How to talk to someone about your alcohol or drug use

If you’re considering talking to a loved one about your drinking or drug use, these tips may help.

Opening up to someone about your alcohol or drug use

It takes a lot of courage to be open and honest about your drinking or drug use with someone you care about.

But by being open and honest, you can start to let go of anything you’ve been bottling up and begin making some positive changes.

Find the right moment

Avoid broaching the subject when you’re having an argument or when the other person is feeling emotional or angry.

Aim to have a quiet, face-to-face conversation in a private place where you won’t be interrupted.

Explain why you’re telling them

Letting the other person know why you're opening up can help them understand your perspective better. Share that you're telling them because it's an important step in your journey, and you value honesty in your relationship. 

You could say that you’re hoping this honesty will strengthen your bond and help you both to move forward positively.

Help them understand

People who don’t have issues with alcohol or drugs might find it difficult to understand what it’s like. Some ways you could explain it to your friend or family member include:

  • Let them know it wasn’t a choice – you didn’t wake up one morning and decide to have a challenge with drink or drugs. Often a drink or drug dependency is something that’s just crept up over time
  • Share how it began– it can help the other person to know how the challenge started: “I started drinking to cope with stress” or “Cocaine made me feel more confident”.
  • Find something they can identify with – everyone has habits that they would find uncomfortable to change. It could be alcohol, drugs, coffee, chocolate or watching soaps. You could say something like, “Imagine you could never drink coffee again”. Explain that, if you took it away, it wouldn’t mean that they didn’t want it any more. They would have to find new ways to cope without it. And it’s the same for you with drugs or alcohol.

Be prepared for different reactions

It’s difficult to know how the other person will react when you open up to them.

Opening up to people often helps them to be more understanding. Some people may recognise everything you're saying and feel relief that it’s all out in the open.

Others may feel hurt or angry that you haven't been honest with them until now.

Be patient

Your loved one might need time to process what you've told them.

They may want to pause the conversation and pick it up again when they've had a chance to gather their thoughts.

It’s important to give them the time and space they need to do this.

You don’t have to tell everyone

It’s up to you who you tell. It's OK to only tell the person or people who can help you move forward right now.

There may be other people you don’t want to be open with just yet, and that’s fine.

The hardest part is always starting the conversation

We understand just how scary and overwhelming it can be to open up about your drinking or drug use with someone you care about. 

But remember, by opening up, you've taken a really important step forward.