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Helping a Friend Who May Have an Alcohol Use Disorder

How can I help a friend whose alcohol use may be harming them?

The most obvious signs that a friend has a drinking problem include:

  • Drinking until passing out
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Drinking at inappropriate times, such as before class or before driving
  • Becoming violent or aggressive after drinking
  • Neglecting responsibilities due to drinking
  • Changing habits to spend time with heavy drinkers
  • Experiencing blackouts or memory loss while drinking
  • Family history of chemical dependency
  • Personality changes when drinking

When you decide to help a friend:

  • Don't stay quiet. Talk to a counselor or a mutual friend to get their opinion. You may not be the only person who is concerned.
  • Don't make excuses. Covering for your friend will harm both of you in the long run.
  • Ask your friend what’s going on. Talk to your friend.  Maybe there is something else going on that you can help your friend cope with, like stress from school, a recent break-up, etc.
  • Wait until you are both sober. This conversation will be more productive if both of you can clearly communicate your feelings, and you will both clearly remember the conversation later.
  • Tell your friend how you feel. Tell your friend that you are concerned. Be specific to help them understand the root of your concerns.
  • Do not place blame. Use “I” statements to express how you feel. For example, "I worry when you drink so often." This avoids blaming the person, which may lead to defensiveness.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, try again. If your friend responds negatively the first time, you can try to talk to them again if there is another episode of worrisome behavior.
  • Think about their possible responses. Allow your friend time to react after you have spoken your piece. Stay calm and try to remain objective. Remember that you are trying to help.
  • Be ready to help. If you convince this friend, you may need to be there for them to help them through this time. 
  • Create a support system. You and your friend should not have to go through this alone. See below, there are lots of resources for you both to find support.
  • Know when to draw the line. You need to recognize how your friend’s drinking is affecting you, and when you should stop.

More information

Read more about approaching a friend with a health-related issue.

Safe Party Planning

Go Ask Alice!

Getting help

Learn more about alcohol poisoning

Learn whether you have an alcohol use disorder

University of Washington Resources

Hall Health Mental Health Clinic

Provides free non-judgmental, non-confrontational counseling for students who want to explore their alcohol use through the BASICS program.

(206) 616-2495

Counseling Center

Psychologists and mental health counselors who provide developmentally-based counseling, assessment, and crisis intervention services to currently-enrolled UW students

(206) 543-1240

Hall Health Primary Care Center

The Primary Care Clinic at Hall Health provides comprehensive acute and chronic care to all members of the community.

(206) 616-2495

Addictive Behaviors Research Center (ABRC)

Provides research, training, and evaluation in the development and dissemination of interventions to prevent and treat addictive behaviors.

(206) 685-2995

UW Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute (ADAI)

The ADAI Library is available for student and community to use.

(206) 543-0937

UW Carelink Employee Assistance Program

Confidential counseling and other services are available for UW employees.

1-866-598-3978 (M-F) for information and appointments
1-800-833-3031 (24 hours) for crisis services

Other resources for Seattle and King County

Washington Recovery Helpline

24-hour help for substance abuse, problem gambling and mental health.

1-800-562-1240 (Washington only)
1-866-833-6546 (Teenlink--answered by teens)

Seattle-King County Crisis Clinic (24 hour crisis line)

Telephone-based crisis intervention, information and referrals for adults and youth in Seattle-King County.


Alcoholics Anonymous (24 hour)

Support for people seeking to recover from alcoholism

(206) 587-2838

Al-Anon/Alateen (24 hour)

Support for family and friends of alcoholics

(206) 625-0000

Washington State Alcohol Drug Clearinghouse

A resource for Washington State residents with both print and online resources about drugs and alcohol.

(206) 221-8325

King County Mental Health, Chemical Abuse and Dependency Services

Provides high quality mental health and substance abuse services to low-income individuals in need.

(206) 296-7626