How To Talk To Your Friend About Their Substance Abuse

Having a friend who struggles with substance abuse can be a difficult thing to deal with. At first, it’s common to try and rationalize the use by saying things like, “He works so hard during the week and just likes to relax after work.” However, what do you do when you truly know that your friend has a real problem and you aren’t too sure how to approach it? It can be very hard to start a conversation about a sensitive topic in general, and even more so if you’ve been angrily dismissed about this topic multiple times in the past.

The 3 Pitfalls

Here’s what you want to avoid when addressing a substance use concern with a friend: Avoidance, Enabling, and Patronizing.

  • Avoidance: refusing to engage directly and ignoring the substance use entirely.

  • Enabling: allowing your friend to continue using and even making it easier for them to do so.

  • Patronizing: talking to your friend like they are a child that needs you to think for them.


Instead, you want to use direct, but kind language in addressing the situation. Let them know that you care about them and that your concern is coming from a place of compassion. Here are some examples:

  • “It seems like you’ve been drinking a lot lately. It makes me feel worried when I see how it’s affecting your work and relationships. I know you say you’re just relaxing after a long day of work, but I don’t think this is all that healthy.”

  • “You have told me that you only drink two nights a week so it isn’t a problem. I can’t help but to notice when you talk about getting in trouble at work, it’s always after your nights of drinking. I think it might be time to try and make some changes. Is there anything I can do to help?”

You can suggest AA/NA, individual therapy, or rehab to your partner based on their individual preferences and needs, but if you get no traction with this, it might not hurt to bring some of your concerns to the attention of your friends family members. They may be better suited from a relational standpoint to stage an intervention.

As hard as it may be, you definitely do not want to ignore the problem and hope it goes away. Having an open conversation is the first step toward getting your friend the help they need. If you need some help on figuring out the best way to approach the situation, you can get some great ideas from just one consultation with a talk therapist.