How to talk to a friend or family member about their use of alcohol or drugs


It can be hard to know what to say to someone when you’re worried about their use of alcohol and drugs. It’s important to get support for yourself and RCDAS can help you navigate this delicate conversation.

What can help is:


Prepare yourself – Plan what you would like to say and practice being calm and positive if possible. Try to avoid using words such as ‘must’ and ‘should’; these can leave people feeling criticised or controlled and will lessen their ability to tell you about their problems.


Choosing a good moment – Although there is rarely the ‘right’ time, there are better and worse times to raise the topic. Try to talk to your friend or family member when they aren’t intoxicated. Look out for moments when the conversation or relationship is going well, rather than when there is tension.


Keep the conversation brief – One conversation is unlikely be enough to sort everything out. Keep the questions brief and aimed to show interest in the person’s life with alcohol or drugs. Short and uncomplicated ‘jargon’ will help keep the conversation going without the person feeling scrutinised.


Using “I” sentences – Beginning sentences with “I” takes the focus off the other person and also gives you the opportunity to let them know you care. Try not to use global (and negative) statements about the other person such as “your life is a disaster”.


Patience – Remember, you’re not going to solve everything in one conversation. Drug and alcohol problems build up over time and recovery takes time too. Be mindful of listening without judgement.


Negative reactions


Most people become defensive when they feel under attack. Asking about someone’s drinking or drug use may be experienced this way too. Be aware that what may look like aggression is actually fear, embarrassment or shame. Be prepared to back off; sometimes it’s better to hold off rather than risk closing down the conversation.’


Write it down


Drafting a text or letter gives you the time to think about what you’d like to say. This can be helpful if a previous conversation hasn’t gone well.


Get Support


It’s a difficult situation and there is help for friends and family. It’s important to stay hopeful. Other sources of support for you are:


– Carers