Drinking buddies: How alcohol affects our friendships

A common topic that arises for our Daybreak members who are interested in making changes with their drinking, is that of managing friendships or relationships that have a lot to do with alcohol. For some people, it can be that their relationship revolves around drinking, and there is a real fear that, with the alcohol gone, there might not be enough to sustain the relationship. For others, it can be that their friendship has involved drinking for such a long time, that to move away from this might seem like a betrayal. 

We know that it is our relationships and our connections with those around us that give our life most of its meaning and purpose – so it is understandable that we would be hesitant to potentially disrupt the balance of an otherwise positive friendship or relationship. In fact, some members describe ‘not wanting to upset the apple cart’ as the major reason they haven’t sought help until now – knowing their drinking was becoming harmful, but also at the same time knowing it was in some ways maintaining a valuable relationship. 

This can get even more complicated when we consider that people can often be at different stages of change to their friend or partner – so, even if they are drinking similar amounts or at similar frequency, one person might be more impacted by the alcohol, in terms of health, mood, energy or sleep. It is likely that the person feeling more of an impact would be more likely to change, while the less-affected partner might not be as motivated to cut back or stop altogether. Again, this can be the source of a hard conflict – how that individual can change their relationship with alcohol and still keep peace in the relationship. 

In response to questions from our members, we have some tips for people who are going through this very difficult conflict. First of all, it is a really common issue and one that can be daunting, to say the least. These are people we care deeply about and we don’t want to feel that we are jeopardising those relationships, but at the same time it is feeling like change is necessary. It might help to acknowledge that, in making any change when you are in a situation like this, there will be some degree of discomfort and uncertainty and that is totally normal.

1. Be Direct – first of all, especially in relationships, it is a good idea to make a time to have a calm conversation about your plans to change your alcohol use. Just like with any big decision, it is a good idea to explain the reasoning behind it (pros and cons), and the changes that you might be planning (e.g. I’m going to have three alcohol-free days a week, and the rest of the time drink no more than two standard drinks at a time). For relationships, it can also be useful to outline how you’d like your partner to support you (e.g. please don’t offer me a drink or bring home wine).

With friends, it might be useful to explain a bit more of the background if they aren’t aware (e.g. for some time I’ve been worried about my drinking, and recently I’ve decided to do something about it). Remember, these are people who you care about deeply, and you want to be as honest and direct as possible – allow them to understand the reasons for the change you are making, and that it is not about their relationship with you, but rather your own relationship with alcohol.

2. Brainstorm alternative activities – one major concern when a partner changes their drinking habits is that ‘quality time’ can go out the window. Those evenings spent talking over a bottle of wine, or date nights at the pub, might not be possible anymore, or might not fit into the changes that have been suggested. If this is the case, a bit of creativity might be required – for friends, some possible alternatives to nights out clubbing or trivia night at the pub, might be a walk and breakfast on the weekend, or coffee and a fitness class. In a relationship, attending cooking classes or dance classes might be a new way of enjoying quality time, or even having date nights that are specifically alcohol free. It is likely that most of the enjoyment from these events in the past was due to the company, rather than the alcohol – it was just there as a signal to relax and unwind – but we know that this is possible to do without alcohol.

3. Check in – finally, it is useful to ask your partner or friend how they feel about this. Often those close to us are terrified of us changing – they like us as we are, and are worried that if we change too much then the relationship or friendship might not survive. Maybe you feel this way about the people in your life too – after all, we choose people for a reason, and generally that is because we enjoy being around them and like them as people. Being able to explore this and reassure them that the changes you are considering are positive and, if anything, will result in self-improvement and growth, will be useful. We all want those around us to be happier, healthier and more fulfilled and often when people change their relationship with alcohol, this is the outcome. Framing this decision as something that will make your life better will help them to get on board and look for ways that they can support you (e.g. by not offering you a drink, by not keeping alcohol around or in the house, or by stocking up on AF drinks when you are coming by). 

As noted, this concern is one that comes up again and again for our Daybreak members – nobody wants to have to choose between their relationships and their health, and it can feel awful to be in that position. If you are struggling with this, our Care Navigators at Daybreak can help. They can offer confidential and professional advice and support for those wanting to change their relationship with alcohol.


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  • I was worried about being around my husband when he was drinking, but it has been a non-issue. I never told him not to bring alcohol into the house. I just let things go the way they always did without my drinking along with him. I didn’t miss it because my resolve was so strong, and he ended up drinking less. Everything I feared about giving up drinking and having that behavior negatively affect my marriage proved to be false. I suppose my point is to be true to yourself and have no expectations of anyone else. If you don’t make a big deal out of quitting alcohol, others won’t either. It becomes natural and you might even inspire others to check their own relationships to alcohol. I know a lot of my friends did.

    By LilySue
    November 14, 2019
  • Brilliantly sums up all my thoughts.

    By Emma
    November 14, 2019
  • Ive found Untoxicated a great support with sober socialising. You can find them on Meet-up and join up then start going along to events where u know u will find like minded people wanting to get out and have fun without it evolving around alcohol

    By Sammi webb
    November 14, 2019
  • Both my husband and I have given up. Im at 375 days and he’s 6 months. A comment I never expected to hear from many of our visitors is… we like coming to your house because we don’t ‘have’ do drink! We also have people over earlier and finish earlier so everyone goes home sober and at an hour that feels great. Im 50 and feel so grateful that Ive done this for myself. Do it for you… you’re worth it.

    By Jacqueline Cleary
    November 14, 2019
  • A very timely article. I have been struggling with the problem of giving up/reducing my alcohol intake whilst maintaining a relationship with my much loved husband, who is a daily drinker. Thanks you.

    By Helen
    November 14, 2019
  • Thanks for sharing your stories, mine is similar, I finished with alcohol 18 months ago, my husband continues to have his nightly red wines. He has cut down his drinking since I took the big step. As for friends and new friends I find it very interesting seeing reactions and how they look at their drinking. I recently spent four days with a group of women, 7 of us and I was the only non drinker. I stuck out like a sore thumb especially when I can be just as happy, funny and loud without it and wake with a clear head. One friend questioned her drinking and is now thinking of doing the same. I can honestly say its the BEST thing I have ever done (other than giving birth!) Thanks to sites like Hello Sunday and people who share their stories, there is hope for a lot more people.

    By Wendi
    December 3, 2019
  • I’m at 15 days off alcohol and I kind of didn’t broach it with my hubby, until a few days in … as the first weekend neared. I bought him some (alcoholic) beer and instead of buying my usual sparkling, I bought ginger ale in cute little bottles for me, just for sitting on the deck at sunset. He ended up deciding not to drink too, and enjoyed a few ginger ales with me. This weekend he’s had a couple of the beers, but has really cut down on his usual use too. And even though neither of us think I have a `problem’ with alcohol in the usual sense – he has been super supportive. I feel very lucky. If anything, I’m sure he’s happy to have a potential driver!!

    By Sal
    March 14, 2021
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