How do I talk to my friend about their drinking problem

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Answered by: Chelsea, An Expert in the Get Help Category
Everyone is unique, and there's no consistently right way to talk someone about their drinking problem, but there is a wrong way. You want to be sure that you approach your friend with the aim of supporting and helping them through it. A lot of thought should go into this conversation and it can perhaps seem overwhelming. To get you started, you should think back to grade school and those 5 Ws (plus the H) before you just dive in.

Who? Ask yourself who else is affected by this issue? Does anyone else need to be involved. A parent, a sibling, or a significant other can be helpful resources and also added support. It might be a bad idea to ask someone else to participate, so carefully consider the individual's temperament and relationship with those involved. Maybe it will feel more comfortable and personal coming from just you, rather than an intervention.

What? You should also determine what the extent of your friend's problem is, what the symptoms are, and whether you are certain that drinking is the culprit. People struggling with alcoholism often deny that they have a problem, so it's a good idea not only to be sure of the problem, but also to bring some specifics to the table that might help frame the conversation. Use these examples to think about what you might say to your friend. Have they been missing work or school? If so, you could say what exactly you've noticed and how this worries you or makes you feel.

When and Where? This might seem silly to mention, but you want to be careful about the time and place of this conversation. Talking to someone who's already been drinking isn't as effective, and may even cause more problems than it solves. Make sure that wherever you choose, it's a place that feels private and comfortable enough for the other person. Perhaps your most important task is to create an environment where your friend feels like they can talk openly with you. Do this with the setting, and emphasize it with your words.

Why? You probably don't need to think very hard about why this is important, but it's a good exercise to prepare you. Go ahead and ask yourself why you need to talk to this person. Is it because you love them? Care about them? What specific feelings does your friend's drinking problem create in you. It's important to consider these things because it helps you understand your own stakes, something you should express to them. It also gives you a base of "I" statements. An "I" statement is when you talk about how you feel, versus what the other person did. For example, "I feel sad when I see that you're struggling." "You" statements that emphasize the other person may come out sounding like blame. A good way to lessen tension is to approach the problem from your own perspective.

How? Now you want to think about how to have this conversation, and how the other person may react. It's okay to rehearse it, and even play out many different possible responses. Think about your language when you approach the other person. Don't consider it a confrontation, but instead try to consider how you can best express support and concern. Also, be prepared for what comes next. If the person is receptive and expresses a desire for help, come up with some different options. Is treatment possible? Therapy? Research some of your local options and be prepared to collaborate with your friend on what to do next.

You should prepare yourself not only for the conversation, but also what comes after. If your friend isn't receptive or becomes angry, recognize that this isn't completely your fault. Alcoholism or excessive drinking is a sensitive issue for those affected, and many people can be resistant, afraid, or in denial about their drinking problem, but that doesn't mean they don't need your support. The best thing you can do is keep being there and showing that you care.

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