Seeing a friend spiraling into self-destruction is never a pleasant experience. Not only will you be witnessing somebody you care about hurting him or herself, you’re also thrown into the uncomfortable position of having to decide what to do about it. It might not be the most appealing notion, but real friends look out for each other, and that means that you have to share your concerns if you care about your friend. Knowing how to do this is much more difficult, but there are many things to consider that should make the process go as smoothly as possible.
First, it’s vital that you separate your personal feelings about the issue from concern about your friend’s well-being. You may feel hurt and want to punish her or you might be tempted to use emotional appeals to convince her to do what you want her to. If you’re going to have a positive conversation, you can’t attack or lecture, you need to be doing it for the good of your friend and it needs to be clear that you’re on her side. Additionally, you might be over-estimating the extent of the problem (especially if you notice this in numerous friends), so it’s important to think objectively about whether the individual’s drinking is impacting their daily life, mood or well-being negatively.
Being Non-Judgmental and Empathetic
You’re much less likely to have a productive conversation if you lecture your friend. Psychotherapist and counselor Dr. Sheri Jacobson recommends thinking about how you’d like to be approached in the same situation, and stresses the importance of empathy. She points out that he is likely to feel defensive, and even possibly humiliated, and suggests using positive language and avoiding labels like “alcoholic.” Asking open questions (ending with “what do you think?” or something similar) rather than trying to funnel him into a yes or no response (or toward a specific answer) is good advice, and it can be extended more broadly too: try to ask open questions and get his viewpoint on things you’ve noticed as much as possible. You can underline that you’re only doing this out of concern, and that you’re not intending to force any action from him. Make it a dialogue rather than a monologue.
What if My Friend Won’t Quit Drinking?
You might get the pleasant surprise that your friend has been considering the problem too, in which case the conversation will probably be a positive one. However, this might not be the case: he or she could deny the problem, become defensive or otherwise be annoyed by the suggestion. While you can do your best to convey why you’re concerned and the potential risks involved, it’s vital you remember that you can’t fix the problem, and that it is notin any way your fault. All you can do is try to offer support and advice, and if he doesn’t want to heed your advice that is ultimately his decision. If he is going to come through the problem, it will be because he puts the effort in to make a change, not because his friend wouldn’t stop nagging him about getting sober. Say your piece and then leave the issue alone, unless your friend opens up and wants somebody to talk to. There’s a potential problem with that too, though, because while you want to be a good friend, you are not personally responsible for their recovery and you shouldn’t be intimately involved with the process. You’re just trying to be a catalyst, not the driving force behind her recovery, and being too helpful can easily lead to co-dependency.
What you have to do isn’t easy, but it’s the right thing to do. Even if your friend doesn’t feel that way at first, eventually it will become clear that you were only trying to help. If you approach the issue with tact and respect for their wishes, you’ll give your conversation the best chance of being a productive one.