Helping a friend

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Helping a friend

How to help a friend

It may be difficult to know what to do if you are worried about someone's alcohol use. It may be particularly concerning if you think someone you are close to is drinking excessively and not telling you about it. It might be especially difficult if you try speaking to your friend about it and they deny it is an issue for them.

This fact sheet contains a few tips for what you can do if you suspect your friend has an issue with alcohol.

Acting Responsibly in an Emergency

In an emergency, you may hesitate to help your friend because you fear getting in trouble for a conduct violation. For example, if you and your friend are at a party, and you both are drinking when your friend suddenly passes out, you might want to help but are afraid you would be written up for underage drinking.

To encourage more students to be proactive during emergency situations, NJCU developed a Medical Amnesty Policy. Under this policy, students who act to help fellow students experiencing emergencies, would reduce the penalty for offenses such as underage drinking. The policy includes a set of guidelines that students need to follow to lessen the disciplinary impact.

Experimentation with Alcohol

It is not uncommon to experiment with alcohol. Drinking alcohol may not necessarily lead to problem use. There are ways for you and your friends to experiment safely to find out what your limits are. The first time you drink alcohol, it may be a good idea to try drinking in a safe area (such as a home or at a friend's place) where someone can help if you and/or your friend(s) drink excessively.

If you are concerned about someone's alcohol use, it may be helpful to calmly talk to them about your concerns. Engaging them in a confrontational way may only alienate them.

Helping someone you think is drinking excessively

Helping someone who is not ready to change their behavior may be difficult. The decision for them to get help is ultimately theirs. If you do choose to approach the person you are concerned about, please consider the following before doing so:

Make sure your intervention is well-timed: Don't confront the person when they have drunk excessively. Wait until the effects of the alcohol wear off and the person appears more clear-headed. 

Be informed: Make sure you have a general knowledge of some of the dangers of drinking alcohol to excess and how to drink at a low-risk level. By doing this, you can stick to the facts when talking with your friend. Speaking of the facts, know the facts! Present the person with detailed facts about how their drinking has caused problems.

Discuss alcohol issues openly: Let the person you are concerned about know that you are open to listening to them without being judgmental. This may encourage them to discuss their alcohol use with you. Also, stick with the "here and now" and don't argue with the person. Be genuine and sincere and don't take responsibility for their behavior. Most of all, help them by making the connection between drinking and their problems.

Don't expect change to be immediate: Be supportive, but don't help or "enable" them to continue with the problem. Be part of the solution!

What to expect from the person you are trying to help

  • Several or many excuses
  • Empty promises
  • Attempts to challenge or insult you
  • Attempts to change the conversation
  • Attempts to minimize or pass off the behavior as "no big deal"

What to do if someone says they have a problem

Acknowledging a problem with alcohol is a big step for the person with the problem. If someone has come to you saying they have a problem, you can assist them by finding out what help is available in your local area. The NJCU Health and Wellness Center, a local doctor, counselor, hospital, or community health center can help. 

Looking after yourself

Sometimes it is sensible to seek help and advice yourself if someone's behavior, due to an alcohol or drug problem, is impacting your life negatively. You may feel overly anxious or protective of the person with a problem, or their behavior towards you may be threatening or violent. Sometimes, you may get so concerned over someone else's alcohol consumption that you may not be looking after yourself.

It is important that you keep yourself safe and that you seek support and advice for yourself. It may be helpful for you to talk to someone you trust about what is going on and how you feel. This may be a family member, teacher, school counselor, clergy member, or youth worker. Speaking with an organization that specializes in alcohol and drug issues and treatment also may be helpful for working out how best to approach your concerns. Contact the NJCU Counseling Center to find out how they can help.