Talking to a Friend About Drinking or Drug Use


It's difficult to know when to say something when you're worried about a friend's drug or alcohol use. Ask yourself...

How does it affect you?

  • Have you lost time from classes, studying, or a job in order to help your friend cope with problems caused by her drinking or drug use?
  • Is your friend's drinking or drug use making you unhappy in any aspect of your life?
  • Is your friend's behavior affecting your reputation in a way you don't like?
  • Have you ever felt embarrassed or hurt by something he said or did while intoxicated? Have there been outbursts of anger or irritability?
  • Have you ever had to take care of your friend because of her alcohol or drug use?

How does it affect your friend?

  • Does your friend drink in order to get drunk?
  • Does your friend drink or use drugs in an environment that you would rather avoid? Has there been a change in your friend's peer group?
  • Is your friend doing dangerous things because of drugs or alcohol?
  • Has your friend ever wanted to cut down on drinking or drug use?
  • Does your friend slam drinks?
  • Does your friend ever drink to steady his/her nerves or to get rid of a hangover?
  • Has your friend ever been in trouble because of drinking or drug use?
  • Does your friend find it necessary to drink or get high in order to enjoy a party?
  • Are drugs or alcohol affecting your friend's academic performance?
  • Does your friend drink to escape from or to cope with problems or stress? Does he/she use drugs or alcohol to avoid painful feelings?
  • Has your friend ever been unable to remember things he/she said or did while drinking (blacked out)?
  • Has your friend ever had a frightening experience with drugs but continued to use?
  • Is your friend annoyed when people criticize his/her drinking?
  • Has your friend ever received medical care for something related to drinking or drug use? Have you noticed a decline in personal health or appearance?
  • Does anyone in your friend's family drink to excess regularly? Do any close relatives have a drinking or drug problem?

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. At UCSC there's help to know which one is right for your friend.

Before you talk to your friend

  • Learn about drug and alcohol abuse. You can talk to any of the resources listed below, anonymously or confidentially.
  • 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. Your friend is more likely to hear you in a private location than at a large table at Saturn Cafe. A talk in your room with the TV and stereo off will be more successful than one in your friend's room where he can easily create distractions while you talk.

How to talk to your friend

  • Talk to your friend when she is sober. The sooner you can arrange this after a bad episode, the better. Your message will have more impact while your friend is hung over than it will three days later.
  • 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 well being 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 any more. 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 his/her alcohol problem. Give them the resources listed below. You can offer to find out more about the resources or go with them to an appointment.
  • 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 -- to be helpful by 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. Remarks like, "You've been acting like a slut," will only elicit defensive anger. Instead say, "You've been going out with people you don't like and doing things you regret the next day."
  • 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 UCSC

Emergency response available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Student Health Outreach & Promotion (SHOP)
SHOP provides confidential appointments for drug or alcohol concerns. SHOP is located in the Student Health Center, across the street from Colleges 9 & 10. As you walk up the ramp to the Health Center, SHOP is located in the building on your left, next to the Pharmacy.

Student Health Services
Confidential walk-in or appointment health care

Counseling & Psychological Services
CAPS staff provides the UCSC community with a wide range of mental health services, including short-term individual and couples counseling, group counseling, crisis assessment and intervention, and referral services.

Resources in Santa Cruz

Recovery Wave
Santa Cruz County's Alcohol and Drug Abuse help pages. If you think that you, a family member, or a friend has an alcohol or drug problem, you've come to the right place.

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.

The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for A.A. membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.

Narcotics Anonymous
831-429-7436 HOTLINE (24 hour) 
Call for current open meeting schedules. Disabled Accessibility. 

Marijuana Anonymous
P.O. Box 1481
Santa Cruz, CA 95061 
SC Hotline/Meetings: 
Self-help (non-religious) 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.