Redfern Health Center

How to Help a Friend with a Drinking Problem

Types and Signs

A Social Drinker
  • Drinks slowly (no gulping/chugging)
  • Knows when to stop drinking (does not drink to get drunk)
  • Eats before or while drinking
  • Never drives after drinking
  • Respects nondrinkers
  • Knows and obeys laws related to drinking
A Problem Drinker
  • Drinks to get drunk
  • Tries to solve problems while drinking
  • Experiences personality changes — may become loud, angry or violent, or silent, remote or reclusive
  • Drinks when he or she should not — before driving, going to class or work
  • Causes other problems — harms himself or herself, family, friends or strangers
An Alcoholic
  • Spends a lot of time thinking about drinking and planning where and when to get the next drink
  • Keeps bottles hidden for quick pick-me-ups
  • Starts drinking without consciously planning and loses awareness of the amount consumed
  • Denies drinking
  • Drinks alone
  • Needs to drink before a stressful situation
  • May have “blackouts” — cannot remember what he or she did while drinking although he or she may have appeared “normal” to people at the time
  • Goes from having hangovers to more dangerous withdrawal symptoms, such as delirium tremens (“DTs”), which can be fatal
  • Has or causes major problems — with the police, an employer, family or friends
Talking with the Drinker

If you care, show your concern. Don’t be too polite to bring up the topic, but be tactful. Ask whether the person feels he or she has a drinking problem and continue asking questions that encourage frankness. Avoid sermons, lectures and verbal attacks. Keep an open mind about how the person evaluates his or her situation. And know your own limits — don’t continue the conversation if you get upset or angry. You might find that short, periodic discussions of the problem work best.

Dealing with Defensiveness

Once you’ve raised the subject, the person might respond defensively, deny having a problem, or agree that he or she has a problem with alcohol.

Make it clear to the problem drinker that you dislike the behavior, not the person. If you drink, be honest about your own drinking and attempts to control it. Understand that the person’s defensiveness is based on fear of facing the problem and isn’t directed at you.

Dealing with Denial

If your discussions have no affect on your friend’s drinking behavior, you should still tell him or her how the drinking problem affects you. For example, you can say how hard it is for you to enjoy going out together to a party because you are afraid he or she will get sick, pass out or otherwise embarrass you both.

Dealing with Agreement

If at some point your friend agrees that drinking is creating personal problems, you might want to ask these questions:

  • Why do you think you have a problem with alcohol?
  • What do you think you can do about it?
  • What are you going to do about it?
  • What kinds of support do you need from me to stop or limit your drinking?

You might also want to have some referrals ready for your friend.

Where To Go For Help

There are many places to go for help. Check out our resources section for a list of groups here to help you. Or call Redfern Health Center to make an appointment for ACTT services.

Taken from “How to Help a Friend With a Drinking Problem,” An American College Health Association publication, 1996.