As Britain is named world’s drunkest nation – how to talk to a friend about how much they drink

16th May 19 | Lifestyle

Sometimes the most important conversations are also the most difficult.

Friends hands drinking beer at brewery pub restaurant – Friendship concept with young people enjoying time together and having genuine fun at cool vintage brew bar – Focus on middle right small glass

Well, it’s official: According to a new study that examined 36 countries worldwide, the UK has the most inebriated inhabitants on the planet.

The average Brit recorded 51.1 drinking session in a 12-month period – nearly one a week – beating the US, Australia and Canada to be named the booziest nation, according to the Global Drug Survey.

Perhaps strangely, overall alcohol consumption is dropping. Pubs are shutting down at a rate of knots, and teetotalism is rising, but our now-famous ‘binge-drinking culture’ has helped Britain drink its rivals under the table.

Obviously it’s bad for our health, but what do you do if a friend or colleague is over-doing it? Voicing concern to an over-active drinker can feel like implied criticism. Here’s a brief rundown of how to broach this tricky topic, without losing friends or alienating people…

What to look for

It is not always easy to tell whether someone’s drinking habits have crossed the line and become a problem.

“There’s a difference between alcohol dependency, and drinking more than is good for you,” says John Larsen, director of evidence and impact for alcohol awareness charity Drinkaware. “If someone finds it difficult to get up without a drink, that’s dependency, and they should seek medical guidance because it might be dangerous for them to stop too quickly.”

Lower-level cases are inevitably more difficult to quantify, and it comes down to observation. “It’s day-to-day practice,” says Larsen, “and whether you feel that they’re drinking more than they should.”

Man comforting a friend
(iStock/PA)

For a more definite method, you can steer them towards an online test. Drinkaware offer online self-assessments that take stock of someone’s alcoholic activities, as well as a friendlier feature allowing drinkers to compare their consumption with other men and women in the UK.

How to prepare

As with any possibly painful situation, you’ll need to pick your moment. Identify a calm, positive environment, away from any stressful work crises or painful losses on the football field. You want them as receptive as possible, so you shouldn’t broach the topic while drunk. It may seem appropriate in theory – in practice it is not.

Ideally, you want to provide tools to allow your subject to explore some options themselves, in their own time in a judgement-free environment, so ready some resources in advance.

Consider discussing the effect that your friend’s drinking has on other people: “If you are affected yourself, you can leverage that,” says Larsen. “People can be more open when their behaviour is impacting other people.”

What to say, and what not to

Talking about a perceived drinking problem is, well, potentially one of the most awkward conversations you’ll ever have, so it’s important to maintain a careful, flexible approach.

The most important thing is that you appear to be expressing concern, rather than apportioning blame. Avoid scary, judgemental-sounding words like ‘alcoholic’ and ‘dependency’, and steer clear of anything that sounds too blunt or accusatory.

“It really depends on who you’re talking to,” says Larsen. “With a close friend you can perhaps talk more directly and just say, ‘I notice you drink a lot’. You need to show that you care, and they need to feel understood.”

They may have thought about their drinking habits of their own accord, but they may not, and you should be prepared for a defensive reaction. Use positive words and keep your questions open: “What do you think?” rather than: “Can’t you see?”

Man with beer
(iStock/PA)

Drinkaware propose a series of example openers that might help you start with the appropriate tone, for instance: “I wonder if you drank less your wellbeing might improve”, “I’ve noticed you aren’t so positive since you’ve been drinking more”, or even, “You don’t seem to be doing as much exercise as you used to.”

In the end, you’ll know your relationship best, and you need to communicate in a way that will hit home. “You don’t want to look like you’re wagging a finger,”  says Larsen, “but even that depends on the people. Go with your own judgement – that is the best advice you can give.”

© Press Association 2019

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