How to talk to someone about their drinking

Talking about alcohol takes courage, but sharing our stories connects us, and makes us stronger.

Pick the moment for a conversation

It's important to pick the right time and right place to talk to someone about their drinking.

Avoid talking about it first thing in the morning, when they are suffering from a hangover, or late at night.

A good time is when they are in a good space, and when they are not drinking at that moment.

The person might not want to listen to you, or they might get upset. Give them the opportunity to talk about their experience and how they are feeling, and if they are ready for change.

If they are ready for change, you can support them.

Conversation starters

“Are you worried about your drinking?”

“Do you sometimes drink more than you planned?”

“I’m a bit worried about your drinking.”

“How can I help you on your journey to change?”

Blame and accusations don’t help

Avoid getting angry and saying something you may regret.

They might already be upset or worried about their drinking or feel guilty, even if they don’t show it. They might get defensive or ‘switch off’ and stop listening if they feel they are under attack.

Keep the conversation about their drinking. Don’t get too emotional, bring up other things that annoy you, or drag up the past.

Don't give mixed messages

Be consistent in what you say and do. If you tell them that you're worried about their drinking, but then continue to drink with them, it sends a confusing message.

Be prepared for push back

Most of us find it hard to hear that our friends and whānau are worried about us. Denying the problem is common, and that can be difficult.

They might feel defensive when you bring up their drinking, even if they are already thinking about making a change. They might get angry, refuse to talk about it, dismiss what you are saying, or laugh it off.

Don’t push the issue

It’s not helpful to get into a verbal fight, or keep repeating the same argument. If they won’t talk about it, leave it for a while. This is a good time to talk to professional support services for more advice on how to keep trying to reach out to the person you are worried about.

You can say, “Okay. I hope you’ll think about it, because it is worrying me.”

Bring it up again

Try not to criticise them whenever they are drinking. Instead, pick another moment to bring it up again, when you both feel safe to talk and when they’re not drinking or hungover. Let them know your feelings, and that you are there for them. You may want to talk to a professional about what to do next and how you can help your whānau member.