Worried about a friend’s drinking? Feel powerless to help? You’re not alone.
Even when you can see a problem, it’s not easy to get involved. You might be worried that your friend will tell you it’s none of your business, or you might be worried about looking like a downer.
According to Alcohol. Think Again, almost 40% of 12-17 year olds consumed alcohol in the last 12 months, with 5% drinking weekly. But don’t be fooled: just because something seems normal, doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous.
Drinking in adolescence comes with many problems: young drinkers are at a higher risk of memory loss and impact on brain development. They’re also more likely to be involved in violence, and unwanted sexual activity. In other words, the mistakes your friend is making now can be very dangerous, even fatal. So how can you help?
Recognise the signs.
It’s pretty easy to tell when somebody’s been drinking: slurred speech, clumsiness, etc. But people with an alcohol abuse problem may have learned to hide the more obvious signs. Alcohol abuse can come with addictive, compulsive drinking: having to drink in order to feel good. Alcohol abusers may also store alcohol away in hidden places, drink alone or in secret, or get grumpy when they’re unable to drink. They might have stopped doing the things they used to do with their friends, preferring to drink instead, and they might have “black outs”: periods where they’ve forgotten what they were doing while drinking.
Choose your timing wisely.
A great time to bring up your concerns is after your friend has experienced a problem relating to drinking. (On the other hand, if you’re worried about their safety, it’s best not to wait!) A bad time to talk about it is when your friend has been drinking: they’re less likely to be thinking rationally and less likely to take what you’re saying on board.
Talk about consequences.
The best way to phrase things is to focus on consequences: how the drinking is hurting them, or could hurt them or others. Talk about the negative effects of their drinking, and the distress that it causes them. Be careful not to phrase things as a lecture: this isn’t the time to be getting out a massive banner with the words “Intervention” on it! Make it clear that you’re there to help, not to attack their character.
Don’t take things personally.
These conversations can be hard to have, and it’s quite possible that it won’t go down well. Your friend may even get angry, deny everything, and tell you it’s none of your business. Denial and alcoholism often go hand-in-hand, but hopefully once things have cooled down, they’ll be able to consider what you’ve said and realise that you’re there to support them. Maintain a positive relationship and let them know you’ll be there for them.
Know who can help, and be part of the process.
Once your friend is ready for help, there are plenty of organisations out there who can offer support that can make a real difference – they shouldn’t have to go it alone, and while it can be difficult to talk to a stranger about your problems, these organisations can literally save lives. A strong network of supportive friends is also a crucial part of recovery, so let your friend know you’re there for them too if they need you.
Check out our new virtual reality film ‘Bottled Up’. Be amongst the action as JJ turns to alcohol while struggling with Year 12 exams, soccer and relationships. How will he get out of the rut?
Created in partnership with WA Screen Academy and supported by nib foundation.
Here’s a few stats to mull over, courtesy of the most recent National Drug Strategy Household Survey:
28% of road traffic injuries involved alcohol
Almost 20% of recent drinkers have undertaken risky activities while under the influence
Single-occasion risky drinkers (at least monthly) are 8x as likely to injure themselves or someone else
9.1% of males and 6.8% of females aged 12–17 exceed the adult guidelines for single-occasion risky drinking