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.

It’s normal for a person not to want to face that they might need to change their drinking or give up.

They might never change or it might take a long time for them to be ready. It’s their decision and you can’t make it happen.

You can:

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

See how they feel about change

If they don’t 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 feel like you’re 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 emotional
  • avoid getting angry
  • 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 already 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.'

Don't 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.

Don’t push the issue

It’s not helpful to get into a verbal fight or to keep repeating the same argument. If they won’t 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.'

Don’t give up

This doesn’t mean commenting and criticising whenever they are drinking. Let them know your feelings and that you are there for them.

Find alcohol support services

Page last reviewed: 8 November 2019
Next review due: 8 November 2022