Talking to a Friend About Drinking or Drug Use

It's difficult to know when to say something when you're worried about a friend's drug or alcohol use. Ask yourself...

How does it affect you?

  • Have you ever had to take care of your friend because of her alcohol or drug use?  Does it happen often?
  • Have you ever felt embarrassed or hurt by something he said or did while intoxicated?
  • Have you lost time from classes, studying, or a job in order to help your friend cope with problems caused by her drinking or drug use?
  • Do you worry about your friend’s use on a regular basis?

How does it affect your friend?

  • Does your friend drink in order to get drunk?
  • Has your friend ever been unable to remember things she said or did while drinking (blacked out)?
  • Has your friend ever received medical care for something related to drinking or drug use? Have you noticed a decline in personal health or appearance?
  • Is your friend doing dangerous things because of drugs or alcohol?
  • Has your friend ever wanted to cut down on drinking or drug use?
  • Does your friend slam drinks?
  • Does your friend ever drink to steady his nerves or to get rid of a hangover?
  • Has your friend ever been in trouble because of drinking or drug use?
  • Does your friend find it necessary to drink or get high in order to enjoy a party?
  • Are drugs or alcohol affecting your friend's academic performance?
  • Does your friend drink to escape from or to cope with problems or stress? Does she use drugs or alcohol to avoid painful feelings?
  • Has your friend ever had a frightening experience with drugs but continued to use?
  • Is your friend annoyed when people criticize his drinking?
  • Does your friend drink or use drugs in an environment that you would rather avoid? Has there been a change in your friend's peer group?
  • Does anyone in your friend's family drink to excess regularly? Do any close relatives have a drinking or drug problem?

The more times you answer yes, and the more frequently each factor is true, the more likely it is that your friend has a problem. A caring conversation can help your friend learn about how his or her behavior affects others and can help your friend get the help she/he needs.

Remember, needing help is not the same as being an alcoholic or an addict. Uncontrolled alcohol or drug use is not the only sign that someone needs help. Many people can stop whenever they choose, even for long periods of time. The important question is what happens to them when they drink or use drugs. Do they do things they regret later: get in fights, destroy property, drive under the influence, or have unplanned or unwanted sex?

There are many ways to help someone who's having trouble with alcohol or drugs. Some people just need the wake up call of your honest opinion; others can benefit from professional help to make changes in their behavior. Still others need professional help to maintain complete abstinence through rehabilitation programs and/or recovery programs. At Brown there's help to know which one is right for your friend.

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Before you talk to your friend

  • Learn about drug and alcohol abuse. You can talk to any of the resources listed below without giving your friend's name.
  • Prepare a list of specific problems that have occurred because of your friend's drinking or drug use. Keep these items as concrete as possible. "You're so antisocial when you drink" will not mean as much as, "When you were drunk, you made fun of me and were mean to me. You hurt me." Bring the list with you and keep the conversation focused.
  • Choose a private location where you can talk without embarrassment or interruption. Your friend is more likely to hear you in a restaurant booth than at a large table in the Ratty. A talk in your room with the TV and music off will be more successful than one in your friend's room where he can easily create distractions while you talk.

How to talk to your friend

  • Talk to your friend when she is sober. The sooner you can arrange this after a bad episode, the better. Your message will have more impact while your friend is hung over than it will a week later.
  • Restrict your comments to what you feel and what you have experienced of your friend's behavior. Express statements that cannot be disputed. Remarks like, "Everyone's disgusted with you," or, "Lily thinks you have a real problem," will probably lead to arguments about Lily's problems or who 'everyone' is. Avoid such generalizations.
  • Convey your concern for your friend's well being with specific statements. "I want to talk to you because I am worried about you," or "Our friendship means a lot to me. I don't like to see what's been happening."
  • It is important to openly discuss the negative consequences of your friend's drinking or drug use. Use concrete examples from your list. "At the party I was left standing there while you threw up. The next day you were too hung over to write your paper. It makes me sad that these things are happening in your life."
  • Emphasize the difference between sober behavior that you like and drinking behavior that you dislike. "You have the most wonderful sense of humor, but when you drink it turns into cruel sarcasm and you're not funny any more. You're mean."
  • Be sure to distinguish between the person and the behavior. "I think you're a great person, but the more marijuana you smoke, the less you seem to care about anything."
  • Encourage your friend to consult with a professional to talk about his/her alcohol problem. Give them the resources listed below. You can offer to find out more about the resources or go with them to an appointment.
  • If you have a friend or family member you really trust, talk to them about what you’re seeing. Their involvement may help.

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What NOT to do

  • Don't accuse or argue. If your friend gets angry or provokes you, remind yourself to remain calm and to stay focused on your goal -- to be helpful by honestly expressing your concerns. "I understand that you don't like some things I do, either; we can talk about them later. My point now is that when you drink, you're doing dangerous things."
  • Don't lecture or moralize. Remain factual, listen, and be nonjudgmental. Remarks like, "You've been acting like a slut," will only elicit defensive anger. Instead say, "You've been hooking up with people you don't like and doing things you regret the next day."
  • Don't give up. If your friend seems resistant, you can bring it up later or let them know you're there for them if they ever want to talk.

Resources at Brown

Brown Emergency Medical Services (EMS) 401.863-4111
Emergency response available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Click here to find out what happens when you call EMS.

Dean of Chemical Dependency, Kathleen McSharry 401.863-2536
The Dean of Chemical Dependency provides comprehensive academic and social support in non-clinical settings for Brown students, faculty and staff affected by alcohol or drug abuse. You can contact her by email at Kathleen_McSharry@brown.edu.

BWell Health Promotion 401.863-2794
Confidential appointments for drug or alcohol concerns for Brown students. Located on the third floor of Health Services.

Health Services 401.863-3953
Confidential walk-in or appointment health care for Brown students. Located at the corner of Brown and Charlesfield streets. Students can walk in to Health Serice and get medical care for intoxication.

Early Sobriety Group
A group for Brown students in recovery. The group's aim is to help students develop the social supports necessary for sustained recovery.

Counseling and Psychological Services 401.863-3476 
Confidential appointments for alcohol or drug concerns and for adult children of alcoholics. Located on the fifth floor of J. Walter Wilson.

Resources in Providence

Alcoholics Anonymous
Confidential and anonymous twelve-step recovery program for people with drinking problems. Meetings near Brown: 5:00pm Mondays and 5:30pm Thursdays in the Common Room of Alumnae Hall. For more meetings and information, go to the AA web site. Some groups listed are specifically for young people.

Marijuana Anonymous
MA uses the basic 12-step recovery program for people who are addicted to marijuana. Online groups are available, as well as publications, frequently asked questions and 12 questions to determine if marijuana is a problem in your life. The literature section has stories by teens, help for loved ones of marijuana addicts, and the dangers of cross addiction. There is a Marijuana Anonymous meeting on Tuesdays from 8-9pm in the Common Room of Alumnae Hall, 190 Meeting Street. For more information, call 401.829-2613.

Narcotics Anonymous 
Confidential and anonymous twelve-step recovery program for people with drug problems. Meeting near Brown: 7:30pm Thursdays, Commons Room of Alumnae Hall. For more meetings and information, go to the NA website.

Al-Anon/Alateen  
Confidential and anonymous twelve-step program for friends and family members of people with drinking problems. Some groups are specifically for adult children of alcoholics (ACOA). Al-Anon meetings near Brown: 12-1pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays at St. Stephen's Church Parish House (on George Street between Brown and Thayer). For online Al-Anon groups, follow this link. For other meetings in Rhode Island, click here.  

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Disclaimer: BWell Health Promiotion is part of Health Services at Brown University. Health Promotion maintains this site as a resource for Brown students. This site is not intended to replace consultation with your medical providers. No site can replace real conversation. Health Promotion offers no endorsement of and assumes no liability for the currency, accuracy, or availability of the information on the sites we link to or the care provided by the resources listed. Health Services staff are available to treat and give medical advice to Brown University students only. If you are not a Brown student, but are in need of medical assistance please call your own health care provider or in case of an emergency, dial 911. Please contact us if you have comments, questions or suggestions.