If someone you care about drinks too much, should you ignore the problem or bring it up? While talking to someone about their drinking can be an awkward conversation, if you think a friend or family member is struggling, it can be worth the effort to raise the issue and offer your help, says Gerard J. Schmidt, MA, LPC, MAC, Chief Operations Officer at Valley HealthCare System in Morgantown, Virginia."Often times, the first and best intervention is hearing concern coming from a friend or family member. In many cases this direct approach will—at a minimum—get the person thinking about their behaviors," Schmidt says.

Before Your Conversation

To help you through this difficult conversation, Schmidt offers the following tips:

  • Express your concern without passing judgment. Approaching her in person and alone (at least initially) can help you gain her confidence and may enable her to feel more comfortable and less embarrassed.
  • Be prepared for the person to deny she has a problem. This is a typical reaction, so don't let it confuse you. She may need some time before she's ready to try to change the situation but that's okay. Helping her become more aware can be a step in the right direction.
  • Provide specific examples to prove your point about the drinking being a problem. Just be sure to use only those scenarios that you have personally witnessed, rather than repeating stories from others that you've gotten second-hand.
  • Offer to help explore solutions with her, such as getting brochures or information about excessive drinking, finding treatment options and locating local support groups. Such tasks can feel overwhelming to someone who is struggling, so your support might be invaluable.

What Not to Say to Someone With a Drinking Problem

Schmidt points out that what you don't say, as well as what you do, can also impact how receptive the person is to your conversation. He suggests steering clear of any comments that could feel like an attack, such as:

  • "I am disappointed in you."
  • "I am angry with you."
  • "You should know better."
  • "You promised you would stop before."
  • "You are better than this."

What to Say to Someone With a Drinking Problem

Better alternatives that would be good to use in your conversation would be:

  • "I care about you and the impact this is having on you."
  • "What can I do to help you?"
  • "There is hope and help in recovery."
  • "There is no shame in asking for help."
  • "There are others out there struggling with this."
  • "Recovery is possible."
  • "We love you and we will support you."

Learn More About Alcohol Abuse

For more information and to access resources on excessive alcohol use, you can visit National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Gerard J. Schmidt, MA, LPC, MAC, reviewed this article.


Gerard J. Schmidt, MA, LPC, MAC, Chief Operations Officer, Valley HealthCare
System. Email interview Sept. 11, 2013.