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How to talk to someone about their problem drinking

It can be hard to bring up the subject of problem drinking with someone else.

You may be worried about upsetting them. You may also feel scared about facing up to what can be a difficult problem.

Alcohol dependence is a health issue. When a person relies on alcohol it can be scary for them to imagine managing without it. It can take time for someone to begin the process of change. It’s their decision and you cannot make it happen.

What you can do

  • offer support
  • get support for yourself
  • keep the lines of communication open
  • let them know the effect their drinking is having on you

Find out about alcohol support services for families

See how they feel about change

If they do not see a problem, they may accuse you of nagging or over-reacting.

If they have been thinking about change, they may be relieved to talk about how they're feeling.

If they want to change, they might appreciate your support and advice.

Things you might say:

  • 'Are you worried about your drinking at all?'
  • 'I am worried that your drinking is getting you into trouble or difficulties. Do you think it would help to chat to someone about your worries?'
  • 'I feel like your drinking is getting a bit out of control. Do you think you might need to cut down a bit?'

Plan and pick a good time

Being prepared can help you to:

  • avoid getting angry
  • avoid getting emotional
  • saying something you may regret

Talk when they are in good form and not under the influence of alcohol. Avoid talking first thing in the morning or when they are suffering from a hangover.

Avoid blame and accusations

They may be upset or worried about their drinking or feel guilty. They may get defensive or ‘switch off’ if they feel they are under attack.

Things you might say:

  • 'I’m a bit worried about your drinking.'
  • 'I want to talk to you about something: I feel that your drinking is causing you some problems.'
  • 'You seem to be drinking more lately and I think it’s having a bad effect on us.'
  • 'The family cannot afford the money you spend on alcohol.'

Use examples to explain

Real examples can help to show the consequences of drinking.

What you might say:

  • 'John was upset when you were hungover and didn’t take him to football.'
  • 'I was looking forward to watching the movie with you and I was really disappointed when you stayed in the pub.'
  • 'You were very aggressive to me at the weekend when you had been drinking and it made me feel scared.'

Do not give mixed messages

Be consistent in what you say and do. You may believe they have a drinking problem and tell them that you're worried. But continuing to drink with them could send a confusing message.

Be prepared for resistance

They may feel very defensive when you bring it up, unless they are already thinking about change.

They may get angry, refuse to talk about it, dismiss what you are saying or laugh it off.

Not accepting there is a problem is a common response. Accepting it can be a difficult or painful reality.

Do not push the issue

It’s not helpful to get into a verbal fight or to keep repeating the same argument. If they will not talk about it, leave it for a while.

What you might say:

'OK. But I hope you’ll think about it because it is worrying me.'

Do not give up

This does not mean commenting and criticising whenever they are drinking. Let them know your feelings and that you are there for them.

Give positive encouragement

Encourage the person to share how they are feeling, and react positively when they share. Acknowledge that what they are going through is difficult. Try to notice when things are going well for them and point this out.

Ask the person what kinds of things they would like to do. Do not force them to take part in social activities that make them feel uncomfortable or uneasy.

Families can organise trips, occasions and events that are alcohol free. If all of the family takes part in alcohol-free events, this can create a culture of enjoyment without the need for substances.

Page last reviewed: 3 August 2023
Next review due: 3 August 2026