If you thought your close friend had a drinking problem, would you talk to him or her about it?
Our recent poll asked an important question: “If you thought your close friend had a drinking problem would you talk to him or her about it?”
While the answer of what to do is subjective, our experts recommend an honest, open and direct approach. Try talking to your friend in a way that conveys realistic feedback and concern, and avoids creating defensiveness or a debate. For example, start with: “I’ve noticed lately you’ve been drinking more than usual. Is everything okay? I’m worried about you getting hurt.”
Speak to your friend in a private space, when he or she is sober, and not when your friend is drunk or hungover. Instead of attacking his or her character or criticizing recent actions, identify the behavior you’re concerned about to minimize defensiveness and a possible argument. Encourage your friend to think about what has been happening in his or her life and any connections to drinking. Be clear that you are not judging him or her, but trying to help and that there are a number of options. If your friend does become argumentative, even with these precautions, it’s okay to simply restate that you are concerned, that you want to help, and end the conversation. Some people end up cutting down or seeking help for their drinking simply because enough people have raised these concerns.
Unfortunately, other individuals who drink heavily may not take active steps toward safer behavior until they have experienced a significant negative consequence. At that point, it is important that they be evaluated to assess the extent and severity of the drinking problem and whether a brief intervention or more extended treatment might be needed. A brief intervention is a technique used by health professionals to bring about change in an individual who drinks in an unhealthy manner. It typically aims to gauge how motivated a person is to cut back on their drinking, and give advice or try to increase motivation to change in response to information provided by the individual. A brief intervention may include receiving personalized feedback about one’s substance use, an assessment of level of risk and, if necessary, a referral to more specialized alcohol treatment.
Center on Addiction is currently evaluating the effectiveness of screening and brief intervention in collaboration with Northwell Health. For more serious drinking problems, a brief intervention will not be enough. There are medications, psychotherapies, and treatment programs that are effective for treating alcohol problems, which are described in our recently revised Patient Guide.
If you think your friend is in danger of getting hurt or hurting someone else because of his or her drinking, it may also be helpful for you to talk with a health professional for advice on how to best address your friend’s drinking and help get your friend appropriate intervention or treatment. You can find more information on the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s Rethinking Drinking website.
Max Dorfman, MA
Max is a Science Writer at Center on Addiction