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You Think Your Friend Or Family Member Is Drinking Too Much: What Now?

by Mary H. Dyer

If you suspect a friend or family member is drinking too much, you’re in a tough situation. You may be reluctant to confront the person about his drinking problem for fear of angering or alienating him or of making the matter worse.

You are probably afraid for your loved one’s safety and health, and you may feel angry about the effect her drinking has on you. Most likely, you feel sad.

You are not alone and there are resources that can help. Some coping strategies follow:

  • Talk to other friends and family who care about the person. Sometimes it helps to talk to others who share your concerns. Be careful not to gossip or divulge private information.
  • Schedule a time to talk to your loved one about her drinking problem. Choose a quiet, private location where you won’t be interrupted. Be sure the person is sober. If she is under the influence, she is likely to be unreasonable, angry, and defensive.
  • Explain why you are concerned. Be direct and calm, but don’t preach, lecture, beg, nag or coerce. Be careful to discuss the behavior – not the person. Be honest and tell your loved one how his drinking is affecting you. Stay focused and don’t allow yourself to be hooked into anger or guilt.
  • Be prepared. Do your homework ahead of time and research available resources such as inpatient treatment, residential rehabilitation, support groups, or counseling services. Encourage your friend or family member to seek professional help. Offer to accompany her to the first meeting or appointment.
  • Don’t cover up for your friend or loved one and don’t make excuses for his behavior. Allow him to experience the shame, embarrassment, regret, and other negative consequences of his drinking. Remember that his behavior is his responsibility, not yours. Removing the consequences diminishes how the drinking is interfering with his life and removes the primary reasons for change.
  • Look out for yourself. Decide how much time and energy you are willing to invest, and then set boundaries to avoid becoming exhausted, overwhelmed, or resentful. Tell your loved one why you aren’t spending time with them, especially when they are under the influence.
  • Seek help for yourself, even if your love one isn’t ready to accept treatment. Consider counseling or a support group such as Al-Anon to handle negative emotions and learn more coping strategies.
  • Remember that you can’t force the person to stop drinking. Although you can be supportive, only your friend or family member can make the decision to change.

Mary H. Dyer holds a Bachelor of Science in Sociology and Anthropology and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction. She also holds a certificate in Motivational Interviewing from the National Institute for Drug Abuse. Mary has worked in treatment and recovery since 1999 and has been writing about the subject since 2006. She is a resident of Portland, Oregon.

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