How to overcome feeling awkward and have that difficult conversation about drinking

Date Published

29th March 2022




Talking to a friend or colleague about the things that most concern us is beneficial for our mental health and general wellbeing. Although a more accepting culture may help people to open up, it can still be difficult to start a conversation if you are worried about somebody else’s behaviour, especially their drinking.

Adam Jones, business development and partnerships director of alcohol education charity Drinkaware offers some guidance on having those difficult conversations about alcohol that will help you look after those you care about.

Drinkaware research[1] has highlighted that some difficulties can exist with alcohol in the workplace. Almost half (47%) of employees have suspected a colleague was hungover in the past 12 months and almost one-fifth (18%) have worked with someone they thought was under the influence of alcohol.

Working in the drinks and hospitality/retail sectors may make you more aware of the potential issues this could cause and be better placed than most to notice if someone is drinking at levels that could be harmful to their health and wellbeing.

Noticing and broaching the subject with a friend or colleague  can feel like a difficult bridge to cross. Only the individual themselves can make a change but having an honest, supportive conversation can be the start of helping someone recognise  they may need to make changes to reduce their risk of alcohol harm.

Whether it is a work colleague or customer, family member or friend, Drinkaware has some simple suggestions to help:

  • This will be a difficult conversation for both of you so approach it with sensitivity and empathy. Put yourself in their shoes and think about how you would feel and react if someone talked to you about your drinking
  • Choose a safe and comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed and pick your moment so that you are both in a calm mood and responsive to an honest conversation
  • This shouldn’t be a one-way speech and you must be ready and willing to listen. The more you listen, the more someone will feel comfortable to open up
  • Be prepared and have as much information available and be able to provide advice on getting support if they ask for it
  • Doing something practical together, like completing the Drinkaware Unit and Calorie Calculator, could be a good way to open up about how much you both drink
  • Use positive, supportive language and 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?" Think about phrases such as:
  • I've noticed you aren't so positive since you've been drinking more and that’s not you. I'm not bringing it up to upset you, but because I'm concerned
  • What are the things that you think may be making you drink more?
  • What activities would you like to do if you could take some drink free days?

Someone’s relationship with alcohol can be complicated and linked to a number of reasons or emotions, such as depression, social acceptance or coping. It isn’t easy for a person to admit or accept that their drinking could be becoming a problem for them and they may not want to, or be ready to, have the conversation. So be patient, keep your questions open, avoid judgement and be prepared to get support yourself.

If you are concerned that you or someone you care about may be drinking too much there is help available. Try free online chat service Drinkchat or Drinkline telephone service (0300 123 1110), which provide access to confidential advice from trained advisors. Details of other support services are available on the Drinkaware website including the MyDrinkaware app which is a first step for many in making a change to a healthier life.