Striking up a conversation
When to Talk with Your Friend
Timing matters when dealing with your friend. Don’t try to talk when your friend is drunk or high; it’s too difficult to take in what you’re saying, and the situation could escalate.
Instead, talk with your friend when he or she is clearheaded. One approach is to reach out when your friend is hungover or remorseful following a drinking incident—when the negative consequences are fresh in your friend’s mind.
How to Get the Conversation Started
Don’t worry about saying things perfectly. Expressing your concern for your loved one in a caring and honest way is the most important message you can convey.
You might want to take someone with you who understands your concern for your friend’s problem, perhaps someone with a connection to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or a similar group. Click here for some suggestions.
You could also tell someone what you’re doing and have him or her available by phone for support. It is a good idea to meet with your friend on neutral turf, but not in a restaurant or bar or where alcohol is available.
Key Points to Keep in Mind
Be supportive. No matter how “bad” your friend’s behaviour has been lately, he or she is not a bad person. Addiction is a disease, and it’s been recognised as such so don’t blame or criticise. Check out our page on Stigma to find out more about the pressures they may be under.
You’re speaking up because you care about your friend’s life and health, not to make them “get their act together.”
Be specific about what you’re seeing. Bring up particular incidents such as, “When you canceled our plans the other day” rather than sweeping statements such as, “You never keep your word.” It’s also helpful to frame the conversation by using “I” phrases, such as “I noticed” or “I’m worried” because your friend can’t dispute your perceptions and feelings.
Be encouraging. Talk about the effect your friend’s drinking or drug use has on whatever he or she cares about most: career, children, sports, etc. Your friend may not be concerned about his or her own situation, but may care deeply for his or her children, for example, and the impact on them.
Be prepared. You might want to write down what you want to say, and that could vary depending on the level of your friendship: close friend, casual friend or coworker. Here are some ideas for “opening lines” to help you approach each type of friend in the most effective way. Of course, your friend could respond in any number of ways besides the few examples given. The main thing is to listen, stick to the facts, show a caring attitude and offer your assistance and support.
What to Say to a Close Friend or Loved One
“You know, Barb, we’ve been friends for a long time now, as close as sisters. And, while I don’t want to meddle, I’ve noticed that you’re drinking and getting high more lately, and you don’t seem to be getting along with your family as much as you used to. I’m worried about you. Let’s talk about it.”
If Barb says: “You know, you’re right. I have noticed that I’ve been drinking more in the last couple of months. But I think it’s because I’ve been under more pressure than usual at work and at home. It’s probably just a phase. I’m sure I’ll snap out of it soon.”
You can say: “I know it appears a drink or two can take the edge off temporarily. But drinking can’t solve your problems, and from what you’ve told me, things seem to be getting worse, maybe because you’re drinking more. A professional assessment by a counsellor or therapist can help you figure out if you’re dealing with alcohol addiction or what else might be going on with all of this stress you’re experiencing.”
What to Say to a Casual Friend or Acquaintance
“Jim, I’ve always enjoyed playing cards with you. But after a couple of beers, I see a personality change, and there are arguments. It’s not like you. You usually get along with everyone except when you’re drinking. I’d hate to see you lose your friends.”
If Jim says: “Who are you to tell me I drink too much? We all have a few when we play cards. And the words I had with Al and Walt were no big deal. I just got a little hot under the collar.”
You can say: “Jim, I don’t count how many drinks you or anyone else has. I’ve just noticed that at some point in the evening, after you’ve been drinking awhile, I see a more argumentative side of you. I don’t want to see you destroy your relationships with people who care about you. So I thought I’d mention it now because I’m your friend and I want to help.”
What to Say to a Coworker or Colleague
“Chris, you’re one of the brightest people I know. But recently, you’ve been missing a lot of work and coming in late. And this week, my report got held up because I didn’t have your input. You don’t seem to be yourself. I know you’ve been drinking (or using drugs) a lot. If you’re having a problem with alcohol, drugs or anything else, I’d be happy to help you get the assistance you need. I’d hate to see you lose your job.”
If Chris says: “Hey, I know I’ve been a little out of control recently, and I have been partying more than usual, but don’t worry. I’m working on getting my act together.”
You can say: “Well, I hope you do. But sometimes it’s hard to get your act together by yourself. So if you need any help, please know that I’m here and I’ll listen. I value your friendship and will do anything I can.”
Check out the AA website here for information about meets in your area.
Alcoholics Anonymous – Find a Meeting
Managing expectations around alcohol recovery