Does one of your friends drink so much they can’t remember what happened the night before? Is someone you know drinking so much they regularly end up puking? Has one of your friends started drinking all the time, not just when you go out socially? How do you know when drinking has gone beyond just “having a good time” and become dangerous?
Alcohol abuse and addiction can be hard to recognize at first, but can impact a person’s life in drastic ways. As of late 2017, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported approximately 36,000 deaths were directly related to alcohol abuse, excluding accidents and homicides (CDC, 2020). Alcohol abuse can also affect those around the individual, not just themselves. Driving under the influence is when you see this most. The second largest age group of drunk drivers involved in fatal crashes at about 26% of total crashes was the ages of 21-24 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020). Seeing the difference between casual drinking and addiction is a fine line, but if you suspect alcohol use is affecting the daily functions of their life, you can use some of these tips below to guide you through helping them.
1. Get educated on alcohol use disorder and the signs of alcoholism.
With any kind of addiction and disorder, it is helpful to first understand the problem itself. Educating yourself on the concept of addiction and how it affects the brain and mental health of someone, it will help you better understand your friend’s actions and their struggle. With alcohol abuse, it can be harder to notice at first because drinking is a part of normal life and socially acceptable. Recognizing the signs and difference between enjoying drinks versus relying on drinks to cope with other issues going on. A couple signs that may suggest a serious drinking problem are if they regularly avoid responsibilities because they were drinking, can’t remember events while using alcohol, and often binge drinking more than they need to. Other behavioral changes may be seen as well, but a good rule of thumb to follow is if the drinking is affecting their daily functioning there is a problem to be addressed.
2. Use the SAMHSA Helpline for phone support.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides a free, confidential helpline to call for 24/7 treatment referral and information sources for people or the families/friends of people struggling with mental or substance abuse disorders. It is completely free and never closes, available all year, everyday, all day long. Referrals to local support groups or treatment facilities are also free of charge. No counseling is provided, but they are specialists who will get you connected to the proper state services and counseling centers to get you started. SAMHSA is available to contact at 1-800-662-HELP.
3. Express your concerns to them when they are not drinking, free of judgement.
If you are noticing changes in your friends and more frequent drinking, address your concerns in a way that isn’t accusatory. Do this without the presence of alcohol and without pressure. They may not want to admit they have a problem, but letting them know you are worried and care may encourage them to open up about it.
4. Consider a family/friend intervention.
Interventions sound very serious and intense and maybe even a betrayal to your friend, but they do not have to be. The benefit of an intervention is to have objective points of view to your friends behaviors, since most times they are unable to see their actions as an outsider. Interventions can be more casual by getting those who care about the person together in a safe area, like their home living room or backyard, and expressing each viewpoint in a caring way. Don’t automatically assume the person has a problem, instead express what they did that made each person at the intervention concerned for their health.
5. Encourage them to seek professional help.
Professional help related to alcoholism includes therapy and general practitioner guidance. Alcohol takes effect on mental and physical aspects of the body, in particular the liver. A regular check-up with their primary care physician can reveal any health issues the alcohol may have caused in their body before it progresses. Professional counseling can be found in their area with the direction of the SAMHSA helpline or other state health department services.
6. Get them involved in support groups, such as AA meetings.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a support group open to the public for those who are struggling with a drinking problem. Meetings are held in every state and every area code, easily accessible on their website through a geographical search bar by zip code or city. AA meetings are a place for others struggling with the same issue to relate to one another and not be alone as well as gain support from the community. There are no appointments needed, no age requirement or insurance.
7. Hold them accountable.
It is important to not enable them in drinking. Don’t plan drinking centered activities and then invite them to it. Don’t agree when they take a drink and say “it’s just one beer”. Enabling your friend in their problem will remove accountability and deepen the issue. If you see them drinking, address it directly and do not brush it off. As they begin a recovery journey, encourage them and hold them accountable to the changes they decided to make.
8. Spend time with them doing an activity that does not involve alcohol.
Plan alternative activities to cope with their stressors and research some effective ways to cope with emotions together. Planning something together or finding a hobby they like may eliminate the need for alcohol in those hard times. Going on a hike together, grabbing coffee, even mini-golf or bowling where they aren’t faced with the option of drinking alcohol and are distracted can help.
9. Help them set a plan for the changes they can make.
Sit down to implement daily changes they can make to lessen their need to drink or desire to drink. Different changes they come up with may encourage their sobriety and distract them from drinking. You may get ideas of daily changes from their counselor, AA sponsor, or the internet. As long as you are supporting them in taking the initiative towards change, they will feel more likely to do so and valued.
10. Seek support for yourself in peer support groups with others that are helping their loved ones with alcohol abuse, too.
Again, taking care of others with heavy issues like drinking problems can make you feel more responsible. If you are not in the right mental space to help yourself, you cannot help others. Seek your own support groups or local counseling services to maintain your mental health and cope with the person stress of helping your friends through hard times.
- CDC. (2020, May 20). FastStats – Alcohol Use. Retrieved October 22, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/alcohol.htm
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, August 24). Impaired Driving: get the facts. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/impaired_driving/impaired-drv_factsheet.html