Professionals with drug and alcohol problems

Drug & alcohol problems at work

How can you help an addict?

Helping a friend or family member with an alcohol or drug problem

'Intervention' is when family members or people close to someone struggling with addiction intervene to help them see that they have a problem and need help. Reaching out to help someone with an alcohol or drug problem is not easy. Heavy drinkers and regular drug users are less able to make conscious choices about their drinking but the encouragement and support of family, friends and employers can make a difference.


When approaching someone about their likely addiction it is important to adopt a flexible caring approach, rather than a harsh one. You will be contending with emotions of your own that you have been storing up for a long time - anger, resentment, frustration, but you must keep your cool and be non-confrontational and persuasive. Expect the person to be defensive and hostile but don't retaliate. They need to be able to focus on what is being said, not how it is being said.

Don't sound judgemental. Rather than saying "I think you are a drug addict" say "I think you have a problem with drug addiction".  Everyone involved in the intervention must be united in their message.

Express concern & offer help

Begin at the outset by expressing your deep concern and your commitment to help and support them in taking positive action.

Present the Facts

Present the actual facts about their drinking or drug misuse and be specific about their behaviour. Avoid moral judgements and opinions. Instead of “I think you drink too much”, say: “last night you were slurring your speech and shouting, you drove on the wrong side of the road, it was really frightening”.

Explain that they have an illness

Explain that a alcohol or drug addiction is an illness which can have a potentially fatal outcome. They do not have a moral weakness or lack of willpower.  Help them to recognise that the only way to deal with this illness is through giving up and staying clean / dry.  This is referred to as abstinence.  To achieve this help will be needed and you can support them.

Use leverage where possible

If you are an employer it may be necessary to offer a choice of rehab treatment or risk losing their job. A judge or magistrate may decide that the person can have a choice between rehab treatment or jail.  Parents may decide that their children are at risk unless their brother/sister/parent seeks help.  You are not forcing the person to get help, or making threats, you are offering a choice. Speak with deep concern but firmness. 

Engage other concerned people

A group can have more impact. A spouse can call on a brother/sister, older children, a minister. In the workplace colleagues, managers and company doctors/nurses can be involved.  If each person is armed with specific facts the effect will be powerful.

Again, a group can act separately: several people over the course of a couple of weeks can approach the addicted person suggesting the need for rehab treatment and leaving the same brochure or telephone number for professional help or rehab.

Plant the seed

Leave information around the house. Have the names and telephone numbers of agencies or professionals who provide treatment ready at your fingertips. Offer to phone immediately, for them.  Often a person with alcohol or drug addiction will agree to seek help but will not follow through. If they do not accept help then leave the door open; don’t nag or tell them off. It can take an addict weeks to agree to go forward with treatment. With a friend it may take months or longer.

Don't take the responsibility upon yourself

Place responsibility where it lies, with the addict. The decision to go to rehab and deal with their addiction is up to them. Do not take the burden of responsibility on yourself.

Offer Hope   

Sometimes help and treatment are not offered because the outcome is seen to be hopeless and friends and family don't know what to do.  But 50% of addicts and alcoholic patients can and do recover and there are excellent results if the symptoms are recognised and treated early.

Recommend a self-help group

Recommend self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).  Offer to take your friend to a meeting and go along with them. AA provides hope, support, and exposure to stable recovery, and moves the addict away from struggle and isolation. Attending these self-help meetings may not be a palatable experience at first, but perseverence pays off.

Consider early intervention

As with any illness, alcoholism and drug addiction needs to be confronted at an early stage for the best outcomes.  All too often the problem is ignored until there is a major crisis and panic.  In the workplace the drunk underperforming colleague is tolerated until given a golden handshake or simply fired on a technicality; alternatively the successful trader with a cocaine and gambling problem is tolerated as long as they are bringing in profits.  The longer we ignore the problem the greater the health risks: brain damage, liver damage and a poor outcome for the future.