How Do I Tell a Friend They Have a Drinking Problem?
When it comes to good advice, Jessica Lanyadoo has it in spades. The Mission’s resident psychic/astrologer/badass gets booked months in advance by San Franciscans seeking help with everything from figuring out their love lives to communicating with their pets. So we asked Jessica if she’d come on board to do a weekly advice column, Truth Talk, for The Bold Italic. If you have a burning question for Truth Talk with Jessica Lanyadoo, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, and check back on Wednesdays to see if she has an answer for you.
I have a few close friends who have problems with drinking too much. I haven't found a good way to bring it up without feeling like a judgmental nag or making them feel bad about it, especially because I'm a total non-drinker. It's gotten to the point that I've decided to not say anything and have stopped going out with some of them to avoid the issue. What can I do, if anything, to help them? -Amy
This is a major quandary; never was there a person who liked to be confronted about their drinking, so if you’re looking to win popularity contests, you should by all means continue to keep your opinions to yourself. If your ambition is to be a good friend, however, you have some serious thinking to do.
The pain in the ass about free will is that me, you, and all of our friends get to use it any damn way we please, even hella stupidly. It’s your friends’ prerogative to do whatever dumb things they want (if that is in fact what they’re doing), and you must be prepared to respect that, even if it means that you have to adjust your expectations and investment in them.
I notice you say that a “few” of your friends are drinking “too much.” So what’s a few? Three? Five? Or is it your whole crew? And what’s “too much”? Are their lives messed up because of their drinking? Are they doing harmful things to themselves or others? Are you concerned that they’re dehydrating before your very eyes? (Because let’s face it people, alcohol is terrible for the complexion.)
It’s possible that you and your community have grown in different directions and they have simply become career drinkers, which may not be super healthy or awesome by your standards, but isn’t an uncommon or demonic choice. But if your worries are valid, if there’s even a spot of truth to your concerns, then here’s what I think: a true friend speaks up. That’s it.
Friendship is not just about having people to chill with when times are fun, it’s about having people in this big, bad world who have your back.
If you really are close friends with these people then they deserve your respectful candor. You never know if they’re thinking that their drinking is a problem too. Maybe they just need someone to reach out and make it more real for them by talking about it.
The thing you absolutely should not do is judge. Don’t enable, fix, or reprimand your friends. Don’t tell them what they’re feeling, doing, or thinking. All you should say is your perspective. Own it that you don’t drink much, and so you likely see things differently than they do. Express your concern about whatever you think their drinking is doing to them (it may seem different in an unhappy way, more excessive, or more consistent), and ask them if they ever think that their drinking is problematic too. Asking questions about what your friend thinks and feels will keep the conversation a two way street and not an “I’m sober, superior, and worried about your drunk ass” monologue.
Let’s face it; it’s hard for people to hear criticism, especially when it hits home, so it’s unlikely that these chats will be particularly comfortable, even if they go well. Friendship is not just about having people to chill with when times are fun, it’s about having people in this big, bad world who have your back. If you’re in trouble, even if it’s just a possibility, it’s a huge deal to have someone who will go to bat for you. That’s what friends are for.
That said, it’s important that you bring this up only once. Don’t nag or get co-dependant about other people’s healing process (or lack thereof). Advocate for the wellness of your pals with honesty and compassion. Say everything you feel needs to be said, and then let them live their lives as they choose to. Free will may be a bitch but she’s a bitch we love here in ‘Merica.
Whatever you choose to do, Amy, you may have to find new some new friends. It’s a side effect of growing, I’m afraid. Sometimes we outgrow things and people we love, as much as that sucks. Be kind to all involved as these changes play themselves out.