How to Help an Alcoholic Friend in Denial?

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The best way to help an alcoholic friend who’s still in the in-denial stage is to educate yourself about alcoholism including symptoms and levels of dependency.

Having an open and honest conversation, setting limitations, taking care of yourself while looking after your friend, and helping your friend seek professional intervention.  

Denial is the alcoholic’s inability to acknowledge the reality of the condition and making distorted logical reasoning to justify their out-of-control drinking habit.

The factor of denial makes dealing with the situation even more difficult by adding frustration into the equation.

It is one of the symptoms of alcoholism that hinders alcoholic dependents from seeking professional intervention and rehabilitation 

The worst part is denial alcoholics greatly influence their family, friends, and people concerned.

Thinking that covering the alcohol-derived consequences will protect their reputation and future, family and friends hide the condition justifying that they are doing it for good intention.

It even comes to a point where they start making excuses for the alcoholic’s lapses in judgment and poor performance in school, work, etc. 

This only aggravates the situation and allows the alcoholic to go on his merry way with alcohol instead of admitting the problem and finding feasible and actionable intervention to treat the chronic condition.

Things you Can Do to Help an Alcoholic Friend in Denial

1. Educate Yourself About Alcoholism 

An accurate assessment is a primary step in helping an in-denial alcoholic.

This type of alcoholic is aware that they’re struggling with alcoholism (alcohol use disorder) but chooses to justify, hide, and keep the problem to themselves.

Equipping yourself with correct and science-based information will help you identify the patterns and make a solid and accurate conclusion.

First, you need to know the common symptoms of an alcoholic, which includes the following: 

  • Mood swings and irritability 
  • High alcohol tolerance 
  • Pursues to drink despite its negative impacts on life 
  • Drinks excessively when alone to the point of blacking out 
  • Drinks alcohol anytime they want 
  • Misses priorities and important occasions due to drinking

The denial phenomenon is a factor that hides away all the red flags and indicators making it difficult to determine the symptoms.

It is important to know the symptoms of in-denial alcoholism for you to make a proper judgment on what to do next.

Be on the lookout for the following symptoms when observing in-denial alcoholics:  

  • Justifies their drinking by making excuses such as celebration, stress reliever, relaxer, etc. 
  • Proactively downplays their alcohol dependence by making shallow jokes to conceal how much drink they’re consuming. 
  • Keeps their whereabouts, activities, and companions discreet to hide their drinking habits. 
  • Keep their stash of alcohol in strange places where no one could find it  
  • Always on defensive mode when talking about alcohol and even purchases expensive brands trying to prove that they’re unfamiliar with alcoholic beverages and don’t have drinking problems.

2. Have an open, honest, and non-confrontational but straightforward conversation 

Once you’ve established the signs and symptoms of alcoholism and noticed that your in-denial alcoholic friend is displaying the same red flags, then it’s time to sit down and talk to your friend about it.

This talk is meant to make them come out from their shell, admit their condition, and seek professional intervention.  

Before approaching your friend, you need to be ready and sufficiently equipped with facts.

Be calm, use the friendly non-judgemental approach and avoid sounding aggressive.  

Plan When and Where to Talk

Talking with your friend about admitting his alcoholism is like treading in water; you need to be straightforward but careful.

To avoid pressure, make your friend feel comfortable as possible. Even though you’re going to spill out your observations, make it casual to avoid making your friend feel threatened.  

You can invite him over coffee at home or for a walk in the park.

Show him that you are on his side by maintaining a confiding, relaxed, non-controlling tone throughout the conversation.  

Prepare your Observations of their Behaviours

Don’t expect your friend to just admit it and lay all his cards on the table. Chances are, he will deny it, joke around to divert attention, and argue with you.

Come in prepared by picking out specific instances where they displayed symptoms of alcoholism.   

Even if you have receipts of their behaviour, don’t jump in like you know everything. This may set him off.

Point his behaviour out in a casual, gentle, non-confrontational manner, and keep your judgment to yourself.   

Let him know that his actions are obvious so he would finally accept that he may be having a problem with his drinking.

Make him realize that keeping his habit on his own is not working and that you can see the negative impact it has brought into his life.

Steer Clear from Sounding Judgemental

In-denial alcoholics succumbs into denying and hiding their battles because they are afraid of criticism and judgment.

They are naturally defensive because they’re trying to protect their secret. Be compassionate, understanding, and empathetic.

Look into their situation from their perspective. They will feel your genuine concern and may view the opportunity as a chance to vent out their struggles.

Choose the Right Words

Words can either make or break a person. This also applies to in-denial alcoholics. 

Being defensive, they are sensitive and tend to paint a different meaning on every word thrown at them.

A positive thought conveyed using wrong words can be perceived as a direct attack against them, so choose compassionate and comforting words. 

 Use positive words to let them know that you’re thinking for their best interest and that you want nothing but the best for them.

3. Set your Limitations

Alcoholism, in denial or not, brings a negative impact to families and relationships. 

Therefore, you need to set limitations and draw a line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviours.

Limitations are set in place to minimize the negative impacts of alcoholism on other people and save what’s left on your relationship.  

A brief example is letting the person know that showing up drunk at gatherings or even on random home visits is a no-no.

This may be painful to the person, but you need to let them realize that their condition is taking a toll on your friendship and negatively affects the concerned people around them. 

4. Take Care of Yourself 

You need to take care of yourself and your safety for you to be able to render care and help to your in-denial alcoholic friend.

That’s the gist as to why you need to prioritize your safety. Looking after an alcoholic friend can be frustrating and emotionally draining.   

To take care of yourself, make it a habit to manage your time, and find a relaxing hobby to vent out all the negative energy you’ve accumulated when dealing with your alcoholic friend.

Keep your physical body healthy by eating healthy and nutritious food, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep to reinvigorate your mind, body, and soul.   

Being the absorber of the negative impacts of alcoholism can drain your emotional and mental health.

You will need to eventually vent the stored emotions out and talk to someone about the things you’re going through.

You can talk to your most trusted friend, relative, or a dedicated support group where you can share your struggles.   

The journey is not easy, but with maximum help, you’ll overcome this eventually.

5. Support your Friend to Seek Professional Help

Although the above recommendations can help alleviate the struggles of dealing with an in-denial alcoholic, the best intervention is to seek professional help.

Alcoholism is a type of addiction that requires a medical treatment approach performed by specialists in a treatment rehabilitation centre  

There are different Addiction Treatments, Intervention, and Clinically Managed Detox Plans that can help your in-denial alcoholic friend to recover from the grim road of alcoholism.

Here at Abbeycare, we offer personally tailored treatment approaches and alcohol treatment support that genuinely fits with your needs.

Our treatment approaches are based on evidence and geared towards helping our patients start the recovery process and eventually get back to their fun, meaningful life before alcoholism. 

What to Do for an Alcoholic in Denial?

The best help you can do for an alcoholic in denial is to talk to them, help them find an effective alcohol treatment plan, aid them in arranging their alcoholism treatment insurance, and support their recovery journey.

It is easier said than done but having an idea of what you can do to help them lifts some of the burdens.

It also gives you a clearer picture of what steps to take to help address your friend’s alcoholism.   

Dealing with an alcoholic in denial is difficult because they tend to keep their defences up about their alcohol dependency and resists even the slightest act of concern thinking that it is a direct attack on them.

To gain their trust, you need to show them your genuine concern and that you have their best interest at heart.

1. Talk to Them 

After your initial honest, open, and non-confrontational conversation, it is important to keep the communication line open.

This is to make sure that your friend will not go back to his secretive, closed-off self again.

Let him know that you are always willing to listen without fabricating your judgment regarding the struggle they’ve been going through.  

Open communication often enables the person to realize and admit that he‘s having trouble with alcohol.

Once trust is established and you’re able to penetrate his defences, he will eventually confide with you.

This is the best time to offer your help, to provide suggestions on ways to overcome his alcohol dependence and let him know that you will aid him in his recovery process.  

Your friend may swear to quit drinking immediately but don’t get your hopes too high because there’s no shortcut and most self-treatment approaches fail.

If he fails to control his drinking urges before he succumbs to alcoholism, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be able to overcome his cravings now.

The best way to cut down and quit is to find effective and professional alcohol treatment support.

2. Find an Effective Alcohol Treatment Plan 

There are different treatment plans available, but no single treatment plan works for all. This means that the treatment plan that worked for Karen may not work for Joe. 

Thus, you need to find the most effective plan custom-tailored to your friend’s case.  

Taking the first step is always difficult. However, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, research studies show that alcohol dependence is manageable with professional treatment and a continuous recovery process.

Even the most severe cases managed to recover, and studies showed that a year after completing treatment, ⅓ of the patients displayed no further symptoms and encountered minimal alcohol-related issues.   

Several factors contribute to determining the effective treatment plan which includes the level of alcohol dependency, extent, and volume of alcohol use, substance use, failed attempts to quit, and medical history or mental health condition.   

Professional counsellors will help you and your friend decide what course of treatment to choose.

No matter how deep your friend is into alcoholism, there’s hope, there’s help, and there’s a treatment plan that will work for him as long as he remains determined to recover and cooperate with the treatment plan.

3. Arrange their Alcohol Treatment Insurance 

Once your friend is ready to seek professional help and start with an effective treatment plan, it’s time to check his insurance coverage.

Rehabilitation will incur fees. The cost varies depending on the type of treatment program and insurance policy coverage.   

You can have your friend check whether alcohol treatment is covered by their insurance policy. Or you can do this on his behalf.

You can reach us, and we’ll help you find out if your friend’s insurance covers alcohol treatment at our Scotland clinic or our Gloucester clinicYour information will remain confidential.

4. Support their Recovery Journey 

Once the treatment starts, your friend will need all the help available. The best you can do is support them in their journey towards full recovery and look after them even after rehabilitation.  


Aftercare is an important part of the recovery process and starts once rehabilitation is completed. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has recorded 84% of treatment centres that provide aftercare services.

The remaining 16% that don’t offer aftercare services, provide help and suggestions in creating an aftercare plan using other available outlet programmes 

 Aftercare aims to help the person maintain a healthy life of sobriety.

It includes adjusting to a sober living settlement, scheduled sessions with the therapist, participation in 12-Step meetings or other peer support groups and avoiding triggers. 

Help Them Discover New Interest 

Discovering new interests and activities will help your friend to get back to their normal life before alcohol.

Let them explore what they want in life and join them in finding their interest. Introduce them to new activities such as camping, hiking, RVing, cooking, etc. Sports can also help them find a new direction in life.   

Helping the community through volunteer work is also a great way to make your friend realize that they’re doing something productive and that their existence matters.

Identify Triggers 

Triggers cause anxiety, stress, and other negative emotions, which may prompt a relapse.

Identify the reason why they opted to start drinking. It could be because of depression, stress, boredom, and sadness.   

By knowing the cause, you could avoid the onset of potential reasons that may lead them to go back to drinking again.

Create a Relapse Plan 

The possibility of relapse among alcoholics is high especially if they don’t get enough support from family and friends.

Rejecting the urge to drink is easier said and done. It is better to be prepared in case relapse happens instead of not entertaining the idea and not knowing what to do once it happens.   

Once relapse happens, it is better to go back to treatment as soon as possible. Make sure to save the treatment centre’s hotline on your phone, so you could easily get help when the need arises.

It is also important to remain unbiased and non-judgemental if this happens because your alcoholic friend may feel embarrassed about disappointing you or guilty of failing you.  

Making them feel your utmost support will help them get back to treatment. And lastly, know that relapse happens, and it is very common.

It is not your fault, and don’t ever think that you’ve fallen short in supporting your friend. 

How to Help a High-Functioning Alcoholic? 

To help a high-functioning alcoholic, you need to be able to recognize the warning signs, approach and make a genuine conversation, steer clear from co-dependency, seek support from family and friends, offer genuine support on seeking effective treatment, and intervene.   

Helping high-functioning alcoholics is more difficult because they don’t display drunk behaviour and can handle intoxication.

They are good at hiding their addiction and even excel at school or work, manage to do household chores, and can minimize the negative impact of alcohol in their relationships.

High-functioning alcoholics are in denial and defend their habit by creating excuses that could justify their drinkings such as confidence booster and stress reliever.  

Here are a few things you can do to help a high-functioning alcoholic:

1. Recognize the warning signs 

Recognizing the warning signs of a high-functioning alcoholic is difficult because they show minimal to no symptoms.

You need to be extra observant and remember the situations where they may have lowered their guard and displayed a few red flags.   

Some of these warning signs include: 

  • Drinks during inappropriate times of the day 
  • Uses alcohol as an excuse to relax,  boost confidence, relieve stress, promote better sleep, etc.  
  • Prefers to drink alone 
  • Drinks until they black-out 
  • Downplays alcohol dependency by throwing jokes about it 
  • Misses special occasions, school, and work due to alcohol intoxication 
  • Defensive and gets angry easily when confronted about alcohol abuse

2. Initiate a Genuine Conversation 

Communication is the key to let the person know about your concern and that you want to help them.

However, due to being in denial, they may take it negatively and think of it as a direct attack, and criticism against them. So, you need to tread lightly not to scare them off or irritate them. 

Before approaching them, you can practice what you’re going to say.

Choose positive words that will help them understand that you’re looking after those best welfare and that you have their best interest at heart.

Be empathetic, kind, and patient because they can be stubborn and refuse to admit their condition.   

Cite some instances where they have displayed symptoms of alcoholism.

They’re likely to argue and deny, thus being prepared by mentioning events where they showed warning signs.

When they realize that they fail at hiding, they may admit that they’re indeed having self-control issues when it comes to alcohol.

3. Don’t Get Trapped on Co-dependency 

In an attempt to create a facade of normalcy, most alcoholic’s significant others try to cover up the consequences.

They are either afraid, ashamed or believe that somehow, the alcoholic can pull himself out of alcoholism, thus they try to manage the outcome.

However, by doing so, you are just helping the alcoholic to deny the real issue and prolong the chance to seek proper treatment. 

Don’t get trapped in co-dependency by being true and honest to yourself. Alcoholics will not realize the gravity of the situation if you’ll keep pampering them.

Make them taste the bittersweet reality of the negative impacts of alcoholism, so they’ll realise that they’re affecting not just their lives but the lives of the people around them.  

Unless they feel the severity, they will remain in denial and find rationale to normalise their drinking.  

4. Offer Support on Seeking Treatment 

Once they realise and admit the problem, urge them to seek professional support. It is the only way to successfully recover from alcoholism.

The earlier they seek treatment, the better their chances at recovery and going back to their life.   

Let them know that you are willing to help and assist them every step of the way. Make them feel that they’re not alone in the battle and that you are there to help without judgment.


High functioning and in-denial alcoholics are more difficult to deal with because they have built their defences to keep others from finding out their silent battle against alcohol use disorder.

But no matter how good they are at hiding, they can’t hide the psychological and physical consequences of alcoholism, such as neurological impairment, liver dysfunction, depression, and heart disease.   

Recognising the disorder and its symptoms is the first step in helping them. But seeking an effective treatment plan is the solution in helping them recover and get back to life.

There are different approaches and available treatment plans. All they have to do is admit that they need help and seek treatment.   

We understand that the process of seeking professional help can be scary, but we are here to help you.

Call us at our free 24/7 Helpline on 01603 513 091 to talk with our professional counsellor about available Addiction Treatment Plans

You don’t have to make a decision right away, and we will keep your information confidential.   

You may also fill-up the form below to reach out to our professional counsellor via live chat. Start the first step on your recovery journey with us. 

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Peter has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Peter has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.