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I have a close friend who has had a drinking problem for a decade. She has lately moved into full alcoholic mode. I am not sure her family understands the severity — she is hiding certain aspects of her drinking, not surprisingly. It has gotten very serious.
Do I talk to her directly? Do I go directly to her significant other? Do we do an intervention? Have you ever dealt with this situation?
Thanks, Moving On
Dear Moving On,
This situation understandably presents multiple issues — the most difficult is that, in order for your friend to change, she must seek help of her own volition. But, this doesn’t mean that as your friend you must passively watch her continue down a negative path.
Let me remind you readers that I am by no means a professional on this subject and there are people who do specialize in alcoholism. I, personally, have encountered this situation indirectly to a variety of degrees — alcoholism presents itself in a range of forms and, as DC culture includes so much drinking, is probably more common than many of us are willing to admit.
It can be as simple as getting carried away more frequently than one should, straddling the line that separates social and compulsive drinking, or as complex as missing opportunities to grow socially or professionally because of an alcohol problem — even leading to violence.
“Full alcoholic mode” and hiding her drinking seems to suggest to me that she cannot control her drinking but also indicates that a part of her understands that she has a problem.
As I haven’t dealt with this issue as much post-college (where both alcohol and resources for helping your friends are equally plentiful), I read up on both Alcoholics Anonymous as well as the National Institutes of Health and their opinions on intervention. While AA suggests that an alcoholic is in denial and will often refuse help until they hit rock bottom, your friend’s case to me sounds similar to what the NIH cites as recognition of her problem with alcohol coupled with the fear of social stigma and unwillingness to abstain.
Your job as her friend — and yes, perhaps with the help of her significant other and other friends and family — is to make an alcohol-free environment and lifestyle one that is more rewarding, satisfying, and positive. Promote activities together that steer totally clear of drinking. And perhaps when the time is right, suggest in the gentlest way possible that she seek outside help.
I would suggest looking up different resources for friends and family of alcoholics, for example the CRAFT program, which stands for Community Reinforcement and Family Training. The program seeks to not only help your friend, but to help you, too, by encouraging positive communication strategies and suggestions of treatment. As the model states, it follows studies that have illustrated that motivation works better than confrontation. And it sounds like you’re looking to move on as well after ten years of watching your friend’s devolution.
Much of what you decide to do depends on how far gone you think your friend is. My advice is to keep your lines of communication open, and if you do decide to conduct an intervention, steer clear of accusatory and demeaning statements. Stay positive and supportive and hope that your friend will decide to seek change on her own with your efforts and love backing her up.
Note to readers: Under DC Law, Chelsea Rinnig is not licensed to practice, and does not represent that she practices: psychiatry, psychology, social work or professional counseling of any kind. This column is written for entertainment purposes only.