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I have a friend who is a functioning alcoholic. He's in his early thirties, lives with his parents in a small apartment and has a degree in electrical engineering (never practiced it).

At first, I didn't think his behavior was problematic. He is originally from Albania, where men tend to drink more, and make their own wines and other alcoholic drinks, so when he would pull a 500ml plastic water bottle full of wine out of his backpack and offer us some, I thought nothing of it. My boyfriend doesn't drink and I rarely drink but I would sometimes have a drink with him.

More recently, however, I started realizing that every time he would visit us, he would bring a backpack with him, in which he would store at least two or three of these bottles. I also started noticing that he would sometimes take his backpack in the bathroom which made me suspect he might be secretly sipping on some wine or other drink. Even though he knows my partner and I don't really drink, he keeps asking if we want some.

Coming from a Health related background, I am almost certain he's depressed and I feel it's my responsibility to help (I can think of a few reasons why he's depressed. If you think mentioning them might help please let me know). He's had to sleep over at our place a few times, because he was clearly unable to walk home or it got too late for him to use public transport.

He is a really nice guy and I care about him but I hate to see him suffer like that (whether he realizes it or not). I've talked to my partner about it but he doesn't want to get involved.

Ironically, our friend has mentioned that his father had to pay a huge fine for getting a DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) and he did sound concerned about his father's behavior.

Long story short, it's depressing seeing him like that and I feel that by not saying anything, I am enabling his behavior which makes me feel like a hypocrite. This has started to affect me more than I thought it would.

Question

  • How can I tell my friend that he's a functioning alcoholic? Can I even bring alcoholism up? Should I offer my help and how?

  • And if I shouldn't say anything, how can I detach myself from the situation without acting cold towards him?

    (I can't withdraw to another room without raising suspicion especially since he is used to me hanging out with my boyfriend and him. I can probably do it once or twice but no more.)

Some of the reasons I suspect he might be drinking about, past and present:

  • He was bullied as an overweight child of immigrant parents. He is skinny and tall now.

  • Ex-girlfriend hurt him but still sees her as a friend, when he's clearly hurt. I know he's hurt because he was really distressed when talking about her.

  • Perhaps lacks direction. Even though he has a good degree he just won't do anything with it.

Update

On a recent visit, and after all of us having some wine, my friend confessed to me that he should really cut down on the drinking. This was the first time he actually said something like that without anyone initiating a conversation about it. I immediately praised him for that and gave him a pat in the back and took advantage of the opportunity to tell him that if he ever needs my help or would like to talk about this, I'll be there for him. I feel more confident now to give him that letter.

  • 2
    what gives you the impression he doesn't know already? – Bradley Wilson Sep 1 '17 at 11:31
  • I think this goes beyond just interpersonal skills and into counseling. If you want to help then you probably need to talk to an expert first, lest you inadvertently become part of the problem. – Paul Johnson Sep 21 '17 at 18:40
  • @PaulJohnson Thanks. My friend already told me he is thinking of quitting. I did suggest counseling to him. – Tycho's Nose Sep 21 '17 at 18:41
27

Credibility

First, I'm glad you've asked this question and I'm hoping this answer can not only help you but someone else in your position. Plus, to give this answer an ounce of credibility I'll have to give you some background into what I know, what I would have wanted (even at the time) and some further reading to help you devise a plan of your own.

Alcohol isn't fun when taken beyond moderation. Trust me I know, I worked in bars full-time for 6 years and throughout that time I'd progressively got worse and worse to the point where I was turning up to work or uni drunk on a daily basis. Even when I did morning shifts, just to help with the hangover. "Hair of the dog" was my favourite hangover cure.

Throughout that time, I had lost a few friends and a girlfriend on the way, even then I knew I was bad with alcohol but I didn't recognise I was an alcoholic. "I'm just having fun" was a classic excuse I'd use to worried friends (which is probably why he offers you some, because he thinks it's fun. Though you don't), even when they carried me home, I still had no clue the impact my actions had, I would then repeat the same thing the next day. I always saw it as a recreational habit, "I can cut down anytime"; something I thought I could control. But, by the end of it all, it controlled me. Safe to say now though I've been clean for about 4 months. But, less about me. Let's see what you can do to help your friend.

The help I would have wanted

In my opinion, the worst thing you can do for him is to detach yourself, I know it's hard to keep him around like this. But clearly, he needs people like you in his life. It's all about routine, he's stuck in a routine of habitual drinking and it's a hard cycle to break out of. but he won't do that until he recognises he has a problem.

You see him once a week, which is a great start. I would consider you to be good friends.

Keep a diary

I would have loved for someone to do this for me.

  1. First, get a notebook (an A5 one will do).
  2. Write a letter (it should be at the very front) to him at the very beginning stating your concerns and how much his friendship means to you and how you want to help him out, so he doesn't feel attacked and if he does he can take it home to read. (only mention it from your perspective alone, if your boyfriend doesn't want to get involved. Don't involve him)
  3. In the pages ahead, write a diary from what you can remember of when he's been at yours or around you that concerned you. Take note of the date, how much you thought he drank and what he did that night that concerned you (i.e. pass out so he couldn't go home as an example). Do not use any negative undertones. Be as compassionate as you can be when writing this out, he may read this over and over in the future. It'll be a hard pill for him to swallow but he'll know in the end, he needs it.

One-to-one

This is where the diary will come in handy. You now have ammo to back-up how much you want to help and how much you care. Be as patient as you can with him, it'll be a lot to take in.

  1. Sit him down (sober) without your boyfriend anywhere to be seen if possible.
  2. Hand him over the diary and tell him how hard it is to do this and that you want to help as much as possible to help him get back on his feet.
  3. If he feels attacked, give him space and emphasise that you want him to consider it and you're there, whenever he needs you.
  4. If he's willing to talk about it, ask him how he's feeling. Use some advice from PhyschologyToday where possible.
  5. Devise a plan (i.e. ask him to keep a log of how much he drinks and see if theirs any improvement over weeks). You can't expect him to go cold turkey. It took me a year of cutting down to finally stop. Or maybe accept he doesn't stop fully, just limits himself. Whatever you come up with, just let him know you'll be there to help him along the way and to keep an eye on him.

Only do this when you feel comfortable, but as you've said in your question you won't be able to take it much longer. You're more than within your rights to put a drinking ban when in your house after you've done this, if it'll help him. But again I'll emphasise, be as patient as you can. It's a long journey ahead. I commend you for wanting to reach out and offer a helping hand.

Helpful tips

You know him better than I do and if you think he won't react positively to what I suggested above. Then I'll give you some further reading if you want to come up with your own plan.

4

If you believe that you're right about your friend's behaviour, and bad drinking habits, below are some advice from different institutes. They mainly say that you need to:

  1. Learn from alcohol abuse: what does it mean? Why does it happen? and so on...
  2. Offer care and support: listen, talk, help, and show them a way out, knowing it will be a very long process.
  3. Take action: either you [ help them go / take them ] to rehab' or cut relationship with the person.

Point #2 seems the hardest human-related part, and #3 the (saddest) last option though.

If you're willing to know and help, as it seems you're very concerned, and if this happened to me, I would really talk to a professional about that, first. He'll be the one that can tell you, give you the readings (if needed), tips, and help you deal with this.

In your country (?), as in many, there must be free 24/7 numbers you can call for advice. Tell them all you've seen so far, what happens, why you think he has a problem, and they'll help.

My advice: talk to an addictions' specialist, listen to his advice. He'll tell you how and when you should talk or take action. You can make mistakes if you are wrong or act in the wrong way.

You're going through a tough situation, wish you find help. And can help.


NOTE: emphasis mine.

From Health Line How to Help Someone with an Alcohol Addiction

  1. Learn about alcohol use disorder.
  2. Practice what you're going to say.
  3. Pick the right time and place.
  4. Approach and listen with honesty and compassion.
  5. Offer your support.

From American Addiction Center How to Best Support an Alcoholic

  1. Learn about alcoholism.
  2. Offer support for the person to make positive changes, such as choosing not to drink.
  3. Express love when articulating concern.
  4. Offer to help the person find treatment via medically supervised detox and a rehabilitation program.
  5. Know that the person cannot quit without help from addiction specialists.
  6. Know that recovery is an ongoing process.
  7. Set clear boundaries if the person refuses help.
  8. Offer support, such as driving the person to treatment, attending family therapy or individual therapy, exercising with them, etc.

From NCADD - National Council on Alcoholism Helping a family member or friend

Some Things You Don't Want To Do:

  • Don't Preach: Don't lecture, threaten, bribe, preach or moralize.
  • Don't Be a Martyr: Avoid emotional appeals that may only increase feelings of guilt and the compulsion to drink or use other drugs.
  • Don't Cover Up, lie or make excuses for them and their behavior.
  • Don't Assume Their Responsibilities: Taking over their responsibilities protects them from the consequences of their behavior.
  • Don't Argue When Using: Arguing with the person when they are using alcohol or drugs is not helpful; at that point they can't have a rational conversation.
  • Don't Feel Guilty or responsible for their behavior, it's not your fault.
  • Don't Join Them: Don't try to keep up with them by drinking or using yourself.

Read more from Discovery Place - Rehab Programs Helping an alcoholic family member or friend - Addict Help How To Help An Alcoholic - Psychology Today Dealing with an Alcoholic Loved One - Addiction.org How to talk to an alcoholic - Betty Ford Foundation breaking through denial

  • 2
    Thanks for taking the time to answer and especially for the last two sentences. I have caught myself drinking when I really didn't want to just because I didn't know what to do... – Tycho's Nose Sep 1 '17 at 13:34
  • 1
    @Tycho'sNose : very good point (from your feedback/update of the Q) for both of you. Maybe our answers will help you even more now, I sincerely hope so... – OldPadawan Sep 17 '17 at 10:31

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