for Talking to Your Friend About the Problem
  • Tell your friend that you care about them and are concerned about their drinking habits.

  • Include specific examples of times that you were worried about their safety. Ask your friend, in a non-judgmental manner, how they feel about their alcohol use.

  • Try to avoid blaming, or lecturing them.Use “I” statements like “I am concerned about you,” or “I feel that your drinking is causing a problem because (list some of the ways in which you feel drinking has had a negative effect on your friend).”

  • Know your own limits — don’t continue the discussion if you start getting impatient or angry.

  • Don’t feel like you have to avoid the subject just because you drink. There are healthy drinkers and unhealthy drinkers. Talking to a friend about a drinking problem doesn’t mean you then aren’t allowed to drink.

  • Avoid addressing the problem while they are under the influence.

  • Be prepared for them to react defensively or deny having a problem. Understand that this is based on a fear of facing the problem and isn’t directed at you.

  • Try to make it clear that you dislike the alcohol related behavior, not him or her.

  • Share how your friend’s drinking affects you. For example, you can say it is hard for you to enjoy going out together because you are afraid your friend will get sick, pass out, or otherwise embarrass you both.

  • If you have had a drinking problem and attend self-help group meetings, consider inviting your friend along.

Dealing with Agreement

If at some point your friend agrees that drinking is creating personal problems,  these questions can help you continue the conversation.

  1.  What is it about your drinking that causes you problems?

  2. What do you think you can do about it?

  3.  How will you try to change your behavior?

  4.  What kinds of support do you need stop or limit your drinking?

You may also want to have some referrals ready, such as Student Counseling Service, or a campus or local discussion group (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous).

Setting Limits

Until your friend acknowledges their problem with alcohol, you may need to set limits with him/her. For example, you might tell your friend that you are not going to hang out with them if they are drinking, that you don’t want any drinking in your room or apartment, and that you don’t want him/her showing up to see you after drinking. Whatever limits you establish, make sure you stick to them.

  • Knowing and sticking to your limits is especially important if your friend is denying a drinking problem and wants you to accept excuses or make exceptions for poor behavior.

  • Don’t be manipulated into hiding or dumping alcohol or covering for your friend in front of family, dates, or other friends. Protecting or lying for him/her will not work because it enables your friend to continue inappropriate or destructive behavior.

  • While it is important to try to help your friend with their problem, you must remember that you can’t control your friend’s life. At some point, your responsibility ends. Don’t feel guilty or bad if your friend does not change their behavior or if he or she relapses.

  • It’s common among those suffering from addiction to experience set backs with their recovery. Most learn from their relapses and consider recovery an ongoing process.

Aim for Progress, Not Perfection

In some cases, even though your friend agrees that there is a problem, he/she may be unable or unwilling to act as quickly or directly as you would like. Keep in mind that alcohol-related habits are hard to end or control. If your friend is struggling, try to:

  • Remain supportive by recognizing the effort your friend puts into even small attempts to limit drinking.

  • Help your friend make contact with other recovering problem drinkers.

  • Encourage non-drinking behavior by planning activities not related to alcohol and by limiting your own drinking when you are with your friend.

Helping a friend with a drinking problem is not easy, but it is very important! Know that you are not alone and use resources on your campus and/or in your community to help you and your friend. Make sure to take good care of yourself in the process.
If you or a friend are having any difficulties or concerns, consider contacting the professionals at Student Counseling Services. For immediate help or safety concerns, call the UChicago Police at 773.702.8181. Click here to find more important phone numbers.