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My Friend’s Drinking is Really Out of Control - How Can I Help?

Written by Gerard Bullen | Edited By Editorial Team

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SpringBoard Recovery’s hotline – takes many calls from desperate people who are really concerned about a close friend’s level of drinking.

Their question to us always asks the same thing: “How can I help?

Our dedicated and professional staff are trained to handle urgent calls and determine the best course of action for addiction treatment.

They are available 24/7 to answer calls exactly like this and can provide the right advice on the best way forward – for both the worried caller and their close friend.

This article is about how we answer those calls and the expert practical advice we provide.

Many of the stories we hear clearly demonstrate that they want to help their friend as much as they possibly can, but, understandably, they are also concerned about losing the friendship they have built and shared for many years – sometimes, even from childhood.

Our Assurance: Free, Confidential, Anonymous

Drug and alcohol addiction hotlines (or helplines) provide a toll-free telephone number for those people who are struggling with their substance abuse, or their drug or alcohol addiction.

This free, confidential, and anonymous service is also available to parents, guardians, family members, partners, caregivers, and friends.

Excessive Alcohol Consumption: Sure Signs

If someone is drinking more alcohol than is healthy for them, it could be a sign of alcohol use disorder (AUD, for short), which is a spectrum of alcohol dependence ranging from mild to severe.

The severest form of AUD is what people still refer to as alcoholism – a full-blown addiction to alcohol.

Because people are unique in many ways, how excessive alcohol consumption shows itself physically, mentally, and socially can vary immensely from person to person.

However, they are specific signs that someone with an alcohol abuse issue will unavoidably reveal to others, especially those people closest to them, such as family, romantic partners, close friends, and particular work colleagues.

Photo of young people drinking alcohol outdoors

Sure Signs of Alcohol Abuse

When someone is drinking alcohol excessively, and as hard as they may try to hide the fact, sure signs that someone is struggling with their use of alcohol include:

  • Appearing intoxicated more regularly

  • An inability to say no to alcohol

  • Sudden changes of mood

  • Appearing tired, unwell or irritable

  • Appearing disheveled or without their usual level of hygiene

  • Symptoms of anxiety, depression or other mental health problems

  • A lack of interest in previously normal activities 

  • Needing to drink more in order to achieve the same effects 

  • Becoming secretive or dishonest

  • Asking to borrow money

  • Financial difficulties

  • Legal issues, e.g. DUI

Sure Signs of Alcohol Intoxication

  • Slurred speech

  • Slow reflexes

  • Poor decision-making

  • Lack of concentration

  • Gaps in memory

  • Risky behavior

  • Lack of coordination, e.g. stumbling or swaying

If you recognize any of these warning signs in the regular behavior and usual appearance of your friend, the next step you need to take is to become educated about alcohol use disorder.

By researching and learning what you can about the disorder and the best methods and types of treatment, the self-help options that are available, and the various routes to recovery, you will be far better placed to offer your personal support to your friend.

Here is a list of online resources you can use to become more aware and knowledgeable on the subject of alcohol use disorder (AUD):


Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)


Find online at:

https://www.samhsa.gov/

National Institute on

Drug Abuse

(NIDA)


Find online at:

https://www.drugabuse.gov/

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism

(NIAAA)


Find online at:

https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/

Partnership to End Addiction


Find online at:

https://drugfree.org/

SpringBoard Recovery: Drug & Alcohol Treatment Center


Find online at:

https://www.springboardrecovery.com/programs/alcohol-rehab/
Conditional Support, Not Judgment

At some point in the near future, you will need to talk to your friend about your concerns. The key here is to offer “conditional” support – and not to be judgmental.

Conditional Support/New Friendship Boundaries

By “conditional,” you are saying that you will do everything within reason to support your friend. Before you speak with your friends about your concerns, you need to decide what boundaries your friendship will have; for example, you will not let them drive drunk, you will not loan them money and you will not lie for them.
Problems with alcohol consumption can have their roots and their reasons in many areas of someone’s life. These can be something you are aware of, as their friend, or perhaps something you have no idea about. 

Many people use addictive substances, like alcohol, cannabis or other drugs to “self-medicate” – to feel better about themselves or to cope with an issue specific to them.

Examples of specific issues include childhood trauma, domestic violence, sexual abuse, physical assault, a mental health disorder, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, or an unknown behavioral issue.

In fact, the possibilities as to why someone may feel they need to self-medicate with alcohol are virtually endless.

Sobriety Rocks – Who Knew! – Janey Lee Grace, TEDxNorwichED

Alcohol is normalized in society, despite being an addictive harmful drug. It’s the only drug we have to justify NOT taking. There is a movement towards mindful drinking and choosing sobriety, and it’s incredibly liberating to be free of the ‘wine o clock’ culture. Many of us are ‘gray area drinkers’ who would benefit from taking a break from the booze to access a whole array of positive benefits. Let’s change the conversation around alcohol.

Advice for Your Conversation

Talking about a personal issue such as someone clearly struggling with their use of alcohol can be difficult for both people. The vital point is that you approach it positively – be sensitive and supportive, and do not be judgmental in any way.

Make sure you’re both calm. You do not want this conversation to become an argument.

Be ready and willing to listen. The more you listen, the more someone will feel comfortable with you and be willing to open up and speak, honestly.

Be ready with as much practical information as possible, so you can offer advice on how to find and get support if they ask you.

IMPORTANT: Any decision to seek help for a substance addiction has to be taken by the person with the substance abuse issue. It is their decision entirely. If they do not want to change, or they feel they are not ready to change, you cannot change their mind. 

So be patient with them.

Choose a safe and comfortable place for your conversation. These phrases and the type of language used can help you come across in the right way:

  • This isn’t the kind of person I know you to be. I am concerned about you.”
  • I feel sad that we don’t do ****** anymore because it meant we had fun and quality time together.”
  • I’ve noticed that you aren’t so positive since you’ve been drinking more.”
  • What are the things that make you want to drink more?

Avoid any form of criticism or judgment.

Do not use derogatory words like “alcoholic” or “lush” or “drunkard” or “wino.” Try to keep any questions open, so ask your friend what they think. Do not ask questions that they can simply say “Yes” or “No” to.

Personal Acceptance

Personal acceptance is absolutely critical if someone wishes to take back control of their life and choose recovery over their alcohol addiction.

Acknowledging that you have alcohol abuse issues can be a big step for someone to take. 

Additionally, understanding that the only way to get better is to stop drinking and that you need professional help and guidance to do this successfully can be equally challenging for someone, too.

Photo of a group of young people outdoor

Essential Strategies & Expert Tips

1. Self-Care

When someone you care about, such as a close friend, is struggling with alcohol abuse and dependence, it can turn into a highly emotional time for both of you. If you’re not careful, it can start to negatively affect your physical health and your mental wellbeing.

Therefore, it is absolutely essential that you take positive steps to look after yourself and practice the very best levels of self-care.

If you think you may need support to get through this stage in your life, reach out and get the help you need.

For example, turn to other trusted and close friends, people in your faith community, or use the services of a therapist. Additionally, join a group like Al-Anon, a free peer support group for families and friends dealing with a loved one’s alcohol abuse. 

Consider the advice we are given whenever we fly:

The “Airplane Oxygen Mask” Analogy

Every time we travel by airplane, the flight attendants share a variation of the same rule on oxygen masks: “In the unlikely event the airplane loses cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area. Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others.”

Exactly the same advice applies to helping someone you care about deal with a drug or alcohol addiction – before providing help and support to your friend, ensure you are safe from possible harm.
Listening to others facing up to and dealing with exactly the same challenges as you can provide an excellent source of comfort and support, and help you to discover and develop new coping tools and mechanisms

2. Needs & Wants

Remember, you have your own needs and wants. Do not allow your friend’s struggles to affect your own health and happiness. Schedule “me time” into every day.

Importantly, the situation with your close friend does not solve itself overnight. You need to be in for the long haul. Getting a healthy balance in your life now will pay dividends later.

3. Boundaries

One of the most important elements of supporting your friend to the best of your ability is the setting up and establishment of boundaries.

These are a set of rules which you will both abide by to ensure your friendship is not pushed beyond its limits by alcohol addiction.

These could include:

  • Not asking for or loaning money
  • No hiding alcohol or drugs in my home
  • No lying or being dishonest to others
  • No paying bail money or hiring a lawyer

4. Stress Management

We live in stressful times as it is without the added stress of difficult situations and the emotional concern they bring. To ensure you’re not being buried under stress, worry and anxiety, you need to find a way to release the pressure upon you.

This could be a walk, hike, or cycle ride in a nearby national park, taking part in a team sport, meditation, or something else you find particularly enjoyable.

Additionally, concentrate on your physical and mental health and wellbeing, so eat correctly, exercise regularly, and sleep well (and at reasonable times). All of these will help to keep any stress under control.

Gray Area Drinking – Jolene Park, TEDxCrestmoorParkWomen

In this engaging talk, Jolene Park shares her experience of gray area drinking — the kind of drinking where there’s no rock bottom, but you drink as a way to manage anxiety and then regret how much and how often you drink. Regardless of the cause of anxiety or discomfort in your life, and regardless of whether you’re using alcohol or another substance or behavior as an attempt to manage stress, Jolene uses her expertise as a Functional Nutritionist to explain the importance of replenishing your neurotransmitters in a comprehensive and consistent way, especially if you want to get off the stopping and restarting drinking merry-go-round.

Photo of a man using a computer and talking through phone

Support Services, Helpline & Resources in the U.S.

As we discussed earlier in this article, many heavy alcohol drinkers do so as a way to “self-medicate” for another issue in their lives.

Many problems with excessive alcohol consumption have their roots in something completely hidden from the outside world, and that could include being hidden from loved ones, such as family members, partners, and close friends.

As we have stated, the possibilities as to why someone self-medicates with alcohol are virtually endless.

However, below you will find a comprehensive listing of support services, helplines and resources available in the U.S. on a whole host of issues, ranging from medical problems, domestic violence and other trauma, to mental health and the various types of addiction.

 


U.S. Support Services, Helplines & Resources


Suicide Prevention


📞


800-273-8255 or Lifeline Chat


Text HOME to 741741


Abuse & Domestic Violence


📞


800-799-7233


800-832-1901


888-215-5555


800-422-4453


866-367-5444


888-PREVENT


800-843-5678

  • RAINN (national sexual assault hotline)


800-656- 4673

  • Eldercare Locator (public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging- to report elder abuse and neglect


800-677-1116


Directory of State Helplines


Drug & Alcohol Addiction


📞


800-662-HELP

[800-662-4357]


855-378-4373 or text CONNECT to 55753 


800-522-4700


800-784-8669


877–44U–QUIT [877–448–7848]


ADHD


📞


866-200-8098


Alzheimer’s & Dementia


📞


800-272-3900


866-232-8484


800-539-9767

(public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging)

800-677-1116


Autism


📞


800-328-8476


Bullying


📞


800-273-8255


800-852-8336


Caregiving


📞


855-227-3640


800-272-3900


866-232-8484

(public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging)

800-677-1116


877-333-5885


855-260-3274


Eating Disorders


📞


800-931-2237 (talk or text)


888-375-7767


Mental Health


📞

(substance abuse and mental health) 


800-950-6264

or text NAMI to 741-741

800-273-8255

800-662-HELP

[800-662-4357]

800-852-8336

LGBTQ+


📞


888-843-4564

800-246-7743 (Youth Talkline) 888-234-7243 (Senior Hotline)


866-488-7386 or text

START to 678678


877-565-8860


800-832-1901


Parenting


📞


855-427-2736


855-378-4373 or text CONNECT to 55753


866-243-2229


888-431-BABY

[888-431-2229]

Self-Harm


📞

(self-harm helpline)

800-DONT CUT

[800-366-8288]

Teenagers


📞


800-852-8336 or

text TEEN to 839863

  • Boys Town (crisis hotline for girls and boys)


800-448-3000 or

text VOICE to 20121


800-USA-KIDS

[800-872-5437]


800-RUNAWAY

[800-786-2929]

Veterans


📞


800-273-8255 (Press 1)


877-WAR-VETS

[877-927-8387]


855-260-3274

PLEASE NOTE: The online links provided above are not listed in the article’s “External Sources” section, as their inclusion here is self-explanatory.

 

Springboard Recovery logo

The Next Step: Professional Alcohol Treatment

SpringBoard Recovery is a professional drug and alcohol rehab center located in Scottsdale, Arizona (near Phoenix), and we continually help our clients successfully recover from a range of drug and alcohol addictions.

We have earned many years of full accreditation from the Joint Commission, which expects the highest national standards for addiction treatment, and we are committed to continually improving patient care.

Our intensive outpatient treatment program for alcohol use disorder (AUD) has enabled many clients to reclaim their lives from alcohol abuse and find the long-term and sustainable recovery they deserve.

We accept most major health insurance coverage, and clients travel from all over the U.S. to receive their personalized treatment with us, with many staying in our excellent recovery housing accommodation.

External Sources:

  • Digital Guardian. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). 2022. Available at DigitalGuardian.com.
  • Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Homepage. 2022. Available at SAMHSA.gov/.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Homepage. 2022. Available at DrugAbuse.gov/.
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism (NIAAA). Homepage. 2022. Available at NIAAA.NIHgov.
  • Partnership to End Addiction. Homepage. 2022. Available at DrugFree.org.
  • TED Talk. Sobriety Rocks – Who Knew! – Janey Lee Grace, TEDxNorwichED. July, 2019. Available at TED.com.
  • Al-Anon. Homepage. 2022. Available at Al-Anon.org.
  • YouTube. Gray Area Drinking – Jolene Park, TEDxCrestmoorParkWomen. November, 2017. Available at YouTube.com.


    Author: Gerard Bullen
    JANUARY 3, 2022

    Gerard has been writing exclusively for the U.S. substance addiction treatment industry for many years, providing a range of medically-reviewed work, including white papers, long-form, and short-form content articles, and blog posts for accredited addiction treatment centers. A member of the American Medical Writers Association, Gerard’s specific focus is substance addiction (an area that has impacted Gerard’s personal life in several ways), and he is particularly drawn to the topics of professional, evidence-based treatment, new and alternative therapies, and enabling readers to find their own sustainable, long-term recovery. Gerard lives and works in Maryland, U.S., he’s happily married, and a proud father. His interests include hiking with the family, reading fiction (from the classics to virtually all of the current NYT bestseller list), American and British film classics, and his beloved dogs, Toby and Coco, both rescued from the local pound.

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