My close friend of 30 years (my best friend) is an alcoholic, and her alcoholism has progressed to the point where it's taken away her ability to be a friend to me.

She has always been a heavy drinker but it's never impacted our relationship until this year. Until now, she and I have enjoyed sober recreation, and giving each other mutual support in every area of life. I am feeling unimportant and abandoned. As a counselor, I am educated about all forms of addiction and the toll it takes on friends and family. Having said that, it’s sometimes easier to give guidance to people with whom you’re not emotionally involved with, rather than know the most appropriate course of action when it’s happening in our own lives.

The final straw came when she ignored my birthday, the only acknowledgment I received from her was a Facebook status like when someone else wished me a happy birthday. This behavior is uncharacteristic of the past 30 years of friendship, and the only things that have changed are increased alcohol consumption as well as being in a relationship with a man who is also an alcoholic.

How do I tactfully end the friendship with this person?

This is now a one way relationship and she is not putting in effort to maintain our friendship. I have decided this relationship is over, at least until she can be sober. I’m feeling angry, hurt and resentful. I own my feelings and have accepted I cannot change her.

What is still lingering in my mind is not having a sense of closure. I’m torn between letting her know where I stand, how I feel, and why, versus saying nothing and simply fading away without telling her how I feel.

The dilemma is not whether or not to continue this "friendship". I do not wish to continue this relationship, however I am unsure how to best end the friendship in order to gain the closure I’m looking for.

I have talked with her earlier this year about certain behaviors that I feel have hurt the friendship. I have told her I worry about her drinking and driving, and her health. However, I never told her how much her behaviour hurts me and our relationship.


4 Answers 4


I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this other person has already ended the friendship.

Respond to any communication she makes politely, but don't initiate any communications of your own. Don't make any promises or commitments to her.

If this leaves a hole in your life—for which I would not blame you—go ahead and find someone else to fill it. (If you want to know the best way to fill that hole, it's another topic for another question.)


You want to know what to do. (Full disclosure: I am an adult child of an alcoholic father, so I understand your struggle to some degree.)

Step One: Commit to moving on, no matter what.

If I were in your position, the only closure I would need is my own commitment to ending the relationship. Any closure in which she accepts your decision requires her to be reasonable, and this is completely beyond your power. As a now-disgraced comedian once said:

I don't know the recipe for success, but the recipe for failure is trying to please everybody.

You have no control over how she will respond to your decision. You may be letting this uncertainty stop you from doing what is best for you. That needs to stop:

  • You do NOT need her permission to end the relationship.
  • You do NOT owe her an explanation for ending the relationship.
  • You do NOT have to correct her if she is wrong about something (assuming, of course, that you have not misled her about anything).

If you concede any of these points, you grant her the power to keep you dangling; she will withhold her permission, ignore your explanations, and refuse all correction, just to keep things going. You cannot win that game—she will move goal posts faster than you can run—but you can and should refuse to play it.

Step Two: Tune her out.

As far as social media goes, adjust your settings so that her social media activity no longer shows in your feed. In Facebook, for instance, simply stop following her posts. If she sends you private messages, you should be able to tell whether they are genuine requests for help, or an attempt to hurt you or assert control; answer the former if you want to, delete the latter. If you have social media links to other people that exist only because they are her friends, filter them out as well, so that her activity in their feeds doesn't show up in yours.

If she knows your phone number, you may find it necessary to block her calls and texts.

Step Three: Let sleeping dogs lie.

As far as informing her of this, I recommend that you simply do nothing.

Even if your message ending the friendship is 100% truthful and 100% respectful, some people are triggered by anything that smacks of criticism, especially if it touches on a problem of which they are in denial.

If you say nothing to her, then at a later point decide to resume the relationship, you will not be in the position of having to unsay something.

If you send her any message, she may misunderstand it, and it will be difficult to correct the situation. Or she may correctly understand the message, but will lash out because your message reminds her of something she's trying to avoid.

So the best explanation is to provide no explanation at all. As the saying goes,

A wise man once said nothing.

Step Four: Remain firm.

She may do the social media equivalent of yelling and screaming and stamping her feet, but she can't do it forever, and if anyone who isn't enabling her behavior asks you about it, you can let them in on the truth. The drama will pass.

Epilogue: Remain open to genuine repentance.

It may be that in time some event will leave her with no choice but to accept that she has a problem. If she contacts you and says that she has given up drinking and wants to mend fences, take her at face value and do what you can to help her stay on the wagon. That will also be a good time to tell her that you can only be friends while she's sober.


So you have made the decision to end the friendship because it is toxic, and it is not possible for you to give her the support she needs to recover. This isn't the same as not caring, so there is no need to feel bad about that.

I accept that you have made this firm decision to walk away from it; however, I am going to challenge you on whether or not you feel you could live with yourself if you do absolutely nothing.

From personal experience I can tell you that unchecked alcoholism can lead to an early death. I am aged 43 and an extremely moderate drinker - I barely drink at all - but two people my age and younger that I knew growing up are now dead from alcohol-related illnesses.

In many countries, the suggested approach to help an alcoholic is to stage an "intervention". Apparently you work in this field so you likely know what this is better than I do, but I understand it is where a group of friends and family approach the person together to confront them with their problem and encourage them to get the help they need. This doesn't mean the friends and family actually give the help - it is about getting the person to accept that they need expert help, and then encouraging them to seek it.

The only other person you mention is your troubled friend's boyfriend who is also an alcoholic. If you walk away and leave her with people who won't support her then I doubt she'll ever recover. Can you live with that?

So you could just walk away. That won't be a very difficult conversation. You just need to tell her straight that you cannot be around her while she is self-destructing.

But my challenge to your stated goal is that you could alternatively try and get her the intervention she needs, and you could still walk away. You don't have to be around her while she is in this "toxic" state, but at least by doing this you would be less likely to feel any guilt later if her condition gets the better of her, which I sincerely hope it doesn't.


Having had a few friends get involved with alcohol and drugs, to the point where it affected their life, I've been there and done that.

First, forgetting your birthday isn't an insult. It's a sign of how far the condition has progressed. The person who always remembered your birthday isn't capable of responding, because the alcohol has suppressed that part of the personality. Keep that in mind so the memories of the good times don't become bitter.

There really isn't a lot you can do when chemicals really take control of a person. The stuff has altered their judgment, so it's near impossible to reason with them, as I tried, and you probably tried, too many times.

I'd suggest you just stop responding and stop visiting her. Maybe, in a moment of clarity, she will realize what the alcohol is costing her. If she does ask why you aren't around any more, just say you have known her a long time, and you don't want to be around that level of booze consumption any more. That's what I did, and in one case, it appears to have done some good. That person later recovered, and said when I pointed out that I just couldn't deal with the constant stream of drugs and stoned behavior, it did ring some alarm bells with them. That's when they first started looking for help.

There is no point in making a big statement, because it won't have any impact. The person it would have had an impact on, is buried under gallons of alcohol.


As others have noted, it seems that your friend has seen to it that there is not much of a friendship left to end.

Given that, I think that the most natural way to proceed is to simply let the relationship fade (even that phrasing is problematic, as the relationship seems to have already faded). Importantly, it's not you that is ending the friendship, it's your erstwhile friend that has done so. You may have decided that you will no longer invest any of yourself in whatever relationship remains, but the idea that it's on you to formally end anything seems hard to support.

For that reason I think it would be odd to reach out to your friend to declare that you agree the friendship is over. It would be sort of like you're not going to eat a cake any more when the cake has already been entirely eaten. If your friend tries to reach out to you again at some point it would be appropriate to decline that contact by explaining that the friendship is clearly over (whether you point out that that was due to your friend's behavior or not).

Closure is great, but this sounds like a situation that's already closed. There may still be some satisfaction in declaring your decision, and the reasoning behind it, to your friend. But in my personal experience, whatever it is you're looking to get from such an action, your friend will not provide it.

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