Worried about someone else's drinking?
Talking about the harm caused by alcohol isn’t easy, but offering support can help. Here are some suggestions for what to do if you’re worried about someone else.
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If you’re worried about someone else’s drinking, you’re not alone. Drinkaware research in 2022 found that almost three out of ten UK adults (29%) felt concerned about someone else's drinking in the last year.1
But how can you be sure that your concerns are well-founded, and - if you want to talk to them about it - what’s the best way to approach it? There’s no doubt that it’s a sensitive subject, but there are steps you can take to help a friend or family member. Read on to find out more.
To keep health risks from alcohol low, the UK Chief Medical Officers (CMOs’) advice it’s safest for both men and women to drink no more than 14 units a week, spread over three or more days with several drink-free days, and no bingeing. That’s equivalent to six pints of average strength beer or six medium (175ml) glasses of average strength wine over a week.
UK low risk drinking guidelines
It isn’t always easy to tell if someone you care about might be drinking in a harmful way. But as someone close to them, you can be well placed to recognise changes in behaviour that show someone is drinking in a way that risks harming them and others around them.
Here are some signs to look out for:
You might also notice they have physical signs like seeming tired, unwell or irritable, feeling anxious or depressed, or having trouble sleeping.
Someone showing these signs could be drinking in a way that is harming their physical or mental health. If someone isn’t able to control their drinking, they prioritise it over other things in their life, or they’re experiencing unwanted physical or mental effects from their drinking it’s possible that they are dependent on alcohol.2
Many people don't know if they are drinking at a harmful or hazardous level themselves. But with the right support, it’s possible to improve health and wellbeing by cutting down or stopping.3
Research has found that amongst people who drink alcohol, the more they drink the more likely they are to feel dissatisfied with life.4
If you’re worried about someone, you might decide to discuss it in confidence with another person you trust first. It’s worth deciding who you think is best placed to have the conversation with the person you’re worried about.
For whoever has the conversation, choosing the right moment is vital. Make sure you're both in a calm mood. This isn’t the subject to talk about when you’re arguing, or if either of you have been drinking.
You need to be ready and willing to listen. The more you listen, the more someone will feel comfortable to open up. Listening reflectively and using open questions can help maintain rapport and empathy.5
Be ready with as much information as possible so you can offer advice on how to get support if they ask you.
Remember, while you can support someone through their journey, they have to want to change. It might not be as straightforward as talking about your concerns and the person then immediately changing their behaviours. Be patient, and if you feel it isn’t the right time to have the conversation, it’s fine not to carry on and revisit it later.
We also have more advice about the effect alcohol can have on your relationship.
Talking about alcohol can be difficult. Think about how you would feel if a friend or loved one started a conversation with you about your drinking.
Choose a safe and comfortable place for the conversation, and use positive, supportive language.
Avoid criticism, making judgements or using labels such as "alcoholic". Try to keep questions open, such as, "I've noticed X, Y or Z, what do you think?" rather than "don't you think you have a problem?"
These phrases may help you:
Completing the Drinkaware Drinking Check together could be a good way to start a conversation about how much you both typically drink in a week.
There are lots of benefits to cutting drinking, and we have advice on how to get started, how to cut your drinking together with a partner, and what to expect if you plan to stop drinking completely.
If someone has physical withdrawal symptoms (like shaking, sweating, or nausea) before their first drink of the day, it can be dangerous to stop drinking too quickly without proper support. Get professional advice before stopping if you notice these symptoms.
A person’s relationship with alcohol can be complex and tied to a number of emotions, like depression, social acceptance or coping. It’s not easy for a person to acknowledge, admit or accept that their drinking could be harmful to their health and their relationships. They may not want to, and they may not be ready.
But acceptance is a big step in someone’s journey toward change. That’s why it’s important to be patient, keep your conversations open and avoid judgement. We have a great range of ideas for drink-free days that can help people cut down their drinking.
Alcohol can contribute to low mood and also to feelings of anxiety.
If the person you are helping agrees that they need support, they can get in touch directly with their local GP surgery, who will be able to help. If you have their consent, you could think about attending an appointment with them to offer support.6
If they would prefer to speak to someone other than their GP practice, you can also search for alcohol support services in your area using the below links:
Someone you care about’s drinking can negatively impact your own mental health and everyday activities too. You may feel some anxiety and stress, blame yourself or feel unable to cope – so it’s important to prioritise your own safety and mental health and the safety and wellbeing of your children.
It can help to talk to someone you trust, who is unaffected by the situation – whether that’s a friend, relative or confidential support line.
Drinkchat uses trained professionals from the national alcohol support service, Drinkline. You can speak to someone at Drinkchat between 9am-2pm on weekdays.
If you can’t contact Drinkchat in those hours, or would prefer to talk to someone on the phone, you can call Drinkline on 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am–8pm, weekends 11am–4pm) and speak to a trained adviser.
If you are concerned that you or someone you care about has a problem with alcohol there is a lot of help available. Here you can find useful links and phone numbers to get the support you need.Get support
Arming yourself with strategies and tips can help you or a loved one take small steps towards big results.
 Royal College of Psychiatrists webpage. World Health Organisation, Global Clinical Practice network. Disorders due to Substance Use in ICD-11: diagnostic guidelines and key changes (Accessed 2 December 2021)
 Office for National Statistics. Personal and economic well-being: what matters most to our life satisfaction? (15 May 2019). Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/personalandeconomicwellbeingintheuk/whatmattersmosttoourlifesatisfaction
 Information or services. 1 SIGN Guideline 74 The Management of harmful drinking and alcohol dependence in primary care, A National Clinical Guidance. 2003. https://collections.nlm.nih.gov/catalog/nlm:nlmuid-101206779-pdf
Last Reviewed: 3rd August 2023
Next Review due: 3rd August 2026