In the Spotlight: Looking Out for a Friend
If you are concerned about your friend’s behavior around substance use, it can be tough to know what to do or say. Maybe you’ve noticed your friend drinking/smoking more? Or do you find yourself constantly having to take care of your drunk friend? Is your friend rude to you or others when they become intoxicated? These situations, among others, are not only harmful to your friend but you as well. It’s important to address these concerns, get them the help they need, and hold one another accountable.
How to Have a Conversation With a Friend
- Arrange a time to speak with your friend. Find a time when they are sober and preferably sooner than later, as your message will have more impact.
- Choose a private location to talk to your friend where they feel comfortable and safe.
- Open the conversation with something neutral:
- "Did you have fun at the event/party last night?"
- "How are you feeling today?"
- "I’m wondering if it would be okay to talk about what happened last night?"
- Express your concern.
- Use “I” statements when talking to your friend:
- "I care about you."
- "I’m a little (a lot) concerned about your drinking/substance use."
- "I’m worried about you getting hurt."
- Discuss specific problems that have occurred that make you concerned:
- “I noticed that you couldn’t go to class because you were too hungover.”
- “The things you said to me last night while drunk were very hurtful.”
- “We had to leave the event early because you were too intoxicated.”
- Offer support and listen. Try not to judge what they are saying. Reflect back to them and summarize their thoughts and feelings.
- Share how the behaviors make you feel and express any associated needs with those feelings:
- “I feel scared and worried in those moments when you are overly intoxicated. Would you be open to coming up with a plan for drinking in a safer way?”
- “I feel really anxious when you drink a lot because I feel responsible to make sure you don’t get hurt. Are you willing to talk about some resources that might help?”
- Assure them that you care:
- “You mean a lot to me. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
- “I know you have a lot on your plate. I want to help you get through this.”
- “If you even want to talk about anything, I am here to listen.”
- Use “I” statements when talking to your friend:
- Help connect them to resources*
If things get heated, remain calm to avoid pushing them away and respect their boundaries. Consider having the conversation on another day (e.g. “I’m sensing this isn’t the right time to talk about this. I’m wondering if there is a better time for you?") Most importantly, be patient with them. These conversations are not always easy and it may take time for them to be receptive. Oftentimes a person may need several people to express concerns before they themselves realize that the behavior is concerning. Even just mentioning your concerns is contributing to helping your friend build awareness.
If YOU need support before/after having this conversation with a friend (e.g. you want some help formulating what you might say for the specific circumstances, or the conversation didn’t go as planned and you want someone to talk to) check out the resources* listed below.
Got SUPER Cups?
SUPER Cups are a great resource for you and your friend. These cups measure hard liquor, wine, and beer to help you keep track of how much you’re drinking. Plus, they're reusable and recyclable! Get them free by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or come to the harm reduction supply pick up hours.
- Residential Staff (Undergraduate Student Support | Graduate Student Support) : Whether for a sustained pattern of abuse or a specific incident, your staff is a great resource. Here’s how they can help:
- RA/CA: Your Resident Assistant (Undergraduates)/Community Associate (Graduates) can provide support and offer educational resources to help you approach your friend. These staff are also trained to recognize signs of immediate distress. If you are concerned that your friend presents a short-term danger of harm to self or others, your staff can consult with professionals who have greater expertise.
- RF: Your Resident Fellow is there to support you and your RA in working with your friend. They coordinate efforts when multiple people are involved.
- RD: The Residence Director has specialized training, information, and a variety of approaches to help your friend regain control. Although you or your friend can go directly to the RD for assistance, RD's are usually consulted by your residence staff.
- Office of Substance Use Programs, Education, and Resources: Alcohol and Drug Educators in the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education offer health advising and consultation for students who want information or feedback on their substance use behavior. SUPER also meets with students who want to get support for talking to a friend or loved one about their substance use. Educational seminars and student group consultations are also available.
- Cardinal Recovery. Cardinal Recovery is an open and growing community ready to welcome you as you explore your past, present, and future relationship with substances. Any student, regardless of their recovery pathway, relationship, or status, is invited to participate in this community. This program offers weekly recovery meetings, mentorship, substance-free events, and more!
- Well-Being Coaching. A Well-Being Coach can help you make shifts in your beliefs and behaviors around substance use/abuse to improve your overall well-being, or simply offer support when you’re struggling. With them, you can clarify values, set goals and priorities, talk through challenges, and create your own vision for well-being. Book a session today.
- Counseling and Psychological Services. Counseling and Psychological Services offer a great and confidential place to talk through questions and concerns about drinking. If you feel comfortable, you can suggest to your friend that he/she consider counseling options.
- The Bridge: Trained peer counselors at the Bridge can begin a peer-to-peer conversation about a drinking issue.