How to help an alcoholic friend who we care about but not close with anymore?



My husband and I recently reconnected with an old friend, let’s call him Mike, from college. Mike said he was in recovery, and then proceeded to get dangerously drunk while out with my husband (my husband is also in recovery but did not drink). It worried my husband to see Mike like that. Knowing that he wasn’t getting the full story from Mike (and not wanting to push it too much), we reached out to a mutual friend to see if he had any background/history. Turns out Mike was in rehab but left early, and other friends are disconnecting from him because they “can’t help him if he can’t help himself.”

I feel like this is a common story - friends wanting to help but not knowing how, and having enough distance from the situation to be able to disconnect. In my situation, my loved one with a substance use disorder is my husband, so I couldn’t just let it go because my life is so tied to his. Friends aren’t typically going to make the same commitment to support a friend than they would to support a family member. My husband is keeping in contact with Mike through text and talking to him regularly, but he doesn’t want to push the rehab topic because he knows how that has strained Mike’s other relationships.

I understand CRAFT tells us that our relationships have the power to motivate our loved ones to change. We care about Mike and were very close to him years ago, but does that connection hold the same power as, say, a spouse, sibling, or parent?


Thanks for the great question here @momentsandlight I know it can seem like a tough ask for friends to step up care when someone is struggling with substance use. But friends can help!

With the Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) approach, we have skills that can help any Concerned Significant Other (CSO) have a positive impact on someone’s recovery. In many cases, the CSOs who want to get involved are a partner, parent or sibling. It’s a lot harder for them to look away from their loved one’s struggle. But anyone who is concerned, and cares about a person struggling, can help!

Applying some CRAFT principles below might be helpful to keep in mind, depending on the friendship one or a selection of these tips may be appropriate:

  1. Model that a substance free life can be worthwhile - simply by being in their life can help!
  2. Use communication to connect, show they are worthy of connection and just be kind (often these people are not receiving a lot of kindness), and provide a judgement free zone (often people become disconnected during addiction, and the less connected someone is, the easier it is to spiral downward into deeper depths of substance use - it’s harder for someone to keep using in a harmful way when they have more social connections that shine a light on the behavior)
  3. Look for ‘windows of opportunity’ where the person might want to open up about the substance use, or desire for recovery. OR that they may be willing to hear your care and concern for them. If those opportunities arise, be prepared to listen and be curious, listen for the opportunity to ask if they might be interested in some help and asking questions about what they think might help can get them thinking through their options. Consider if you might help them think through what might work for them, if they want or need it. If they don’t see substance use as an issue, is there something else they’d like help on (work, sleep, stress etc.) and can you support them on those goals? (These can be a first step to getting the care they need to get out of a harmful substance using pattern.)
  4. You might also consider how to engage their support team - are there other people in their network who might be able provide additional support. It’s often useful to share substance use concerns so a village can get behind someone struggling, and different people with different kinds of relationships can provide different kind of support.
  5. Don’t forget your self care and keeping on top of your needs and assess what you can tolerate in terms of supporting them, this type of outreach, even for a friend, can also take a toll on you so keep on top of your needs while you’re supporting your friend. Keep in mind, however minimal your support (a text a week) and whether or not they respond to any outreach and whether or not it specifically relates to the substance problem, it can still be helpful so even if a text is what you can tolerate - just do that!

CRAFT works with the idea that small positive changes make a bit impact and similarly, small positive relationships can make a big difference to someone who feels alone and stuck in the addictive cycle. Whatever you do, when you come from a place of love and care, even the smallest offerings of support to someone struggling can really help!

What else? Does this bring up more questions? Does this seem useful? Do others have thoughts?

<3 Thank you for caring for your friend, sounds like he needs it!


Thanks so much for sharing these CRAFT principles, @Jane! What’s great is that we’ve already been putting some of these into practice - judgement free zone, modeling substance free life, engaging other friends. Our experience working through my husband’s recovery has definitely helped, and my husband being in recovery himself gives him the empathy and perspective needed to provide safe space.

It was also nice to hear from my husband that supporting our friend was helpful to his own recovery. Goes to show how much community and helping others can and should be a part of the recovery process.


I love that you mentioned already doing some of these, because often when we trust our gut, we’re on the right path :slight_smile: all too often in this space of supporting a loved one’s (or friend’s) journey towards and through substance use and recovery we’re hit with those narratives about ‘tough love’, and they have do it on their own’, and ‘don’t let others affect your peace’. All of these narratives fuel disconnection, and are not evidence-based. I think that’s why many people love the CRAFT approach, because it feels like it’s putting our intuitive responses into words, and it’s backed up by science and clinical data showing that it works!