People often talk to me about their concerns with friends who they think may be alcoholic or drug addicted. Having an addicted friend is an unsettling and anxiety riddled place. Why?Alcohol

  • You worry. You worry about the friend getting hurt and hurting other people.
  • You feel like you need to help but you don’t know what to do.
  • You miss your friend. When the destructive activity is always the focus, the friend can’t be emotionally present in the relationship with you. This is a loss.
  • You feel like you can’t trust the person.
  • You walk on eggshells. Challenging personality characteristics come with addiction. People with an addiction can be easily offended, agitated; they can get quite depressed and/or they can be manipulative. Chaos follows them like that cloud of dust that follows Pigpen from the Charlie Brown cartoons. 

Betty and Sheila

My friend Betty’s best friend, Sheila, is an alcoholic. Sheila gets wasted a lot. The most difficult aspect of dealing with Sheila’s alcoholism isn’t the part where Sheila embarrasses herself and other people. The hardest part is the manipulation and shenanigans.

Sheila says and does things that upset Betty.

Sheila gets invited to a party that Betty has not been invited to, then Sheila casually “slips” into the conversation that she “has no idea why Betty wasn’t invited.” Sheila casually makes sweeping generalizations about Betty’s husband and then gets defensive when Betty says something. “Don’t be such a prude! I didn’t mean anything by it.” Big sip on the Cosmo …

Why does Betty stay friends with Sheila? She does it for same reason that most people don’t abandon alcoholics or addicts: They feel sorry for them and hang on to a “they’re not all bad” frame of mind. Sheila has some redeeming qualities. She has good days. The only problem is, Betty can’t count on the good times when the element of chaos is consistent and persistent. Anxiety, stress, discomfort and tension are the rule rather than the exception.

10 ways to navigate friendship with an alcoholic friend

  • If you haven’t shared your concerns yet with your alcoholic friend, do so. Be caring and constructive.
  • Never call someone an alcoholic or addict. They get to decide what they are, not you. You can say, instead, “I’m concerned about your drinking. When you drink, bad things happen. I want to help. Please let me know if you want help.” If they don’t agree or don’t want to get help, that is their business. You have done your part, the rest is up to them.
  • If you continue telling them this over and over, you are trying to control a disease that you cannot control. Frustration is inevitable.
  • Don’t get looped into doing all the calling, the finding of meetings, and the setting up of appointments with counselors. If you are doing more work at getting your friend help than your friend is willing to do, it is a sign that they aren’t motivated to change.
  • If you are comfortable, offer to drive them to AA, sit with them in the waiting room for an appointment or evaluation, or talk to them about their ambivalence about seeking treatment.
  • Set boundaries to protect yourself and your children. For example, drive separately to events where you think things may get out of control. Give yourself an exit plan.
  • Don’t expect someone to change just because the world is collapsing around them.
  • Consider going to a 12-step group for friends and family of those addicted.
  • Don’t get pulled into the craziness and chaos.
  • Stop thinking you can fix the problem.

If your child is the alcoholic or drug addict, that makes things even harder. Here is an excellent article from Raychelle Lohmann on

I Love You To Death: When Parents Become Enablers

A person with an addiction may have to suffer more consequences before he or she figures out their lifestyle isn’t working for them. In addition, if they talk to you about why they drink, it is okay to listen a couple times. However, spending too much time on this subject just enables the situation. The disease of addiction can’t be arrested until the person stops the activity, whether it be drinking, using drugs or porn or other. The issues that triggered an addiction can’t be resolved easily, and certainly not without professional help.

Take care,


Cherilynn Veland, MSW, LCSW, is a counselor and coach based in Chicago. She has been helping individuals, couples and families for more than 20 years. She is author of Stop Giving It Away, a new book about developing healthier relationships with yourself and others. The Stop Giving It Away movement aims to stop the detrimental level of self-sacrifice in which many women live and work. For more insight, get a copy of Stop Giving It Away.

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