Tips to start talking

If you want to talk with someone about their use of alcohol or other drugs, it can be hard to know where to begin. Here are some tips to get you started.

If you're thinking about having a chat, here are some steps you can take to help everyone feel they can open up and be honest.

  • Be clear on what you want to talk about. This might include things you have noticed.
  • Agree on a time that you can talk without distractions or interruptions.
  • Create an environment where they feel cared for and supported.
  • These conversations can bring emotions like anger and disappointment. Be prepared to stay steady and not let this influence how you talk to them.

It can be helpful to prepare for a chat that allows space for you to share your concerns, show you care, and figure out together what happens next.

Here’s one approach:

  • Share what you have noticed
  • Offer support
  • Agree together on what’s ok
  • If you need to, you can talk about actions they might take and how you can help them. For example, activities you do together that don’t involve alcohol and other drugs, ways they could reduce their use, or how you could help them take a break.
  • Explore other forms of support (workplace options, community groups, addiction services).

For help planning this conversation with young people, check out this Conversation Planner available on New Zealand Drug Foundation’s website.

An open and caring conversation provides an opportunity for you both to reflect honestly on the situation and their use of alcohol or other drugs. Here’s some questions to explore together:

  • What is the situation and how do each of us feel about it?
  • You could explore:
    • Have they used alone?
    • Was there a time where they couldn’t do what was expected from them at work or home because of their use?
    • Has someone close to them said they are worried about their drinking or substance use?
    • Have they ever forgotten what happened while drinking or using other drugs?
    • Have they used alcohol or other drugs to relax, cope, feel better, or fit in?
    • Have they done something while using that could have gotten them into trouble with the law?

“What I found is when we bring it up with our mates, it’s not as bad as they thought it was going to be. It gets us to a place where we can actually talk about it.” – Andre

If someone senses you will judge them for their drinking or drug use, they may not want to open up and talk honestly about what’s going on.

Here’s some strategies to help you offer more support and less judgment:

  • Put yourself in their shoes and think about why they use.
  • Try to avoid saying things like “drugs are bad for you.” Instead, try phrasing things with “I feel” statements such as “I feel like drugs have been making it hard for you to go to work lately”.
  • Avoid ‘scare tactics’ – the research shows they don’t work.

Showing someone that you are there for them can create opportunities for further support.

For example, after your conversation with them you could:

  • Schedule regular catch-up times.
  • Call or message to see how they are going.
  • Plan a relaxing activity together, like cooking or creating something.
  • Encourage them to explore support options, and help them to find mental health and addiction services available near them.