5 Ways To Help An Alcoholic Friend

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on December 14, 2020

Watching a close friend become a problem drinker, or struggle with the consequences of their drinking is difficult. Figuring out how to talk to a loved one about how to find treatment may be a difficult, but necessary conversation.

How To Help An Alcoholic Friend

If you’ve noticed your friend’s drinking habits have changed or increased significantly in the last six to 12 months, they may have an alcohol use disorder. Perhaps they have been consuming more alcohol than they used to, experiencing blackouts frequently, or showing withdrawal symptoms. All of these behaviors point to alcohol abuse.

Alcohol use disorders (AUD) can range from mild to severe, and your friend’s alcohol consumption may fall somewhere in that spectrum. Knowing and understanding the symptoms of alcohol use disorders, which includes alcoholism, can benefit you in helping your friend get the support and assistance they need.

Alcoholism Defined

Alcoholism results when a person is no longer capable of controlling their alcohol use or consumption. Despite the negative impacts alcohol has had on their life, they won’t stop drinking.

Some criteria that can help determine if your friend is struggling with alcohol abuse:

  • you know they are drinking alcohol much more, or for longer periods of time
  • they are not able to cut down on their alcohol consumption even though they have tried
  • they invest a lot of time finding, drinking, or recovering from alcohol
  • they have cravings for alcohol
  • they tend to dip out of work or avoid responsibilities to go drink
  • your friend has stopped doing things they once loved to go drink
  • they drink and drive or drink at work
  • they are able to consume large amounts of alcohol with seemingly little effect
  • they experience withdrawal symptoms when not drinking

If you have noticed your friend engaging in two or more of these behaviors, they may have a drinking problem and may meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder. The more behaviors they display, the more severe the AUD.

Alcohol Withdrawal

There is a difference between withdrawal and a hangover. Anyone who consumes too much alcohol the previous night can end up with a hangover.

But, has your friend ever been ‘hungover’ for several days at a time? Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are more intense than a hangover, and can actually be fatal if the person’s alcoholism is severe.

When the body has gotten used to the presence of alcohol in the system, the body adjusts itself to adapt and develops an alcohol dependence. This can be very dangerous.

Knowing what alcohol withdrawal looks like could potentially save your friend’s life.

Signs of alcohol withdrawal are:

  • high blood pressure
  • insomnia
  • irritability
  • sweating
  • loss of appetite
  • increased heart rate
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • anxiety
  • headache

Severe withdrawal symptoms, called delirium tremens, require immediate medical attention.

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If you notice your friend displaying any of these symptoms after attempting to stop drinking, seek medical assistance:

  • fever
  • seizures
  • being delusional
  • hallucinations (auditory, visual, tactile)
  • severe confusion
  • severe agitation

How To Help An Alcoholic Friend

If you think your friend may have an alcohol addiction, it may be difficult to know where to start in offering them help. Here are a few ways you can offer strength and support for a friend with alcoholism.

1. Educate Yourself On Alcohol Addiction

Educating yourself about alcohol addiction can be a good start to getting your friend help. Doing the research and accessing resources, like attending Al-Anon or Alateen support group meetings, can educate you in ways to help your friend be successful in long-term recovery.

2. Find Access To Resources

Al-Anon and Alateen meetings are a great place to talk to other people who have experienced the struggle of an alcoholic family member or close friend. These support group meetings allow a safe space to connect with others. They can offer support and help direct you in the right direction when it comes to getting your friend help.

In addition, these groups also help explain the importance of putting yourself first, worrying about your own health, ways to take care of yourself, and not letting the negative consequences of their drinking affect you.

3. Reach Out For Support From Former Alcoholics

It can also be valuable to talk with recovering alcoholics, or individuals who attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), to gain insight into what it is like to have an alcohol use disorder. They may also be able to discuss what treatment options they felt were most helpful.

4. Explore Alcohol Treatment Options

Reaching out to an addiction treatment center can provide information about talking with your friend in a helpful way, how to stop enabling them, or even how to find treatment for your loved one.

5. Confront Your Friend’s Alcohol Problem

Confronting a friend can be very difficult. It’s never easy to point out a problem to anyone, especially an addiction. Learning appropriate ways to handle the conversation can help safeguard your friend. Here are some tips on how to confront an alcoholic friend.

Plan The Conversation

You are encouraged to write down what you would like to say to your friend. Talking to a counselor and asking them questions can be beneficial when coming up with the conversation you would like to have.

Always word things in a way that is supportive and try to remain as positive as possible. Do not presume you know what they are going through and make accusations, this can make them feel backed into a corner. It may be helpful to talk to other friends or family members that share your concerns, and ask if they would like to participate in expressing their concerns.

Choose The Right Time And Place

Plan a time and neutral place to have this difficult conversation, rather than having a spontaneous conversation. This can help you prepare what you would like to say and help to keep the distractions and interruptions to a minimum. Finding a quiet location and making sure your friend is mentally available are two very important factors to consider.

Be Honest And Specific

Tell your friend you care about them, and their wellbeing. Explain that you see how their alcohol addiction has affected them. Let them know how it is affecting you. Use specific examples, don’t make blanket statements about their drinking.

Be Supportive And Compassionate

Your friend may be in denial about their alcohol addiction. Some people get defensive in these situations. Being compassionate can help keep the conversation from turning into an argument.

Feeling supported can make a difference when they decide whether or not to attend a treatment facility for their alcohol addiction.​

Take Care Of Yourself

Helping a friend can be emotionally trying. By taking the time to make sure your own mental health is in good order, it helps you offer appropriate support and friendship to your loved one during this difficult time.

Be direct with your friend. Set healthy boundaries and clearly explain your limitations. Being vague can only hurt this already delicate situation.

Explain that you will no longer enable their drinking, but that if they get the help they need, you will be there and support them. Let them know you will hold them accountable for their actions and that you will not make excuses for them.

Understand That Confronting An Alcoholic Is Hard

In many cases, alcoholics struggle with more than an alcohol use disorder. There are mental health issues and health problems to consider as well. There may also be some substance use as well.

When we have a close friend or loved one struggling with addiction, it feels like we have to decide between maintaining a relationship or confronting the addiction. It doesn’t have to be that way.

You can get your friend back, and you can help them see that you just want what is best for them. Being prepared and honest will help both of you in the long run.

That said, there is the possibility that they will not be receptive to a conversation about their addiction. However, that does not mean that it was a waste of time, or that they won’t ever get sober.

The truth of the matter is that if they choose to get sober in the future, they will likely remember your words, and appreciate how much you care.

Getting Help For Your Alcoholic Friend

But what if they agree to treatment? What next? It is a good idea to have a couple of different options to suggest to your friend. Depending on the severity of their addiction, outpatient services may be an option.

Some alcoholics require a detox program and may benefit from an inpatient or residential treatment facility. Reach out to our professional staff today, so they can help you find a treatment program that meets the needs of your loved one.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on December 14, 2020
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