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Friends and Family Advice

Advice for friends and family

Having a family member or friend with an alcohol or drug problem is hard. You will know only too well about the damage they are doing to themselves and those around them. For you it seems crazy they can’t see the damage they are doing and why they can’t just stop their behaviour. Some people even start to think it's in some way their fault. But you need to accept there is nothing you alone can do to help. 

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Pleading, begging, bribing, reprimanding and delivering ultimatums won't work. Your relative or friend is trapped in their cycle and has lost the ability to care about themselves. All they want is their next drink or drug fix.

So what can you do?

Help Me Stop offers a free drop in group for family members, friends and colleagues who are concerned about someone's drinking or drug taking. The goal of this group is to:

  1. Provide information about the nature of alcohol and drug issues and give an understanding of the 12-Step Programme
  2. To give strategies on improving quality of life
  3. To advise on how you might help seeking treatment seem more attractive to your loved one than drinking or taking drugs
  4. To outline various treatment options and to explore more about our programme

Contact us to find out more about our free drop-in sessions.

In the meantime, here are a few techniques that you might want to explore:


It can be really hard to empathise with someone with an alcohol or drug problem. But often it's the best way to make a connection with someone who's struggling.

People always want to make decisions for themselves, so instead of trying to force decisions on them, an empathetic approach can help them come to the right conclusion themselves.

If they feel  something is their own decision, they’ll be much more likely to do it. The goal of your conversations is to help them  accept they have a problem with alcohol or drugs that they need to do something about it.

The best approach is to:

  • Keeping conversations generalised and open ended rather than accusatory and attributing blame or putting them on a guilt trip
  • If the conversation gets heated, walk away rather than digging your heals in and arguing
  • Avoid criticism
  • Demonstrate concern
  • Do not give solutions when you haven’t been asked
  • Change your approach – if you keep doing things the same way the outcomes will also be the same


Laura's husband, Andy, was a heavy drinker when she met him, but when the children came along, she hoped he would calm it down. Unfortunately, his drinking seemed to increase, meaning he would often get home from work late, and drunk. And weekends were often ruined by his drinking bouts and hangovers that left him in bed most of the day.

Confrontations usually turned into big arguments with Andy denying he was drinking too much and accusing Laura of being a kill joy. In reaction, he would drink even more - blaming Laura for 'driving him to it'.

After months of being left to look after the children on her own when Andy was either drunk or hungover, Laura was on the brink of leaving. She knew Andy needed help, but he wouldn't listen, and didn't acknowledge he had a problem.

Laura changed tactics and began to ignore Andy's drinking. She made sure she was already in bed when he came home from work, and she arranged activities with the children without including him. She stopped mentioning his problem and left him to do as he pleased.

After a few weeks of Laura's detachment, Andy began to realise his drinking was causing his family to pull away from him. Laura's boundaries helped Andy to finally admit he had a problem.

Set some boundaries

Being empathic doesn't mean you have to roll over and accept your friend or relative's behaviour, nor does it mean you have to enable their continued addiction. Setting boundaries is key to creating strong relationships in all walks of life. Boundaries establish guidelines for suitable behaviours, responsibilities, and actions. Alcohol and drug issues often distort family roles: it turns family members into caretakers, scapegoats, doormats, enablers and pleasers, setting boundaries can negate these things.

When your boundaries are weak – or don’t exist at all – you are compromising your own needs as well as enabling your loved one to “get away with things”. When you set boundaries, you increase the chances that he or she will seek help. Setting boundaries involves taking care of yourself, understanding your wants and needs, and determining what you don’t like, want or need. It also involves clear communication with your loved one with real consequences that you will need to follow through on.

Some of the boundaries you might want to set are:

  • No drug use at home and/or drunkenness around me and the children (if there are any): Let them know what substances and behaviour is acceptable and unacceptable in the home and when they are out with you and your children. Make sure they understand the consequences of violating those boundaries. Will you force them to find somewhere else to stay if they break this boundary or will you leave yourself? In other words, there is a need to gain control over what goes on in your home, within your personal space, and the space around your children if you have any. However, you must follow through with any consequences you have set out.
  • No financial bail outs: By setting the boundary to no longer giving financial support , you're focusing on your own well-being and mental health. Remember, setting boundaries won’t cure the alcohol and drug use – but it will protect you and your family. You may need to put tighter controls on on any joint accounts or set up your own separate account to protect your own money and pay the bills from.
  • No lies, excuses or cover ups: Setting a clear boundary that you will not lie, excuse or cover up the consequences of their drug and alcohol use sends a message about their personal responsibility. If they are hung over or “strung out” and aren’t going to work then they will have to phone in themselves. If they miss a family occasion or other form of gathering due to their drug or alcohol use then they will have to provide their own reasons for not attending. They need to know that, if you're asked where they are, you will not lie on their behalf.

Alcohol misuse thrives on chaos and lies. Setting boundaries will help to remove you from such chaos and will force your friend or relative  to take ownership of their actions and behaviours.

Research treatment options

When your friend or relative eventually has the light bulb moment and decides they need help, the window of opportunity can be very short. Recovery is not the same for every person, so knowing the treatment options and finding what’s best for them is an important factor when deciding on treatment.

Talking to one of our team or coming to the drop in is a good way to explore these. Choosing the right treatment can mean the difference between success and relapse.

It's important to give your friend or relative some choices, so provide them with a menu of options for them to look at and let them decide themselves. Ultimately it must be their decision, so let them know you will support them with whatever treatment option they choose.

Get professional advice

The world of alcohol and drug addiction treatment can be overwhelming. The team at Help Me Stop have years of experience in helping people recover from alcohol and drug problems and are more than willing to discuss your personal circumstances. We give unbiased advice, so we'll tell you honestly whether our service meets your needs. If we feel we can't help, we'll advise you on other options. 

If you have a problem with alcohol or drugs, or know someone who does, please get in touch for free, confidential advice.

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