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Ten Things You Can Do If You Have an Alcoholic Friend

Lisa Taylor
Lisa TaylorAddiction Counsellor

You have a friend who appears to be an alcoholic. At least all of the signs and symptoms are there. Is there anything you can do? More importantly, are there things you should and should not do in order to prevent the situation from getting worse? The answer to all three questions is an unequivocal 'yes'. Your alcoholic friend can use lots of help to get to that place where he or she is ready to seek treatment.

You can help by actively doing certain things and avoiding others. We will illustrate the point with the following list of 10 things you can do if you have an alcoholic friend:

1. Avoid Downplaying the Situation

The average person is very uncomfortable in the presence of an alcoholic. Why? Because we do not know what to say or do when drunkenness shows its ugly face. Unfortunately, the temptation always exists to downplay the situation out of respect for the drunk friend. This is something you should never do.

Avoid downplaying an alcoholic condition at all costs. You are only enabling your friend when you say things like, “you're not really an alcoholic” or “don't talk about yourself that way.” Alcoholics need to hear the truth. They don't need to hear patronising comments meant to spare their feelings.

2. Learn to Recognise Enabling Behaviour

Downplaying uncomfortable situations is just one example of enabling behaviour. Rest assured that there are dozens of others. You can help your alcoholic friend a lot simply by learning to recognise your enabling behaviour so that you can stop doing it. For example, if you are making excuses to cover for your drunk friend, you are only making it possible for that person to continue drinking recklessly. Stop making excuses.

3. Avoid Alcohol Yourself

Nothing is more dangerous to the alcoholic than more alcohol. If you have a friend who you suspect is an alcoholic, do both him and yourself a favour by avoiding alcohol when the two of you are together. Do not make it harder for your friend to cope by drinking when he or she is around. Doing so only encourages your friend to drink more. By the way, these kinds of scenarios offer a golden opportunity to introduce your friend to a cold glass of water or some delicious fruit juice.

4. Express Your Concern

Alcoholics tend to get defensive when friends and family members express their concern, but this does not mean you should not do so. In fact, you should. Explain to your friend your observations and the fact that you are worried about his or her physical and mental health. Do so in a compassionate and non-judgemental way so as not to encourage an unnecessarily defensive confrontation. You may have to express your concerns multiple times in order to get through, but make sure you space out your conversations so that it doesn't seem as though you're piling in.

5. Don't Make Jokes about Alcohol Rehab

You never know what your alcoholic friend is thinking in terms of entering a rehab programme. In the back of his or her mind might be a pending decision to call a local clinic to sign up for a 12-week residential programme. That decision could be instantly shattered if your friend hears you making jokes about alcohol rehab. Such jokes are very detrimental to those thinking about recovery or are already in the midst of it. This includes jokes about support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon.

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6. Establish Boundaries and Consequences

There are times when alcoholics persist in living in denial. You may have expressed your concerns multiple times only to be told by your friend that he or she is not an alcoholic. After repeating the cycle enough times, you might find it necessary to establish boundaries and consequences. For example, you may have to tell your friend you will no longer hang out if he or she is under the influence of alcohol. Such boundaries and consequences are necessary to motivate the alcoholic to reconsider the possibility of alcoholism.

7. Investigate Treatment Options

In the event your alcoholic friend does not have family members living close by, you might be able to help in a big way by investigating treatment options. This is not to say that you can force your friend to get treatment. Rather, investigating the options allows you to have information readily available in the event your friend decides he or she has had enough. The moment any door opens for treatment you need to be ready to go through it with information in hand. The sooner you can enrol your friend in treatment, the better off he or she will be.

8. Offer to Help with Treatment

A fear of treatment is a common factor that prevents alcoholics from getting the help they need. If there is any indication your friend is considering a treatment programme, offer to help him or her. For example, you might provide transportation to and from an outpatient programme that involves a combination of detox and counselling. Should your friend consider a residential treatment option, you might offer to help by taking care of his or her flat while he or she is away. There are lots of ways you can help to make treatment more bearable.

9. Consider Leading an Intervention

The intervention is a motivational tool that counsellors now recommend to encourage alcoholics to get help. A successful intervention relies on a team of close friends and family members willing to confront the alcoholic about his or her problem. The thing is, every intervention needs a leader. One of the best things you can do for your friend might be to volunteer to lead. You can do so by yourself or with the help of a professional counsellor who specialises in this sort of thing.

10. Get Counselling for Yourself

It can be extremely challenging to deal with an alcoholic friend in a way that helps without endangering your psychological and physical health. In light of that, it may be necessary to get counselling for yourself if you are too close to the situation. Just one session with a professional counsellor can help you clear your thoughts and develop a solid strategy for moving forward.

As an independent provider of alcohol assessments, advice, and referral services, we are here to answer your questions about alcoholism and what you can do for your friend. Please do not hesitate to contact us at your earliest convenience. Our trained counsellors are standing by to assist you on our 24-hour helpline.

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