In a feature I call “Your Turn,” in which you, the readers, get to answer the question, I’m presenting the following letter without commentary from me:
We strongly believe that this friend (who is in her late twenties) has increasingly severe social anxiety, and has been dealing with it via alcohol. We’ve seen her steadily increase her drinking over the past three years, and we’ve noticed a pattern where she drinks heavily at the small number of social functions she does attend. Lately, the amount of alcohol she drinks is not proportionate to the occassion (i.e, getting pass out drunk when I cooked dinner for us and two others at my house). She avoids most other larger social gathering all together, bailing at the last minute, or if she does go she leaves in the middle of it. When she comes to visit us or one of us goes to see her (she lives a few states away), she’s distant, not interacting much, and always has either a drink or her cell phone in her hand.
So now, I just don’t know how to tell her I’m worried. I’m over the dissapointment of her bailing on wedding plans, but what can we do to help? She lives a few states away, has no significant other and recently moved to a new apartment. When I saw her two months ago, she got so drunk in a low-key setting that she was sick the next day and skipped a high-cost sporting event we had tickets to. Her slide into a (suspected) bottle of wine a night has worried us more and more. But she’s hiding behind an ultra marathon-runner’s facade of being healthy, so I know she will be so defensive or won’t come clean as to what’s really going on.
I worry about and miss my fun friend. — Worried about Bridesmaid
bethany March 5, 2012, 9:18 am
Unfortunately, I have no suggestions… it sounds like a really awful situation, and you sound like a good friend for being concerned for her. Does she have any close friends where she lives now that you could talk to?
artsygirl March 5, 2012, 9:38 am
I am so sorry to hear about your friend. Is it possible that she has an undiagnosed mental illness? I know it sounds extreme, but people in their 20s and early 30s will sometimes start manifesting symptoms of mental illness when there had previously been no signs. Also, I know multiple people suffering from psychosis who attempted to self medicate through drugs and alcohol rather deal with the stigma of mental illness.
Unfortunately, if she is not willing to seek help there is little you can do personally. You mentioned that you have been close to her for a number of years – do you also know her family? If so, it might be smart to contact a parent or sibling who are closer to her and bring up your worries. Finally, if all else fails, I would sit her down and calmly voice your worries. I would not do this in public and I would do it one on one due to her social anxiety. There are a lot of intervention sites which offer guidelines on how to bring up your concerns without sounding like you are attacking her which will cause her to be defensible. If you do talk to her, I would expect to hear denials and possibly know that the friendship might be damaged.
caitie_didnt March 5, 2012, 10:15 am
What a crappy situation, LW. The “amount of alcohol consumed is not proportionate to the social situation” thing is a big, flashing, neon sign that your friend’s alcohol consumption is not at a healthy level.
You could try contacting your local Alcoholics Anonymous chapter- they are a great resource for parents/children/spouses/friends who’ve been affected by a loved one’s drinking and could give you some tips on how to approach your friend. Contacting her parents or siblings may also be a good idea, but just be aware that they could 1). “tell on you” to your friend, resulting in her cutting off contact or 2). be totally unaware or in denial of what’s going on.
Lastly, like artsygirl said: people with addictions and people with mental health issues need to WANT to get help. Until your friend recognizes that she has a drinking problem, there is little more you can do besides being a good friend. However- that doesn’t mean neglecting yourself, and you have the right to distance yourself if her behaviour becomes too much for you to handle.
dabbler March 5, 2012, 11:11 am
They typically have Al-Anon groups for family and friends. The one I went to, you could tell your story and commiserate with people that understood, but they refused to give any advice. I mean, I can kinda understand why they do that, but that’s what I went there for. I had people that I could vent to, but they didn’t have any more insight than I did. I was looking for help, and didn’t find it there. And the chanting. I just can’t get behind the chanting.
bagge72 March 5, 2012, 11:35 am
Yeah when I went to the family one when I was a kid, it was pretty much just telling your story so you could have somebody there who would listen, and then go around and tell the other kids something you liked about them. After a little while my sister, and I got kind of sick of it, but have a laugh about today, with how akward it was.
Eljay March 5, 2012, 11:57 am
I completely agree. I needed advice, how to deal with it all, etc. But all I was allowed to do was – vent. And listen to others vent. It is a support group in the sense that you’re not alone, many stories & scenarios to hear, but nothing in the way of actually helping me deal with my brother’s alcoholism. I didn’t find it helpful at all. And I totally agree with the chanting.
EricaSwagger March 5, 2012, 10:21 am
This is so hard. It’s impossible to help people who don’t admit they have a problem or don’t want your help. I think you should definitely try to talk to her, but not all of you at once. Don’t try and go to your friend as a group and tell her you’re all worried about it. She’ll get really defensive because you’ve all been talking about her behind her back. [Whether it’s to help her or not, talking about her life in a group setting is uncool and she’ll definitely take it the wrong way.]
I have always believed it’s easier to communicate though writing. A conversation in person is tough when you have a lot to say; the other person can chime in and throw off your train of thought. The other person can respond in a way that angers you or might even change how you feel.
Write her a letter or an email. Tell her all of what you told us; that you’re worried about her based on specific examples of odd behavior. Tell her you want her to know you’re here for her and that she can tell you anything or come to you if she needs anything, any time. Make sure you also mention how much you miss her. You miss all the fun everyone used to have, etc. Be open and honest with her, but remember, in reaching out to her, you could offend her. She may be pissed that you’ve taken a personal interest in her well-being. You need to remember that she’s not you and you can’t be sure how she’ll react. If reaching out to try to help her is important enough that you’d be willing to make her mad to get through to her, then you’re truly her friend. Think about whether or not you can risk upsetting her before you hit send.
It’s her life. So whether she responds openly or angrily or doesn’t respond at all, you have to accept it. At least she’ll know, after reading it, that you’ve got her back and want to help her. When/if she eventually starts to feel like she’s got a problem, she’ll remember that you reached out to her and offered help.
savannah March 5, 2012, 10:38 am
“It’s impossible to help people who don’t admit they have a problem or don’t want your help.” I Agree with this a lot but just wanted to say that there are some people out in the world when faced with their carefully constructed non-reality exposed as fooling no one do then realize that things have gotten out of control. Its hard because its not like these people have a label on their forehead but interventions do work for a select population with the right disposition. LW, you mentioned that “she’s hiding behind an ultra marathon-runner’s facade of being healthy, so I know she will be so defensive or won’t come clean as to what’s really going on.” so perhaps it really is a wait and see game with your friend. But if you are close with her family are really concerned I would reach out to them. It’s a dangerous game but having been though 3 of my friends going to rehab in the past year, I was more disappointed with myself the times I did not speak out and helped to prolong their unhealthy behavior and denial. Of course when they got to rehab it was up to them to make the changes necessary, no one can force you to change but sometimes people can help to shift the lens by which they see their world.
SweetPea March 5, 2012, 4:02 pm
I like this advice. I often turn to writing when I have something big I need to say. I like to be able to say all that I need to before I am interrupted or like you said… the other party says something to change the way you feel.
I recommend going about this in as empathetic way as you possibly can. Even though you have (probably) never been through a substance abuse problem yourself, you can still approach her with things you have faced. Life can be stressful for everyone. We have all faced times where we felt hopeless or at the end of our rope… and we all have different methods of coping. If she knows you are on her side and that you understand, maybe it will be easier for her to take.
Monica M March 5, 2012, 10:45 am
I think there is more going on than just alcoholism. You should try to talk to her and express your concerns without accusations. I would suggest you might first approach her about a possible mental problem. Don’t say you think she is mental but that you think she should talk to a psychiatrist. Alcoholics are very resistant to discussing the drinking. If you can express that you are worried and think she needs to talk to someone, then maybe eventually all of issues will come out. You need to try and talk to her when she is not inebriated. I have had experience with talking to an alcoholic friend and it will not go well if she isn’t sober. I agree with artsygirl and if she has family they could be the best option, however alcoholism and mental illness are genetic so they may be as bad off as her.
rangerchic March 5, 2012, 10:54 am
I really like Erica’s advice on writing a letter. It shows you really area concerned and care for her since you took the time and forethought to write an actual letter. She will also read it without having to be on the defensive about what she is experiencing. And it might give her a chance to really think about it and reflect on everything in the letter. This doesn’t mean she’ll come out and ask for help or anything. May be then the letter writer can call a few weeks later and say something along the lines of “did you get my letter? Do you want to talk about it?” and take your cues from your friend. You can’t force her to get help. She has to be willing. I wish you the best of luck. Your friend is lucky to have a group of friends who care.
dabbler March 5, 2012, 10:54 am
Sit her down one-on-one and tell her you’re worried about her, in a non-confrontational and non-judgmental manner as possible. I can almost guarantee you it’s not going to go smoothly, and she probably won’t take it well. But look at it this way, are you being a better friend to her by telling her something she won’t want to hear, or by keeping your mouth shut (when she obviously needs help) for fear of hurting her feelings?
Keep in mind though, if she does lash out, it’s really not about you. She’s most likely feeling a lot of anxiety and shame that can manifest as anger when confronted. Don’t push it if she’s not ready to talk. Tell her you’re worried, and you love her, and leave it at that. You can’t force it, and you can’t fix it.
The most valuable things I learned in my experience are, set boundaries for yourself, and don’t carry the burden. Be there for her, but don’t let it take over your life.
TaraMonster March 5, 2012, 11:00 am
I have a few questions. Has your friend always had a tendency towards substance abuse? Has she always had social anxiety? You say you miss your fun friend, which leads me to believe she’s not always been this way and her personality has made a dramatic shift. You say that this increase in her alcohol intake started to escalate about three years ago.
If I were you, I’d be wondering if something traumatizing happened to your friend three years ago. I don’t mean to say that something definitely happened to her, but her behavior sounds as if she may have been sexually assaulted. Marathon running too can be one place where she pours her energy in order to shut out whatever it is she’s feeling. Perhaps I’m projecting, but I went through this myself, though my drinking thankfully didn’t escalate too much before I got myself help (therapy). I still have to be cognizant of the fact that when uncomfortable feelings and memories surface drinking is NOT a good idea.
I don’t know if this will help, but you should approach her with concern rather than accusations. It sounds like obvious advice, but when someone is defensive it makes the world of difference. Visit her and ask if there’s anything she wants to talk about because you noticed lately she seemed down. Remind her that she can trust you and above all, DO NOT judge her or let her feel judged at any point. That will put you on the fast track to getting shut out. One of the first people I told about what happened to me reacted very poorly- she completely shut down and wouldn’t hear it. I’ve never forgotten her reaction. If she’s able to open up to you about WHY she’s drinking, then she’ll trust you enough to follow your recommendations for therapy and/or rehab, which she needs regardless of whether she’s been assaulted or not. Good luck. It sucks to be in this position, but it sounds like your friend really needs help right now.
I'm the LW March 6, 2012, 10:24 am
Tara, I added a comment below, but I’m replying up here because your thread really struck me.
A female family friend of mine who is a psychologist also thinks that she was sexually assaulted or something similar. Despite her daily high-mileage, intense runs, she doesn’t shower much at all. She has very self-destructive behavior when it comes to guys, too (one time, she invited a guy she was newly dating over to watch a hockey game w/ me and my bf, and she got so drunk she was falling off the couch. This was, again, a 2-beer evening for the rest of us. This was 2 years ago)
Per your questions, when I first met my friend (6+ years ago), we were in college, and her drinking appeared to be right in line with what everyone else was doing at the time, so I don’t really have a good barometer for that. But I can say with certainty that she drinks much more now than she did then, even as we are approaching thirty and most of us don’t drink like we did in college.
I also can’t say if she has always had social anxiety — I am just guessing now that that is what she’s masking w/ the alcohol. She had a semi-serious boyfriend for a few years (three years ago) and seemed to use him as an excuse to not go out.
Addie Pray March 5, 2012, 11:00 am
I think you should reach out to her – you, individually, not your group of friends – and just ask her how she is doing. How does she feel? What’s going on with work? Is she happy with work? Her coworkers? Her career goals? How is her family? What’s going on? And how she, health-wise? Sleeping well? Feeling good? What has she been doing? Reading a lot? Watching a lot of tv? What?… Maybe if you talk about these things she’ll open up and you can make some progress, I’m sure the drinking will come up naturally … What I wouldn’t do though is call her up and say “we think you have a drinking problem” or something like that.
silver_dragon_girl March 5, 2012, 11:11 am
I think this is a great idea. How often do you usually talk to your friend? Do you usually phone, or text/email/facebook? I think starting off with talking to her more often, on the phone, would be a great first step.
I have gone through some hard times in my life, and what helps most of all is feeling like I have people who love me and care about me. Even if we don’t talk specifically about what’s going on, it’s always nice to catch up with friends and family. Plus, the closer you get, the more comfortable she might feel telling you about what’s going on.
You could try this for a few months and see where it gets you, and then maybe if she’s still acting the same way, bring it up. But I agree with Addie Pray, avoid sounding accusatory at all costs.
lets_be_honest March 5, 2012, 11:35 am
Yes. Do this.
CatsMeow March 5, 2012, 11:50 am
I agree with this approach. I don’t think you should focus on the drinking at this point, but leave the door open for her to be able to approach you about the root of her problem(s). Maybe she wants to reach out to you, but doesn’t want to “burden” you since you’re in the midst of wedding planning and such.
ktfran March 5, 2012, 1:17 pm
I really like this advice. And it’s not because I met you on Saturday Addie Pray.
Talking to someone about how much they drink is a very tricky subjust, I think. And even if you don’t accuse the friend of being an alcoholic, the person could easily jump to that conclusion. Opening up dialog about the friend’s life, etc. is a great way to find out what’s going on and I’m positive the drinking thing will come up naturally. Now if this girl is hurting herself, or others, I might take a different approach. I don’t get that from this letter though.
Addie Pray March 5, 2012, 1:19 pm
Hi buddy! I had so much fun on Saturday. Best. Meetup. Evah.
lets_be_honest March 5, 2012, 1:21 pm
How was it???? Did “Wendy” turn out to be a middle aged man like you questioned? Who went…details, I need them!
Addie Pray March 5, 2012, 1:31 pm
In attendance were: me, callmehobo, ktfran, herself, ladyinpurple, lurker 1, lurker 2, lurker 3, lurker 4, and Wendy. It was super fun to meet Wendy! I wanted to poke her to see if she was real but I thought she might not like that. So I refrained.
silver_dragon_girl March 5, 2012, 2:01 pm
All these people should now register under “lurker #” so we know who they are.
Iwannatalktosampson March 5, 2012, 4:24 pm
Addie! Have you put your notice in at work? How’s that whole situation going?
Addie Pray March 5, 2012, 4:33 pm
I put in my notice to put in notice. It’s been a slow process but the end is nearing. Could be as soon as the end of the month … It’s all up in the air. And I’m surprisingly calm about it. My mother, on the other hand, not so calm…
Iwannatalktosampson March 5, 2012, 4:57 pm
Can I ask what exactly you told them? Like normally you resign from a job when you have a new one lined up, but in this case you are just really unhappy with where you are….did you tell them that? Or had did you go about letting them know without offending them?
Addie Pray March 5, 2012, 5:21 pm
Well, here’s what I did — and this isn’t necessary smart or the best route for everyone — but for me it was. I have a really good relationship with my boss and not being straight up with him was eating away at my soul.
So we were out of town for work in December — it was the eve of our jury trial, actually – and we were at dinner. He started talking about how bummed he was that he hadn’t seen his wife in a week because she was out of town and then now he would be out of town for a week and about how you really have to love what we do to put up with this job and blah blah blah. And that’s when I said “actually, I kind of want to talk to you about that but I thought I’d do it on the plane ride home *after* and not on the eve of trial.” Let’s talk now, he said.
So I ordered a drink and we proceeded to talk for 2 hours about how for the last couple of years I have been very unhappy (true) but that it has taken me awhile to figure out it is big firm work that is making me unhappy because I love our group (true) but that this really isn’t for me. I had wanted to tell him for several months but we had a big summary judgment motion to get through in another case and then that trial. And I didn’t want to make him freak out and think I would leave him high and dry in the middle of that work, so I waited.
He asked what I wanted to do and I said I don’t know. I said I was not sure if I was ready to hang up my law license and wanted to give in-house counsel a shot, but that those jobs were few and far inbetween. I told him I’d really like to take time off to travel and think about life and maybe go back to school, maybe move — I didn’t know.
My boss was completely understanding. But he was worried about me leaving without anything lined up so he encouraged me to lighten my workload at work and really look hard for a new job.
And voila. That’s where we are. I had a great interview last week for an in-house job. I really hope I get the job. But if I don’t, I really am ready to move on. … I’ve been doing this for 7 years and I have been very unhappy for all 7 of those years. It really just took me a long time to figure out what was making me unhappy and what exactly about the job I didn’t like. (I guess I’m slow that way.) But through a year of therapy and seeing a special career therapist and taking some career tests and whatnot, I’ve learned: this job is not for me. And the money is not worth it.
Addie Pray March 5, 2012, 5:22 pm
There, I wasn’t stingy with that “life goal” response, was I? 😉
JK March 5, 2012, 5:32 pm
I´m glad you had the chance to talk it out well with your boss, and it´s great that he was so understanding about it!
Voila is currently my 4 y.os favourite word (she likes to think of herself as a linguist :))
Addie Pray March 5, 2012, 5:32 pm
I mean, I never said that I wanted to leave immediately but I was also prepared for him to let me go immediately. I thought maybe I’d take a month to wrap up work and leave. But he encouraged me to take a few — hence, the end of March. … Which is like tomorrow. Kind of making me nervous that I don’t have anything lined up but also not at all. I’m looking forward to some time. I may go stay with a brother in Southern California for awhile and help watch his kids for room and board. That may encourage me to get a job quickly. … Or I may go eat, pray, love all over the world. I have a lot of savings so I could be ok for a few years if needed. I mean, I hope to not take THAT long figuring things out, but if I need to…
Iwannatalktosampson March 5, 2012, 5:37 pm
Haha that was not stingy at all. Thanks for sharing. I’ve felt that way before – where I love the people I work with but don’t actually like the work. And it’s really hard to quit even if you’re unsatisfied with what you’re doing. I’m kind of having all those life discussions with myself right now while I wait for the bar results and it’s really strange. I kind of want to go to a life coach.
Is the in-house consel job in Chicago? And P.S. do you love the good wife takes place in Chicago?
Addie Pray March 5, 2012, 5:41 pm
Yes, the in-house counsel job is Chicago – in the ‘burbs though. So I’d have to buy a car. I would NOT move to the ‘burbs though. No offense to you ‘burbers. I *love* TGW and *love* that it takes place in Chicago. I *hate* it though when they give fake addresses. Like, her swanky apartment is at 3000-something North Dearborn, but everybody knows that street ends at 1600 North. Duh. (Ok, those little things don’t really *bother* me per se – they are just fun to crack.)
Also, I kind of / a lot want to marry a politician. I find Rahm incredibly sexy. Also, I already love pearls. And I love shmoozing. And fame without having to do the word. I’d be a GREAT first lady.
Addie Pray March 5, 2012, 5:45 pm
* Rahm Emmanual, my mayor, for those who aren’t on a first-name basis with him like me… I need to find a politician who is: a democrat, not already married or engaged, and who won’t cheat on me. Does that even exist?!
Iwannatalktosampson March 5, 2012, 5:57 pm
I kind of love Mr. Big. In that I hate him kind of way too though. But Will is the sexiest. You should date Will. Or go for someone that is nor married/engaged but successful and who has the potential to go political in the future. But not in the clean ‘I want to be a judge kind of way’ but the sexy ‘I want to be State’s Attorney’ kind of way.
Do you have any vacations planned for April 1? I want to go to Thailand. But I think I’m going to have to settle for Canada with my parents in two weeks. I know it’s not wine season but I plan on making them stop at every city that has a winery on the drive. Oh did I mention I’m taking a road trip with my parents in two weeks? Kinda like a 10 year old? But instead I’m 24 and married and will be sitting in the backseat seeing if they will play the zip game with me? Sigh. Being unemployed is so humbling.
Addie Pray March 5, 2012, 6:18 pm
A road trip sounds super fun! “Are we there yet?”
Trips… welll, my brother and his fam will be at my mom’s the first week of April, so I may go see them. Then – remember my client who won 1.5 million in December – the same jury trial on the eve of which I gave notice to give notice? – well, she wants to take me to Paris in May. (Um, okay!) Then while I’m out there I’d like to visit friends who live in Brittany, a friend who lives in Ireland, friends who live in London, a friend who lives in Norway…. and then maybe come back home. Maybe.
Addie Pray March 5, 2012, 1:32 pm
Wendy snapped a picture of the group with her iPhone. … Maybe she’ll post it.
Addie Pray March 5, 2012, 1:51 pm
Oh, and Wendy is actually Gus, and he is 77 but doesn’t look a day over 67. He stole the picture above out of a hair salon book – from the red, wavvy, mid-length section. He grew up with his aunt and uncle in Ohio and used to steal newspapers as a kid and then sell them back for a nickel more. He once traveled the entire continental US riding in train cars.
bethany March 5, 2012, 1:53 pm
You should write kids books. You have the right type of imagination for it.
Addie Pray March 5, 2012, 3:51 pm
Gus *is* a pretty cool character. I would like to have coffee with him for 4 hours. At one of those diners with slices of pie in a display case by the register.
ktfran March 5, 2012, 1:22 pm
I'm the LW March 6, 2012, 10:27 am
Hi Addie — thanks for your reply.
She always jokes and says “her life is in shambles” so it’s hard to tell whether she’s being serious. She made a big move to another city about 2 years ago (where she lives now). So part of me thinks how could she do this if she had social anxiety? I don’t know.
In general she is always saying how her finances are terrible, she doesn’t like her job but feels stuck. I know she has family stress, too.
I would say she fills more than half of her free-time with working out.
Addie Pray March 6, 2012, 10:41 am
Wait, am *I* the friend you are writing about?!?! I kid. Aspects of your friend certainly remind me of myself. 2010-2011 were big drinking years. Like, daily, a lot. And somehow I never developed tolerance so I’d get really drunk really fast on 2-3 drinks. And I pissed off a friend once when I went to her sister’s friend’s party. I really did not like my friend’s sister’s friend’s boyfriend and apparently I told everyone at the party (of their friends) who he is such a douche. (Oops.) I had lots of “wake up” calls – no single one caused me to fix things but collectively they did. One big wake up call was when my friend chewed me out the next day for being rude … That was really, really hard to hear. I still think about that and cringe because I’m not a mean or rude person, but I was out of line at that party and it still haunts me. (For the record, the guy *is* a douche, but that wasn’t the place to share my thoughts.)
I felt really *stuck* in life and all I looked forward to was a drink. If I was sad, I wanted to drink. If I was happy, I wanted to drink. If I was bored, I wanted to drink. … I’ve been able to turn this around with yoga. Maybe suggest Bikram to your friend? If she likes sports, she’ll love the challenge that Bikram offers. With other sports, I always managed to do them + drink. But you really can’t do that with Bikram. Well, I’ve done it, and it’s so damn painful that I have really cut out drinking. By “cut out” drinking I mean I only drink 3 nights a week now. That is huge progress. And I haven’t been drunk drunk in …. since 2011! And my whole attitude has changed. I credit Bikram.
Budj March 5, 2012, 11:28 am
If you are sure she has a problem:
theattack March 5, 2012, 7:55 pm
I’m assuming that you were joking about it, but just for everyone out there who might not be sure, interventions are not the go-to solution for helping your friend, and doing something like that on tv is a TERRIBLE way to heal. If you want to harm your friend even further, staging an intervention for them on television that’s more interested in entertainment than healing would be an excellent way to do that.
Kristen March 5, 2012, 11:34 am
I think alcoholism is just the outward symptom of her true issue: anxiety. I’ve been where she is… you feel overwhelmed at the thought of socializing with a group of people, and so you have a couple of glasses of wine before they come over so that it’s easier to be talkative and outgoing. Then you realize you’re having a great time, and you drink some more to make sure it keeps working. If she’s like me, I’m sure she knows what she’s doing, and she probably doesn’t like it. It’s just the only way she’s found to cope with the intense anxiety that comes wish social situations.
If you want to help her, I think you should talk to her about the anxiety and leave out the alcohol for now. I may be wrong – she could really just have a problem with alcohol – but I have a feeling that if she gets her anxiety under control, she won’t need to drink a bottle of wine to feel comfortable with friends. That part will solve itself.
So, encourage her to see a therapist. Tell her you’re concerned and want her to be happy. I think she’ll be a lot more receptive to that conversation than if you start out by telling her she drinks too much. As I said, I’m sure she already knows that; she just needs help dealing with the anxiety that pushes her to drink.
Jenni March 5, 2012, 12:51 pm
As someone with social anxiety who used to drink too much, I agree with everything Kristen says here.
Anna March 5, 2012, 11:42 am
I feel like this letter could have been written about me several years ago. I’ve always had extreme social anxiety and often blacked out while drinking between the ages of 19 and 25. I never skipped events that were important to my friends, but I know I was a shitty friend when I couldn’t even walk out of said event on my own two feet. My longsuffering best friend never said anything about it but my boyfriend sure did. He was embarrassed to be seen with me, and the fact that I was letting down people I loved is what made me change. Did he call me an alcoholic? Sure did. Did that stop me from drinking? Absolutely not. In fact, it made me very defensive and I basically shut down until he dropped the subject. There is a difference between having a drinking problem and being an alcoholic. I did have a drinking problem, and when I admitted it and willed myself to fix the problem, I was able to. I still go to social events but don’t ever black out or get sick. Usually, I just have a couple drinks throughout the night and stay sober enough to drive home. So I wouldn’t assume she’s an alcoholic; this may be something she’s able to tackle on her own. I’m glad I did, because my relationship and friendships are better than ever now due to my self-control.
I would sit down with your friend and talk to her about it but DO NOT use the word “alcoholic” or suggest she go to AA or something. That would not be well-received. Instead, just express that you love her and are concerned about her overconsumption to the point of blacking out. Explain that while she may be having fun, you are not, and you have more fun with her when she isn’t completely wasted. Ask her if she would cut back on her drinking at your social events..have a couple but don’t get wasted so that everyone has a better time. That’s way different than asking someone to completely give up drinking, and would be received as a reasonable request I believe.
One more thing…when it comes to your wedding, don’t just assume she was bailing on you. Maybe she really did have to work. I work for an evil corporation that thinks it is fun to not release your schedule until a couple days before and make it nearly impossible to take a vacation day. Maybe she thought she could get vacation approved but it wasn’t, and if she calls off she will get fired. Just a thought.
kerrycontrary March 5, 2012, 11:54 am
I think that this is really great advice. While the LW’s friend may or may not be an alcoholic, I do believe she is overcompensating for her social anxiety. You know how when someone new comes into a group of people they may drink a little too much because they are nervous and want to loosen up? Well for people with social anxiety this may happen all the time.I really like your approach of saying how she’s having fun but you aren’t. And I know this isn’t the main issue here, but if I was the LW I woudl also be afraid that she would exhibit this sort of behavior at my wedding.
lets_be_honest March 5, 2012, 11:56 am
I like this perspective too. Some good food for thought for the LW.
Flake March 5, 2012, 4:11 pm
“Usually, I just have a couple drinks throughout the night and stay sober enough to drive home.”
I really do not want to be mean, but please reconsider this. The person who is doing the drinking is very rarely able to judge if he or she is “sober enough to drive home”
Anna March 6, 2012, 2:10 am
Only if you don’t know your limits. Two beers over multiple hours isn’t enough to get anyone drunk, much less beyond the legal limit. I’ve been more fucked up driving home from work at 10 am after 4-5 12 hour shifts in a row with almost no sleep. We don’t have any public transportation out here in the sticks and everything is very very far away, so driving is not exactly optional most of the time. If I am having a rare party night where I want to let loose and have more than 2, I make sure someone else is driving.
ackgirl March 5, 2012, 11:52 am
Oh man, this is big trouble….and sounds almost exactly like me six months ago. A little about me: I suffer from major, major social anxiety, particularly around peer-age people due to horrific bullying during my elementary through high school years. My parents were completely wrapped up in their grief and dysfunction after my older sister’s death when I was eight years old, so I received no support through them and none from the school system. Even twenty-plus years later the memories of the way I was treated sometimes make me cry. (I am receiving ongoing counseling to move on from the trauma, and it was indeed trauma.) Basically I have felt very, very alone all my life. I have had a difficult time making friends, and romantic relationships have been all but impossible for me so far. I’m working on it though. In a nutshell I just feel like no one wants me around, so I stay away. I had some similar behaviors to the LW’s friend. I left events early, or avoided them completely, drank around people I should have been comfortable around, etc. This background is not to take away from the LW’s story, just a little insight to some possible similar issues.
Two years ago I moved into a darling tiny little cottage, the perfect place to rent. My landlord was so amazing, she let me do anything I wanted to change it up. My parents and I painted, hung bookshelves, etc. It turned out colorful, cheerful, and gorgeous. The only problem? All I could think was “No one will ever see it, because I don’t have any friends to invite over”. Thus began the start of a downward spiral that I refused to/didn’t recognize for a very long time.
It started out with a drink after a stressful day at work ( I am the only employee of a busy dental/oral surgery practice.) One drink a night, over the next two years gradually turned into a drunken stupor any time I didn’t have to be at work. At my worst I was going through almost a liter of vodka a day. The situation finally spun out of control somewhere around my thirtieth birthday, as I was extremely depressed.
My sweet apartment turned into a festering dump. That truthfully is the only way to describe it. It looked like one of those homes on a hoarding tv show, possibly worse. Rotting food, garbage, filthy clothes all over the floor, empty liquor bottles strewn about. Flies swarming everywhere. Then my dad showed up randomly to invite me out to lunch, and the jig was up. My parents were FREAKED out, and sadly in the state I was in I couldn’t understand what the fucking problem was. Nonetheless we ended up in weekly family therapy, the first therapy my parents have ever attended. It helped minimally because I still refused to stop drinking, I didn’t think I was an alcoholic. I knew I was terribly lonely, bored,angry, and frustrated but I didn’t think I was addicted.
To make a long story short(er) I finally agreed to give up the alcohol. It took a long time, and at the time I saw it as giving in, surrendering to someone else’s opinion of my life. My therapist didn’t think I could do it on my own, she thought I’d need AA at the very least. It’s been two months and I haven’t taken a drink. Beyond the first couple of weeks, I haven’t had the slightest temptation. I feel lucky, and I was able to do it through private counseling only. Perhaps part of me is still in some kind of denial because while my counselor and parents seem to be in awe of me, I don’t feel like it’s that big of a deal because it wasn’t hard for me. In such a short time so much has changed: My apartment is back to beautiful, my parents gave me a gift of a house cleaner twice a month, I have lost 15 of the 50 pounds I put on, and am reconnecting with the friends I do have that I ignored for more than a year while at my worst.
I write this to illustrate the fact that these things don’t get better on their own. Someone needs to say something. There likely will be a lot of resistance, but if you care about her be patient. Things can change for her, but the ball needs to start rolling somehow. I wish you both the best.
Anna March 6, 2012, 2:19 am
Great story! I’m glad you were able to stop on your own. I don’t really buy into programs like AA because I don’t believe in a god or a higher power of any kind, and I do believe in the power of my own self to control my behavior. You are also lucky to have such supportive parents who helped you. If that were my situation, they wouldn’t have ever found out because they never come to visit me.
AKchic_ March 5, 2012, 12:30 pm
Does your friend have any family that you can talk to? That she was previously close to?
Staging an intervention would help only if there is someone around to help coach her into treatment. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like there is anyone.
jilliez March 5, 2012, 1:22 pm
You sound like a really good friend, LW. From someone else, this could have been a ‘why is my friend making my wedding so difficult’ letter, and instead you’re just trying to help her out, which is awesome and refreshing!
I agree with a lot of the comments above – i’m guessing your friend has bigger issues with anxiety, and is just using the alcohol to cope. I could be projecting, but i grew up with my mom using alcohol as a major crutch for anxiety issues… drinking to drive me to a friend’s house, to go to the grocery, to handle people coming to our house, until it came to a head and she couldn’t go anywhere anymore and my dad and my best friend’s dad had to physically take her to a psychiatrist to get help.
Like others have said, I wouldn’t confront her on the drinking – maybe you could say you’ve felt like you’ve been really obsessed with your wedding and haven’t paid enough attention to your friends lately (obviously not true, but that way she doesn’t feel confronted), but the last few times you’ve been together you’ve noticed that she doesn’t seem comfortable around you, and is there anything she wants to open up to you about, whether it’s job stress, depression, anxiety, etc.
Good luck, i hope she can get the help she needs!
kittyk March 5, 2012, 1:27 pm
Based on your friend’s actions of bailing on certain social events, I would think she’s already recognized the problem herself and this is one way of dealing with it- by not putting herself in situations where she’s tempted to drink and might go overboard. If this is the case, she shouldn’t react too terribly to you expressing concern for her (even if it is just generally speaking and not specifically about her alcohol problem or possible social anxiety issue). Let her know you’re concerned about her and if there is anything she needs to talk about or needs help getting through you are there for her. Don’t bombard her, keep it simple to start and feel her out. If she is as isolated in her new town as you say, she likely doesn’t have anyone close looking out for her.
Fabelle March 5, 2012, 2:34 pm
This. It sounds like she might recognize her own issue & discovered that one way to deal with it is to just NOT put herself in those situations.
To the LW: It’s obviously not a permanent solution, but if that’s what it is & it’s working for her, then I’d tread lightly when broaching the subject.
SweetPea March 5, 2012, 4:28 pm
Yes… I think you are right when you said “Keep it simple”.
I struggle with that when I have something big and important on my mind. But, I think it might be a good idea for the LW to keep that in mind for whatever approach she takes. Start small and go easy!
Taylor March 5, 2012, 2:00 pm
Talk to a professional about this. We recently held a (successful) intervention for a dear friend who was drinking himself to death. We started by contacting local addiction treatment facilities and found an addiction counselor. Speaking with a professional will provide you with amazing guidance about how to approach your friend, what language to use, and resources for her should she choose to pursue them. Most churches have addiction counseling – this may be another place to find a resource who can help you come up with a plan.
Best of luck, and good for you for seeing that your friend is having troubles instead of being angry about the wedding stuff. You are a good friend.
Lucy March 5, 2012, 3:46 pm
There’s some good advice above, but also a lot of advice that sounds like it’s coming from people who don’t really have too much experience with problem drinkers. I’ve been in a similar place with my best friend, who was a problem drinker for many years, as well as my husband, who was a full blown alcoholic for close to 20 years. A couple of things I have learned along the way:
1. Don’t label her an alcoholic. “I’m concerned about your drinking” is enough. Labels invite arguments about definitions. Similarly, don’t prescribe rehab, or quitting drinking, etc. Simply ask her to talk to a professional.
2. Your friend knows she has a problem. If you say something to her about it, she will get defensive. Defensiveness is not always a dead end. If you can persist through it with concern and without becoming argumentative, you may be able to get through to her.
3. If you do manage to make any progress with her, it will take time. Give her something to ruminate on. Don’t push too far, too fast. It took a long time for her drinking to get this bad; it is likely to take a long time for her to admit that and decide to do something about it.
4. Don’t bring ‘we think’ into it – talk to her yourself about what you personally have observed and your thoughts. If you want to address her as a group, have an invention managed by a professional. Amateur interventions usually don’t work out well.
AndreaMarie March 5, 2012, 8:13 pm
The acohol use is self medication for the anxiety she is feeling, whether its social anxiety or some other sort of mental illness or trama. I can only speak from my own experience. Back in 2008 my life was going great, living on my own in my own place and working at a fantastic job. Then out of the blue I began getting panic attacks. These were the most horrifying and debilitating things you could think of. When you are in the middle of one you feel like you can not get out of it. My panic would begin manifesting into an obsession that I was going to lose control and jump of the subway tracks, or out a window, or gauge my eyeballs out. I know this sounds insane and very hard to understand but panic comes from inner feelings and anxieties over loosing control of things in your life. My therapist eventually got the conclusion that deep seeded anxieties over the changes in my life and fear of all the new things had triggered it. I knew when I was panicaking and thinking these horrendous thoughts that they were completely irrational and I had no intention of doing those things but I couldn’t get rid of it on my own. So I started to drink. I drank wine all the time. I would have 3-4 glasses when I would go out with coworkers so I could get through the evening and also relax myself enough in order to not panic. I would come home and drink wine every night to ease my anxiety. This all took a toll on my relationships. I backed out of alot of things with friends because I was either exhausted from panic attacks I had earlier in the day or fear of having them while out with my friends. My friends bgan to get upset with me. They felt I was unreliable and self-centered (not knowing what I was going through). I eventually went to see someone for help. After 6 months of Prozac and popping Xanax whenever I felt uneasy I can happily say I haven’t had an attack in almost 4 years. I still feel it brewing when things change in a big way in my life or I feel like Im not in completely control of everything in my life (ie just starting a serious relationship) but I know how to handle it now. But its very hard to talk about these things. There is alot of shame and embarassment. Feelings that no one will look at you the same and think you are crazy or no longer the cool/funny/intelligent/successful person youve always been. Ive still never told anyone what I went through. This is the first time Ive ever discussed it “out loud”. Youre friend’s issues could have many layers. Talk to her. Tell her you are there for her without judgement.
I'm the LW March 6, 2012, 10:09 am
Thanks so much for sharing your personal expeience, AndreaMarie. It reminds me a lot of my friend. I’m very happy you are feeling better, too!
I'm the LW March 6, 2012, 10:04 am
Hi ladies, thank you to everyone who commented yesterday and today.
I keep going back to what a few of you said about something happening three years ago to cause this decline. She broke up with her semi-serious boyfriend around that time, but in thinking back I’m pretty sure she drank a lot then, too, and used her boyfriend as an excuse not to go out. But I just don’t know.
I don’t know if she’s an alcoholic. I do know that something is going on mentally with her. I’ve started discussing this with 1) a family friend of mine who is a psychologist and 2) a female family member of mine who is a recovering alcoholic. They both seem to think that she is indeed using alcohol to mask something else. There are some other areas of concern, like her not showering despite running high mileage daily, self-destructive behavior when dating, etc.
That said, I think my next step should be talking to her sibling and mother (they live 6 hours away). My only concern here is that my friend and her sibling are very, very close. I’m worried that her sibling may be protective of her, say she’s an athlete in peak physical condition, or worse, say that I’m only bringing this up because I’m mad about the wedding.