Helping a friend with an alcohol or drug problem

the bridge back
the bridge back

A friend of mine sought my counsel today. She has a friend who is depressed and drinking heavily. She says he is, “going steadily downhill”. Other friends of his have attempted to help by putting pressure on him to get help. This has not been effective. My friend has remained on the sidelines not knowing how to approach the situation. She wanted to get some advice about how she might help. I gave her some suggestions.

Attitude adjustment
People who have alcohol and/or drug problems are usually very down on themselves already. The last thing that he needs is for people to be critical. If you want to begin to talk with him about his drinking approach him with acceptance and respect. A nonjudgemental attitude will go a long way in engaging him in a meaningful discussion of his alcohol use.

Offer support
Offering him your opinion that he may need help is a delicate matter. Only he can decide to get help. If you are understanding and supportive it is more likely that he will be receptive to your observations.

Provide resources
Be ready to provide resources if he acknowledges the problem and agrees that he may need to stop his use. There are programs that are outpatient, residential and self-help. 12-step programs are a good resource but there also are other alternatives now which engage the person with a substance use problem in an exploration of the problem and may give him tools to decrease his use, use more safely and/or move toward abstinence as he decides what is best for him. This approach is called harm reduction. You can find a list of resources here:

Set limits
Take care of yourself in this. Do what you can to assist him but be firm about the kind of behaviors that you will not tolerate. These behaviors could include drinking while you are in the car with him, insulting or violent behavior, stealing, etc.

Be prepared for setbacks
In the end he may or may not choose to effectively cope with his problem. He may try several times to get the help he needs and not be successful. But remember, research and experience have shown relapse is the rule rather than the exception and it often takes more than one try to be successful. Your role as his friend may be to be the voice of reassurance and optimism in the background. After all, it’s his show…..

This information is for educational purposes only and should not in any way be considered a substitute for professional help. If you feel that you need immediate assistance please call your local psychiatric emergency services.