WellCat Prevention

How to Help a Friend

It's difficult to know when to say something when you're worried about a friend's drug or alcohol use. Check out the following list of signs to see if it's time to have an honest conversation with your friend or loved one about your concerns.

For a downloadable pdf version of our guide, click here (PDF).

Signs your friend needs help

  • Do you worry about the amount a friend or loved one uses alcohol or drugs?
  • Have you ever felt embarrassed or hurt by something they said or did while intoxicated?
  • Have you lost time from classes, studying, or a job in order to help your friend cope with problems caused by their drinking or drug use?
  • Have you ever had to take care of your friend because of their alcohol or drug use?
  • Are drugs or alcohol affecting your friend's relationships, work, or academic performance?
  • Are they irritated or annoyed with you if you try to discuss their substance use?

The more times you answer yes, and the more frequently each factor is true, the more likely it is that your friend has a problem. A caring conversation can help your friend learn about how his or her behavior affects others and can help your friend get the help she/he needs.

Remember, needing help is not the same as being an alcoholic or an addict. Uncontrolled alcohol or drug use is not the only sign that someone needs help. Many people can stop whenever they choose, even for long periods of time. The important question is what happens to them when they drink or use drugs. Do they do things they regret later: get in fights, destroy property, drive under the influence, or have unplanned or unwanted sex?

There are many ways to help someone who's having trouble with alcohol or drugs. Some people just need the wake up call of your honest opinion; others can benefit from professional help to make changes in their behavior. Still others need professional help to maintain complete abstinence through rehabilitation programs and/or recovery programs.

Before you talk to your friend

  • Learn about drug and alcohol abuse. WellCat Prevention has many resources on our website, and you are always welcome to stop by and speak with a staff member.
  • Prepare a list of specific problems that have occurred because of your friend's drinking or drug use. Keep these items as concrete as possible. "You're so antisocial when you drink" will not mean as much as, "When you were drunk, you made fun of me and were mean to me. You hurt me." Bring the list with you and keep the conversation focused.
  • Choose a private location where you can talk without embarrassment or interruption.
  • Keep in mind that change can be a long process and can take many different forms

How to talk to your friend

  • Choose a time when you are both sober
  • Restrict your comments to what you feel and what you have experienced of your friend's behavior. Express statements that cannot be disputed. Remarks like, "Everyone's disgusted with you," or, "Lily thinks you have a real problem," will probably lead to arguments about Lily's problems or who 'everyone' is. Avoid such generalizations.
  • Convey your concern for your friend's wellbeing with specific statements. "I want to talk to you because I am worried about you," or "Our friendship means a lot to me. I don't like to see what's been happening."
  • It is important to openly discuss the negative consequences of your friend's drinking or drug use. Use concrete examples from your list. "At the party I was left standing there while you threw up. The next day you were too hung over to write your paper. It makes me sad that these things are happening in your life."
  • Emphasize the difference between sober behavior that you like and drinking behavior that you dislike. "You have the most wonderful sense of humor, but when you drink it turns into cruel sarcasm and you're not funny anymore. You're mean."
  • Be sure to distinguish between the person and the behavior. "I think you're a great person, but the more cannabis you smoke, the less you seem to care about anything."
  • Encourage your friend to consult with a professional to talk about their alcohol problem.
  • Talk to people you trust (other friends or relatives) about your concerns. Their involvement may help.

What not to do

  • Don't accuse or argue. If your friend gets angry or provokes you, remind yourself to remain calm and to stay focused on your goal and honestly expressing your concerns. "I understand that you don't like some things I do, either; we can talk about them later. My point now is that when you drink, I feel hurt by the things you do."
  • Don't lecture or moralize. Remain factual, listen, and be nonjudgmental.
  • Avoid coercion, persuasion, ultimatums, and the use of external contingencies (e.g., the threatened loss of job or family).
  • Don't give up. If your friend seems resistant, you can bring it up later or let them know you're there for them if they ever want to talk.

Resources at Chico State

WellCat Prevention
WellCat Prevention provides confidential appointments for drug or alcohol concerns. WellCat Prevention is located in Sutter 150p, in the same building as the Hub in University Housing

WellCat Health Center
Book an appointment online or speak with 24/7 telehealth services.

WellCat Counseling Center

Depending on the nature of your needs and the availability of resources, WellCat Counseling offers group counseling, short-term individual counseling, short-term couples counseling, referral to a workshop or presentation on a specific topic, or referral to counseling services in the community.

Resources in Chico

Alcoholics Anonymous
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.

Narcotics Anonymous
Offers recovery from the effects of addiction through working a twelve-step program, including regular attendance at group meetings. The group atmosphere provides help from peers and offers an ongoing support network for addicts who wish to pursue and maintain a drug free lifestyle. The name, Narcotics Anonymous, is not meant to imply a focus on any particular drug; NA’s approach makes no distinction between drugs including alcohol.

Marijuana Anonymous
Self-help fellowship group for those who cannot control their marijuana use and are experiencing adverse effects in other areas of their life. No fee is charged. Marijuana Anonymous uses the basic 12 Steps of Recovery founded by Alcoholics Anonymous.

Adapted from University of California, Santa Cruz: Student Health Outreach & Promotion