How to Help Yourself, a Friend or Problem Drinker

There is no specific formula on how to spot a problem drinker. However, there are some red flags to watch out for in a friend as well as in yourself:

  • Unable to stop drinking once they start.
  • Thinking about alcohol on a regular basis (i.e. when they can drink next, how they will get alcohol, who they will drink with, etc.).
  • Doing things while drunk that they would not normally do while sober.
  • Repeating unwanted drinking patterns (continuing to drink despite getting repeat negative consequences).
  • Surrounding themselves with people who drink and activities where there will be drinking while avoiding those who do not drink and activities where there will not be drinking.
  • Increasing their sense of denial that their heavy drinking is a problem because they are successful in other areas of their life.
  • Setting drinking limits (i.e. only having three drinks or only drinking on the weekends) and not being able to follow the limits.
  • Driving while intoxicated.
  • Always having to finish an alcoholic beverage.
  • Using alcohol as a reward.
  • Binge drinking often.
  • Having chronic blackouts (not remembering parts of or an entire evening of drinking).
  • Feeling guilty about things they said or did while intoxicated.
  • Having friends or family members tell them they are worried about their drinking and should cut back.

If you know a friend (or yourself) who has one or more of these red flags, you may want to talk to them about their use. It is important to remember that your friend will probably be in denial of his/her situation and may become defensive. Here are some tips on how to structure your conversation:

  • Talk to your friend about your concern without blame or judgment.
  • Be as objective as possible. Don’t get pulled into an emotional debate or use vague examples; be specific about your concerns.
  • Use "I" statements, not "You" statements. "I’m afraid you will get kicked off the track team if you miss more practices" or "I’m disappointed when we can’t spend time together because you have a hangover."
  • Don’t preach, blame, judge or give advice.
  • Listen without interrupting.
  • Be flexible… allow room for solutions that can work for your friend.
  • Don’t expect instant results. It’s hard to predict how your friend will react. Even if they don’t want help now, you may have planted a seed in their head that they might have a problem.

Remember, even though you see your friend's drinking as a problem, they probably do not. If you are still worried, you can talk to your RA or Residence Life Coordinator. You also can meet with a therapist at the counseling center for a consultation session. These sessions are confidential and you do not need to give the name of the person you are concerned about.

Making an Appointment

To schedule an appointment with a counselor call (216) 368-5872 or go to