Article  Human Dignity  Substance Abuse

4 ways you can support a friend struggling with alcohol addiction

alcohol

I recently celebrated one year of sobriety from alcohol — a goal I’d been working to accomplish for several years. I’d felt I had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol since the first time I took a sip as a teenager, and I often thought of my grandfather, who died of liver disease related to alcoholism. I knew it was unhealthy for my body, my choices, and my faith. It was a barrier in my relationship with God. Rather than water and refresh my heart, it dried it up or drowned it out. 

To quit a substance one is physically or mentally addicted to is no small feat, and the support of friends, family, and community can make all the difference. There are likely more people in your life struggling with addiction than you realize. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that 25% of people 18 and over regularly engage in binge drinking. During COVID-19 specifically, excessive drinking increased by 21% overall.  

The truth is, addiction doesn’t always present itself in stereotypical ways. Women, especially, are often high-functioning and successful, masterfully hiding their strongholds behind the highlight reels of social media and accomplishments. Interestingly, alcohol consumption among women rose by 41% since March 2020, according to a Harvard health study

An addiction of any kind is toxic to the body and the soul, and it’s important to know how you can best encourage friends who are struggling. As for me, the process was a journey. After years of asking the Lord to help me quit drinking, I was finally able to do it, knowing that I had been sinful in so many ways with my alcohol consumption. The Bible provides countless warnings about the substance. For example, Ephesians 5:18 states: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” What I recognized, finally, was that one cannot be filled with the Holy Spirit when one is filled with wine. They are like oil and water — unable to mix — and that is one of the best reasons I found to finally walk away. 

This year, I am most grateful for my sobriety and how it allows my faith to flourish and my family to take priority. I am thankful to be rid of mental games and broken promises, feelings of rampant hypocrisy and powerlessness. As 2 Corinthians reminds us, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” It’s only in the strength of the Father and the beautiful community he surrounded me with that I was able to overcome this stronghold. 

Helping a friend with alcohol addiction 

Based on my recent experience, I want to suggest five things you can do to help a friend or family member struggling with non-life-threatening and non-life-altering alcohol addiction:

1. Offer to be a safe place to talk. One of the hardest things about early sobriety is the fear that you will fail and look weak or irresponsible. It’s important that your friend knows you will not berate them if they slip up. A safe relationship opens the door for honest conservation whenever it’s needed. The moment someone feels they may be shamed, they will probably close off. The more vulnerable someone can be in a community, the more likely they are to succeed in the end. 

2. Invite them into community. God has designed us for relationships, and people need community to walk in sobriety. That’s part of the power of Alcoholics Anonymous; it’s a band of men and women who stick together through thick and thin. So, it’s vital that you don’t alienate your friend who is struggling with alcohol addiction. One of the ways you can be most supportive is by inviting them into community. Surround them with the safety of friendship in Christ. Be willing to have a mindset focused on others and how you can best serve your friend as she seeks to overcome her dependence on alcohol by the grace of God. 

3. Pray for them diligently. When someone is giving up an addiction, spiritual warfare is in full force. I used to say that the only thing Satan had to do to keep me away from God was keep a drink in my hand. The enemy doesn’t want your friend to give up alcohol. That’s why we must pray regularly for their strength and ability to overcome. Understand that sobriety is a journey and it’s not always a one-and-done situation. Sometimes people start again and again before it sticks. Never give up on your friend, and be there for then every time they fall. The consistent support is like a safety net that helps them feel they can get up again. 

4. Educate yourself. When you understand addiction, you can be a better support for someone. Sometimes the well-intentioned help by Christians fails to take into account the holistic nature of every individual. There are many sobriety memoirs out there that can help you get into the mind of a person struggling with alcohol. Read the stories of other people and study up on science behind an addicted brain. It can be easy to wonder why someone can’t just “stop drinking,” but it’s usually not that simple. Our brains are actually re-wired when they become addicted to alcohol, so quitting is far more difficult than you can imagine. In addition, know what God’s Word says about addiction, forgiveness, and walking in Christ. 

A solidly supportive friend or family member can be what it takes for someone to overcome their addiction. Without a community to help fuel them, it’s easy for someone to fall into isolation and despair regarding their addiction. Your job as a friend and as a Christian is vital, and I encourage you to take it seriously. God has put you into someone’s life for such a time as this. Be the vessel that they need to to get to the other side. I can tell you from experience that the freedom awaiting them is priceless. 

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