Are you concerned about the drinking behavior of a friend? Chances are you're not the only one who is worried about them.

Uncontrolled alcohol or drug use is not the only sign that someone needs help. The important question is what happens to them when they drink or use drugs. Do they do things they regret later: get in fights, destroy property, drive under the influence, or have unplanned or unwanted sex?

There are many ways to help someone who's having trouble with alcohol or drugs. Some just need the wakeup call of your honest opinion; others can benefit from professional help to make changes in their behavior. Still, others need professional help to maintain complete abstinence through rehabilitation and/or recovery programs.

Get resources that can help

Before talking to a friend

  • Learn about drug and alcohol abuse. You can even talk to the Counseling Center without giving your friend's name.
  • Prepare a list of specific problems that have occurred because of your friend's drinking or drug use. Keep these items as concrete as possible. "You're so antisocial when you drink" will not mean as much as, "When you were drunk, you made fun of me and were mean to me. I felt hurt." Bring the list with you and keep the conversation focused.

Choose a private location where you can talk without embarrassment or interruption. Your friend is more likely to hear you in a quiet booth during off hours than at a large table in Cheney during lunch. A talk in your room with the TV and music off will be more successful than one in your friend's room where they can easily create distractions while you talk.

How to talk to a friend

  • Talk to your friend when they are sober. The sooner you can arrange this after a bad episode, the better. Your message will have more impact while your friend is hung over than it will a week later.
  • Restrict your comments to what you feel and what you have experienced of your friend's behavior. Try not to use generalizations or share what others might think. Instead, try statements such as these.
    • "When you were drunk, you threw up on me and I had to take care of you. I was worried about your health."
    • "Last weekend you tried to go home with someone you barely know. I was scared that something bad could have happened to you."
  • Convey your concern for your friend's well-being with specific statements. Try saying something like, "I want to talk to you because I am worried about you." Or, "Our friendship means a lot to me. I don't like to see what's been happening."
  • It is important to openly discuss the negative consequences of your friend's drinking or drug use. Use concrete examples from your list. For example: "At the party, I was left standing there while you threw up. The next day you were too hungover to write your paper. It makes me sad that these things are happening in your life."
  • Emphasize the difference between sober behavior that you like and drinking behavior that you dislike. "You have the most wonderful sense of humor, but when you drink it turns into cruel sarcasm and you're not funny anymore. You're mean."
  • Be sure to distinguish between the person and the behavior. "I think you're a great person, but the more marijuana you smoke, the less you seem to care about anything."
  • Encourage your friend to consult with a professional to talk about their substance use problem. Give them concrete resources and offer to assist them get help.

What not to do

  • Don't accuse or argue. If your friend gets angry or provokes you, remind yourself to remain calm and to stay focused on your goal. "I understand that you don't like some things I do, either; we can talk about them later. My point now is that when you drink, you're doing dangerous things."
  • Don't lecture or moralize. Remain factual, listen, and be nonjudgmental. Remarks like, "You've been acting like a slut," will only elicit defensive anger. Instead say, "You've been hooking up with people you don't like and doing things you regret the next day."
  • Don't give up. If your friend seems resistant, you can bring it up later or let them know you're there for them if they ever want to talk.