The impacts of alcoholism are extremely far-reaching – excessive drinking doesn’t just affect the person who is doing it, it affects their friends, coworkers, family members and significant others. If you’re friends with someone who has been abusing alcohol it is likely taking a severe toll on your mental and emotional well-being as well. It’s devastating to watch someone you love struggle with something like alcoholism – something that is completely outside of your control. It can be especially difficult when it comes to being honest with or confronting a close friend. You might be deeply concerned, but afraid to express your concern for fear of ruining the friendship. You might be worried that your friend will push you away or convince yourself that this is just a “phase” that will come to pass. Alcohol abuse is not a “phase,” it’s a serious problem that can lead to huge and irreversible issues later on down the line. If your friend has been abusing alcohol, it is important that you do what you can to appropriately express your concerns. But how do you know whether or not your friend is actually struggling with an alcohol abuse disorder? Take a look at the following alcohol abuse symptoms to help you determine how severe the problem actually is.
Alcohol Abuse – Signs and Symptoms
The following list includes signs and symptoms to look for in a friend that you think might be abusing alcohol:
- Experiencing frequent blackouts
It isn’t uncommon for people to drink – friends tend to go out occasionally to bars and parties and have a few beers or a couple of cocktails. It really isn’t even uncommon for people to get too drunk on occasion. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are alcoholics, or even that they have drinking problems. If you have a friend who is constantly the most intoxicated person at the party to the point where he or she is out of control – and consistently blacks out – then an alcohol abuse problem is likely.
- Being dishonest with you about their drinking habits
A good indication of a serious problem is persistent dishonesty. Perhaps you make plans to go on a hike with your friend, and they cancel because they are “feeling under the weather.” You decide to bring them soup, but when you show up to their house you find them drunk on the couch. In many cases, those who are abusing alcohol will make up excuses and tell lies to protect their habit. Being dishonest about drinking habits might also come in the form of false promises. “I promise that I won’t drink tonight, I’ll be the designated driver.” After two hours out, however, your friend is too drunk to drive and you are forced to take an Uber home. If this story sounds familiar your friend may have a drinking problem.
- Problems at school or at work that are directly related to drinking
A good indication of a serious alcohol-related problem is declining performance at school or at work. Maybe your friend’s grades begin to drop dramatically, or he or she starts skipping school on a regular basis. Maybe your friend can’t keep a job for longer than several months. If your friend isn’t performing well and continues to make excuses for his or her behavior, alcohol abuse may be to blame. It isn’t uncommon for people who are struggling with alcoholism to show up late to shifts because they’re hungover or get caught drinking on the job. If you have a friend who makes excuses like, “I didn’t want to work there anyways,” or, “I wasn’t even drinking, my boss said she smelled alcohol on my breath but it was only mouthwash,” these are definitely red flags.
- Having other friends in your circle suggest that the friend you are concerned about might have a drinking problem
You might have formed your own opinions about a friend that you believe is struggling, but hearing the same thing from other people is a good indicator that your gut feeling is true. If you haven’t heard anything from your other friends you might want to bring it up casually. Say something like, “Hey, have you noticed that (fill in the blank) has been drinking a lot lately? I’m starting to get a little concerned.” Make sure that you’re always coming from a place of sincerity and care and never a place of gossip.
- Making up any excuse to drink alcohol, even when it might not make sense
Those who struggle with alcohol abuse will look for any excuse to get intoxicated. Maybe they aced a test or failed a test, or got hired for a new position or fired from their current job. If you’ve noticed this pattern try suggesting that you spend a day together doing something other than drinking. If your friend still makes up an excuse to drink then he or she is likely struggling with a drinking problem.
- Commit to stopping or cutting back with no (or very little) success
This is one of the predominant symptoms of alcoholism. If your friend promises that he or she will quit but goes back to drinking a day or two later, professional intervention is necessary. It will also be extremely difficult for someone struggling with an alcohol abuse disorder to cut back or limit him or herself to “just a couple” of drinks. If you’re at a party and your friend vows to just have one beer but ends up blacking out, he or she probably has an alcohol abuse disorder.
- Acting unlike they used to
Wanting to spend less time hanging out and more time alone is a good indication of a drinking problem. So are major shifts in mood or behavior. If your friend seems more agitated and irritable than normal or acts erratically for no apparent reason, it could be the result of problem drinking. If you have been carefully observing your friend’s actions and behaviors and you believe he or she is struggling with something serious, the next course of action is to sit down and have a conversation. Navigating such a conversation can be difficult, because you don’t want to upset your friend or drive him or her away. So how do you go about it? Below are several helpful tips – and remember, you can always reach out to us at Guardian Recovery Group for more detailed guidance and support.
How to Confront a Friend About Alcohol Abuse
Many people will say that an alcoholic won’t stop drinking until he or she is ready to do so. While this is partially true, you can expedite the process by having a conversation and presenting resources. As previously mentioned, this can be a tricky thing to do when a friend is involved. Make sure that you stay far away from accusations and come from a place of genuine concern. Rather than say, “You drink too much,” say something like, “I’ve noticed that your grades are slipping and you dropped out of track. I’m concerned about you, and I feel as if maybe it has to do with the amount you’ve been partying.” Be specific about certain instances where you’ve felt concern – avoid the big picture. Outline the conversation beforehand so that you stay on track and don’t go off on tangents. Even though the conversation will be difficult, remember to always stay calm, cool and collected and never raise your voice. For more tips on how to have a conversation with a friend who is abusing alcohol give us a call. We have resources available to help you get your friend help as quickly as possible, and we are able and willing to offer you all of the support and instruction you need along the way.
Reviewed for accuracy by:
Anna Marie Barrett LCSW, CYT
Anna earned her Masters of Social Work at Barry University in Miami, FL in 2017 and completed her internship in co-occurring disorders. Anna has a Bachelors of Art in Religious Studies from Naropa University and is a certified yoga and meditation instructor. Anna has received specialized training in somatic counseling with an emphasis on body-centered psychotherapy.