Worried about Someone Else's Drinking?
Do you have someone in your life who you worry might have a problem with alcohol? While you can't make them change, there are still ways that you can be helpful.
What can I do about it?
Anyone who has ever cared about someone who drinks too much knows that alcohol use disorder doesn't just affect the drinker. For every person with a problem with alcohol, there are at least four people who are directly affected by their behavior. Friends, family, coworkers – all are potentially impacted by it.
So, what do you do about it? When you have someone in your life who you think has a problem, it can be difficult to know exactly what would be helpful. Some people in this position feel alone, embarrassed, or even worried that if they say anything they'll offend the person they care about. Most people don't even know what kind of help is available, and wouldn't even know where to begin to look for it.
These are some of the reasons that concerned people don’t intervene. But, keeping silent only allows the problem to continue.
So, can I help?
You can be helpful. Because you know this person, you may best know how to talk with them, what they care about, what matters to them. But, remember that people with drinking problems have the same needs as the rest of us: dignity, consideration, self-worth. Checking your judgment at the door is critical when talking with someone about their drinking; otherwise, they might not hear you at all.
Avoiding the Three Ps: Pushing, Preaching, and Pouting.
What isn't very helpful, however, is taking over. It's easy to want to work hard to fix the problem, to make it go away; the person you care about doesn't understand what they're doing to themselves, so you feel like it's up to you to figure it out. The more you push, preach, or pout, the less willing people are to take what you have to say seriously or without defensiveness.
What you can do now.
A few things to consider beforehand to make your conversation more effective:
- Learn more about the process of addiction. Do whatever you can to learn about addiction, alcoholism, alcohol use disorder, and so on - read, talk with people in recovery, do a few Google searches, whatever you like. This will help to minimize your judgment of them and make you more effective in talking with them.
- Attend an Alanon Meeting, or an open AA meeting. There is a wealth of information you can gain from just listening to people talk from their heart about their struggles.
- Educate yourself about the different types of treatment available in your community. Do this before you talk with the person you are concerned about. That way, if the person agrees to get help, you are prepared to take advantage of that opportunity.
- Get help for yourself. Being in a relationship with someone with an alcohol problem is stressful. Dealing with it by talking with a counselor could be critical in helping you move past your own anger, judgment, or grief, and this would make you more helpful to the person you care about with the problem. As an MSU employee or a partner of an MSU employee, you are eligible for six free counseling sessions through MSU's Employee Assistance Program.
The researchers at AlcoholScreening.org have put together a great article about helping someone close to you with a problem. They also have a page that provides tips about what to do, and what not to do, when intervening with someone with a drinking problem. In addition, you can read more about some of the local resources available in the East Lansing area to seek help.
This article comes from our section Thinking About Drinking, which is published by the Office of the University Physician as a way to identify drinking alcohol as both a health and wellness issue important to the entire MSU community, not just students. It’s just one of many health factors, including nutrition, exercise, tobacco use, and emotional health, which can affect health status, both in the long and the short term. To learn more about the program, visit the Thinking About Drinking section.