How to talk to someone about their drinking or drug use

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Talking is one of the most important ways you can help someone with an addiction to drugs or alcohol. 


It can help both of you understand what they’re going through, and encourage them to take positive steps towards being safer and healthier. 

Having these conversations isn’t always easy, so we’ve put together some tips and advice to help you.

How should I approach the conversation?

You can help someone you’re worried about by listening to what they're going through, and helping them decide what their next steps should be. Let them know you’re there to help, and you’re not judging or blaming them.

  • Try to find out more about alcohol or drugs first. You’ll have a better idea of what to look for, and also what help is available.
  • Choose a good time and place to talk. Somewhere calm that you both know well is perfect.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to chat. Try not to talk when someone is in a rush, or is tired after a long day.
  • Begin by explaining your concerns. Try to open up a discussion, instead of telling them what you think. 'I've noticed something recently and I'd like if we could have a chat about it' rather than 'We need to talk. I think you have a problem', for example.
  • Talk about specific times that you’ve been concerned. The person you’re talking to might not have realised something is wrong, and examples can help them to understand your worries. Try not to sound like you’ve been watching everything they do.
  • Listen carefully to what they're saying. Listening is a really important part of hard conversations. It will help you to understand what they're going through.
  • Ask open questions that don't just have a yes or no answer. 'How have you been feeling recently when you've had a drink?' will keep the conversation going more than 'Do you think you're drinking too much?'
  • Try to end the conversation by discussing the next steps. Ask for their thoughts, instead of telling them what you think they should do. ‘Should we talk to someone?’ instead of ‘I think you should talk to someone’, for example.

What if they don’t react well to the conversation?

Talking about your concerns doesn’t always work first time. People often feel scared or ashamed, or might deny anything is wrong at all. If someone is getting angry or defensive, try and keep things calm. You might have to end the conversation. If you do want to try and have another talk with someone later on, you might want to begin by apologising for anything that upset them before.

If someone isn’t willing to talk at all, remember that it’s not your fault. You've tried to reach out and help, and you shouldn’t feel guilty. They might not feel ready to talk about it now, but you may have made them more likely to open up in the future.

What are the next steps?

If your talk has gone well, you'll probably want to discuss what your next steps should be. If they're open to the idea of seeking professional help, you can encourage them to find out more about the options and services available to them. 

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