How to talk to someone about their drinking


When someone you are close to is drinking too much it can have a really big impact on you.

You may feel uncomfortable about their behaviour, concerned about the money they are spending on alcohol may be causing you financial problems or you may feel unsafe. Perhaps you are also concerned for the person’s health, wellbeing and relationships, or the impact their drinking is having on their ability to take responsibility for things, hold down a job or care for children.

It is really important that you know that you are not responsible for their behaviour and that neither you nor anyone else can make someone cut down or stop drinking. While it isn’t your job to fix the person, there are steps you can take to let them know the impact their drinking is having on you and what you will and won’t put up with, and you can encourage and help them to make changes.

The following information has been developed to help you think through the things you might do or say. What and how you choose to talk to someone will depend on many things including the relationship you have with them.

If you think you’re at risk of violence, it’s important you get help and support to protect yourself. Call 111.

To talk to someone, contact the Alcohol Drug Helpline – call 0800 787 797, visit their website, or free txt 8681 for confidential advice.

Seven steps

There are seven steps to the process of talking to someone when you’re worried about their drinking.

1. Talk

Talk to the person you’re worried about. Find a time when he or she is sober and when you’re both reasonably calm. Ask for five uninterrupted minutes.

Discuss with other close friends and members of the family what you are trying to do. This will make it easier for everyone to take a similar approach and it will be less confusing to the drinker.

2. Communicate

State the issue or problem and be specific.

Talk about the impact his or her drinking is having on you and others (particularly if children are involved). Encourage the person to think about the effects his or her drinking is having on his or her life. If the person is feeling judged they might feel defensive, so using labels such as ‘alcoholic’ may not be helpful.

Be clear with the person what behaviours are unacceptable to you.

Be clear about what action you will take if unacceptable behaviours persist. You need to have a plan and know what you will do so you can tell him or her. Don’t make idle threats.

Tell the person what change/s you expect.

Be consistent – don’t keep changing your mind about what you’re saying and don’t say one thing and do another.

3. Listen

Listen to their response. Find out how he or she feels.

Be polite, do not interrupt.

Be fair.

Be open to compromise.

4. Find solutions

Explore all the options.

Discuss the changes you are both prepared to make.

Select the best solution.

5. Deciding on actions

Specify the actions that need to be taken; what needs to be done, where, for how long and for whom.

Help the drinker to be realistic. Don’t encourage promises that can’t be kept. Encourage the person to find an action that is realistic and achievable for them.

6. Put it into practice

Try out what was agreed on.

Don’t make it easier to drink by buying alcohol for him or her, giving extra money, or always agreeing to go to the pub. It may be difficult to break these patterns, but he or she is more likely to take you seriously if your actions match what you’re saying.

Don’t try to hide the effects from the drinker or other people eg, phoning work with excuses, clearing up the mess, putting him or her to bed, covering up bad behaviour, or missing social events for fear of embarrassment.

7. Review progress

Did the agreed actions occur?

If yes, how have you acknowledged this?

If not, try again. Don’t give up.

Things to avoid…

  • Avoid getting into arguments – it will make it more difficult to talk openly to you about things in the future. For the same reason it’s best not to sound as though you’re nagging or accusing.
  • Putdowns and personal attacks.
  • Employing threats, orders or demands.
  • Using generalisations – ‘YOU always.. . “, Every time you. …” ‘YOU never.. . “
  • Dredging up the past as ammunition.
  • Adopting a closed position (making statements that stop further discussion or action).
  • Rambling (dragging in everything and getting off the topic).

It’s important to know that there are stages that a person will go through when they decide to change the way they drink, before they achieve a lasting change. It’s also important to accept that as they go through the journey of changing the way they drink, the person you care about might revert back to their old drinking habits at some point. Changing drinking can be a long process, so don’t give up too soon.