Supporting a work friend with an alcohol problem

Its the hardest thing - someone at your work is drinking and its affecting their work and yours - what do you do? You may feel angry towards them and at the same time you may not want them to get into trouble. You may have tried mentioning it to them, but this may not have worked. You may even be worried their drinking is affecting customers or clients, or even safety at work.

The simple thing to do is first be sure that alcohol is an issue - it may not, there may be other factors involved. Are you sure? How do you know?  

What is alcohol addiction?

Drinking too much alcohol can become addictive, which means there is a compulsion to drink in order to feel as if you are coping and functioning as normal. Even if consciously a drinker knows they should cut down, the addiction makes it very difficult to do so, which is why outward denial and deflection is used so commonly. Most drinkers who have a drink problem go through stages when they want to stop or cut down but don't know how, leading often to low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. 

How to help

If you really want to help, the best thing to do is start with an open discussion. Find some time to talk to them outside of work hours and a quiet space - don't go to a pub, choose a cafe or a park. 

Start off by stating that you're concerned about them and that you want to check something out - then say that you have concerns that drinking may be affecting their work - and give your reasons why. Be factual. Give them a chance to respond before proceeding. Do they think alcohol is affecting their work? 

Be upfront about wanting to help them and keeping this confidential. Some tips to follow:

  • Be honest - tell them why you think alcohol may be an issue - give examples, but wait to hear their side of things
  • Tell them how you think their drinking is affecting their or your work and anyone else's
  • Avoid getting into arguments – just state your feelings openly
  • Tell them you’d like to help them - you're here for them 
  • Suggest that they take some time to think about it
  • Reassure them you won't discuss this with anyone else - unless you feel safety is an issue


How to support a friend

What next?

They may refuse to talk about it and walk away, they may get angry - at least you've done your best. Leave it at that. They may well come back to you later after having some time to reflect. If your instincts are correct and you've approached this from a place of genuine friendship, they will value your support even if it takes them time.

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