5 Ways to Help an Alcoholic Friend

Thursday, June 18, 2020 | By Michelle Rosenker

How to Help Your Alcoholic Friend

Millions of people throughout the world engage in drinking alcohol, and for many, alcohol is a large part of their culture. In the United States, alcohol is readily available, easy to access, and can be bought at affordable prices, making it something that most anyone can obtain at any time. While there are many people who drink alcohol responsibly, those who abuse it run the risk of becoming addicted to it. And, once someone is addicted to alcohol, trying to stop can be extremely difficult, if not impossible. 

The following alcohol-related statistics were recorded by the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) for the year 2018:

  • 86.3% of people ages 18 and older reported drinking alcohol at some point in their life
  • 70% of people reported drinking in the past year
  • 55.3% of people reported drinking in the past month
  • 26.45% of people ages 18 and older reported binge drinking in the past month
  • 6.6% of people reported engaging in heavy alcohol use in the past month

NSDUH research also states that a whopping 14.4 million adults ages 18 and older have alcohol use disorder, with 7.6% of those being men and 4.1% being women. Not even 10% of adults with alcohol use disorder obtained professional treatment, as only 7.9% of these individuals did within 2018. Sadly, this number is reflected in the large number of annual alcohol-related deaths per year in the United States, as 88,000 people lose their lives as a result of abusing this substance. Alcohol-related deaths are the third leading preventable death in the country, right behind tobacco and physical inactivity. 

Alcohol use disorder does not discriminate, as it can develop in a person regardless of their race, gender, sexual preference, or location. It is important to let go of any and all stigmas related to alcoholism if you want to remain vigilant regarding your friends’ and loved ones’ drinking behaviors. By doing so, you remove any pre-conceived notions that you might have, allowing you to take action if needed. The best way to do this is to spend time learning about what the disease of alcoholism looks like, how people can exhibit symptoms, and what risk factors are connected to this disease. The more information you know about alcoholism and addiction, the better able you will be to step in and offer assistance if necessary.

sad alcoholic man

Is My Friend an Alcoholic?

Alcohol and drinking culture is so pervasive within American society that it can be difficult to distinguish if your friend is experiencing alcoholism or not. In many ways, it seems that drinking at social gatherings, celebrations, family events, etc. is expected. But simply going up to your friend and asking them if they have a drinking problem is not going to work, nor will acting upon any assumptions you might have. If your friend really is experiencing alcoholism, it can behoove you to gather as much information as you can about this disease and how you can help (if necessary). If you are concerned that your friend is struggling, one of the first things you can do is to become aware of the several warning signs that people addicted to alcohol tend to exhibit. While every person has their own unique differences when it comes to alcoholism, there are several baseline signs that almost all alcoholics present when dealing with an addiction to this substance. Consider the following:

  • Your friend regularly expresses their need for alcohol when they are experiencing stress at work, home, or school (e.g. “My schedule is jammed packed this week, I’m going to need a few drinks to get through it!”). That same behavior may also occur when discussing personal and/or emotional issues (e.g. “My kids are giving me such a hard time that I’m going to need several drinks to cope with it”). While many people do say these things in jest, it is a sign of a bigger problem if you are aware that your friend is actually using alcohol to cope with these and/or other reasons.
  • You notice that your friend seems to have difficulty controlling how much they drink at a time, specifically during times when it is abnormal to drink to excess (e.g. when out to dinner on a weeknight, during work-related events, at brunch on the weekends). 
  • Your friend is regularly apologizing to you or others for the behaviors they exhibited the previous day or night. Your friend may try to excuse their behavior by saying they drank too much but won’t ever do it again (although you know they will likely do it again).
  • You begin seeing patterns in your friend that are inconsistent with their expected character. This can include frequently calling in sick to work, canceling plans often, and neglecting any responsibilities they have. Of course, everyone does things like these from time to time, but it is a sign of a much bigger problem when it starts to become a new normal.
  • Your friend is reluctant or unwilling to do things with you that do not include alcohol. This is especially noticeable if you are close with your friend and begin seeing that they are hanging out with you less because they only want to engage in activities where they can have access to alcohol and/or drink without being judged or questioned.
  • When drinking alcohol, your friend engages in dangerous behaviors that put themselves and others at risk. This can include driving while under the influence, antagonizing others to the point where a physical argument may ensue, or engaging in unprotected sex with people they are not familiar with. 

These serve as some of the tell-tale signs that a person’s drinking is problematic, and these signs can be easy to spot if you know what to look for. You do not have to be best friends with a person to see that they are struggling, however, the closer you are with them, the more signs you may notice. Additional signs that your friend is an alcoholic can include the following:

  • Experiencing financial problems due to reckless spending while under the influence/needing to buy alcohol regularly
  • Making several attempts to cut back or stop drinking entirely but being unsuccessful in doing so
  • Continuing to drink despite suffering consequences related to their drinking, such as physical health issues or exacerbated mental health problems
  • Being secretive about their drinking and/or attempting to hide how much they are really consuming 
  • Needing to increase the amount of alcohol they regularly consume in order to achieve the desired effect of being under the influence 
  • Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when unable to drink, including:
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Tremors
    • Headaches
    • Body aches
    • Diarrhea
    • Anxiety
    • Depression
  • Withdrawing from social events, gatherings, and previously enjoyed activities
  • Exhibiting drastic, unexplained mood swings 

Keep in mind that alcoholism presents differently in people, as there are several different types of alcoholics. Some alcoholics wear their disease on their sleeve, while others can continue to function as if they are not impacted by it at all. Generally, however, when someone is under the influence of alcohol, they often display the following symptoms:

  • Slurred speech
  • Poor coordination
  • Impaired thinking
  • Problems with memory
  • Delayed reflexes
  • Stomach problems (e.g. vomiting)
  • Flushed face
  • Confusion
  • Irrational behavior
  • Stupor

If your friend is displaying these symptoms on a regular basis, there is a good chance that they are dealing with the disease of alcoholism, which requires professional help to treat

Ways to Help an Alcoholic Friend

Despite addiction being one of the most deadly diseases in the country, it is still a hard topic to address, especially when you want to address it directly with someone who is an alcoholic. It can be extremely intimidating to even start thinking about what to say and how, but finding a way to do so in an effective manner is critical if you want to help your friend get the help they need. Consider the following:

Educate Yourself

Get as educated about addiction as possible. There are countless reliable, informative, and professional resources online that can help you learn about addiction as a disease and how it affects those who struggle with it. The more you learn about addiction, the more you will understand why your friend is behaving the way they are. Information can help you to put your own personal emotions on pause so that you can be objective when trying to get your friend some help.

Don’t Be Judgemental 

Go into any and all conversations you have with your friend with a non-judgmental, understanding tone. If you are frustrated, resentful, or angry at your friend and do not focus on adjusting your tone and approach, you could lose your chance at being of any help at all. And while those feelings are completely valid and normal given the circumstances, your main focus is to get your friend professional help, not air your grievances to them at this time.

Don’t Talk to Them if They are Drunk

When you go to talk with your friend, make sure you are speaking to them when they are not under the influence of alcohol. Depending on the severity of your friend’s alcoholism, you may need to time your conversation with them during a time when they are least influenced by alcohol. Either way, the point is to engage when your friend is most capable of engaging back. 

Share Your Concern About Their Drinking

While using a non-judgmental tone during a time when your friend is as sober as possible, share your concern for their wellbeing. Try to remain as clear-cut and concise as you can when describing examples of their drinking behaviors and utilize this time to share the impacts that you see they are causing on those around them. Do not attack your friend with your words, rather explain what you are seeing and feeling with a tone of understanding. Doing so will not only help you get your point across, but it will also allow your friend to feel comfortable speaking with you about this topic. 

Talk About Alcohol Treatment Options

Depending on how close you are with your friend, you can utilize the time you spend speaking with them to suggest some treatment options that can help. Many times, people who need treatment the most are either incapable of setting it up for themselves or are so far gone in their addiction that they can’t even imagine not ever using again, never mind getting treatment. If you take the time to locate programs, facilities, support groups, etc. that can be of assistance to your friend, you are eliminating leg work that they probably would not have done themselves. You are also showing your friend that you are invested in their health and wellbeing and that you are there to be a source of support. Oftentimes, that is all a person needs to feel comfortable enough to accept help. 

When someone you care about is an alcoholic, it can be very difficult to manage on your own. Not only are your own personal feelings and emotions taking a toll on you, but you also need allies in the trenches. Your friend’s family will likely want to participate in assisting in getting their loved one treatment (if not lead the charge), so reach out to them prior to taking any action of your own. Not only will this build up a strong team of support and encouragement for your friend, but it also shows your respect for the family. It can be easy for friends to feel as though they are closer to each other than they are their families, but families tend to be tightly-knit, and intruding on that bond can jeopardize your chances of being able to help. 

alcoholic man staring at ocean

How to Support Your Friend in Recovery 

If your friend makes the brave decision to get help for their alcoholism, applaud them, and openly share your gratefulness that they are making the right decisions to get sober. No matter if your friend enrolls in a residential program or an outpatient program, you can still be there to offer your support along the way.

Your friend needs as much support as they can get when they begin treatment for alcoholism. You might feel like there is nothing left for you to do now that they are getting professional treatment, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. During the time your friend is in treatment, you can offer your support in the following ways:

Maintain contact

There is a good chance that you will not see your friend as much as you are used to while they are getting treatment, regardless of the program they are attending. That is simply because they will be busy focusing on their recovery. Therefore, find ways to maintain contact with them. Call or text them often or send notes or care packages in the mail if they are away at treatment. Visit them during visitation days. Let them know that you are continually rooting for them and that you are there to listen and encourage them. Being treated for alcoholism can bring up several upsetting, painful memories, and emotions that can make anyone feel upset and overwhelmed. Staying in touch with your friend shows them that someone is there who cares and is cheering them on.

Offer to help at home

If your friend is at a residential program or involved in an outpatient program that requires the majority of their time, offer to help them with basic, everyday things that they might not be able to get to because of their therapy. For example, offer to let the dog out during the day, combine their errands with yours, pick their kids up from school, etc. This takes the pressure off of your friend so that they can focus on getting better with as little distraction as possible. It is a good idea to designate out responsibilities among your friend’s loved ones, too, as doing so continues to keep everyone’s responsibilities manageable.

Go to Al-Anon

Al-Anon is a support group similar to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) but designed for the loved ones of alcoholics. There are Al-Anon meetings in cities and towns across the country, allowing everyone in need the opportunity to attend. When in Al-Anon, you will be connected with others who have/had loved ones who have/had alcoholism. During each meeting, stories and personal testimonies will be shared by those in the group, including you (if willing). Some groups serve as an open forum for participants, while others are more structured and follow group literature or other models. Al-Anon is non-denominational and is free to attend. Including Al-Anon in your life can help you learn how to cope with how your friend’s alcoholism has impacted you as well as allow you to establish a strong support system for yourself during this time. The more work you do on yourself (including understanding the impacts of addiction) can help you continue to relate to your friend in their recovery.

When your friend completes their treatment and returns to a regular way of life, they will need support more than ever before. That is because when someone transitions out of treatment, they are still vulnerable as they are learning how to implement what they’ve learned into their everyday lives. It can be overwhelming and scary for someone new to recovery to get on with their lives now that they are sober, but with your support, it can be easier. Some things you can do to offer that support can include:

Offering to go to AA meetings with them

It is highly likely that your friend will attend AA meetings once out of treatment. They might be nervous to begin AA, which is understandable and normal. Offer to accompany your friend to some AA meetings so that they can feel more comfortable as they incorporate this program into their lives. 

Ask them how they are doing

Even with all we know about addiction, it is still a tough topic to breach for many. Lots of people feel like asking someone in recovery how their recovery is going is impolite or offensive, or brings up a subject they might not want to talk about. The truth of the matter is, people in recovery need to talk about their recovery just as much as they would anything else (if not more). Vocalizing how things are going and how they are feeling is critical in helping them maintain their footing in their sobriety. By you asking how they are doing, you are not only showing them that you care, but also encouraging them to keep talking about their progress and setbacks. It is easy for recovering alcoholics to veer off track, especially when they do not talk about their recovery.

Show an interest in their recovery

Outside of asking “how are you doing?”, ask your friend to share some of the things that made the biggest impact on them in treatment. Express your interest in what they have gone through and the work they have done. By doing this, you not only show that you want to know more about this vital time in their life, but also that you want to continue to learn and grow your connection with them as they change for the better. 

Above all else, let your friend know that you are always there to listen and encourage them to keep moving forward in their recovery. It may seem like the simplest of things to you, but to your friend, it can mean everything. 

Call JourneyPure Right Now to Learn More

At JourneyPure, we understand how devastating it can be to watch someone you love struggle with alcoholism. Our team of experienced and compassionate professionals can help your loved one overcome the challenges that they face so that they can live a happy, healthy, and sober life.

Call our alcohol rehab right now to learn more about how we can help. We offer several options for treatment and are ready to develop an individualized treatment plan based on your loved one’s own personal needs. So, do not wait any longer. Reach out to us right now to find out how we can help make a change in your loved one’s life. 

Get the Help You Deserve.

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