How Can I Help a Friend Who May Have a Problem?

Woman looks depressed with people around her trying to help.


If you’re concerned about a friend’s alcohol or drug use, but aren’t sure what to say, here are some tips on how to talk to them:

  1. Talk to your friend when they are sober. Conversations while your friend is intoxicated are far less likely to make a positive impact, as they will not be thinking clearly. If you’re concerned about your friend while they’re drinking or using, your priority should be keeping them safe from harm. You can talk to them about their substance use once they’re sober and more likely to hear your concerns.

  2. Be calm and kind as you convey your concern for your friend’s well-being. Avoid making accusations, lecturing, or moralizing. It’s important not to make your friend feel like they’re being judged! Comments like “You’re turning into a lazy pothead” make people feel bad about themselves and trigger defensiveness.

  3. Use “I Statements” to talk about how you feel and how you’ve experienced your friend’s drinking or drug use. It’s best if you can use specific examples of their behavior—things you’ve seen and heard. As an example: “I’m noticing more often that, when we go to parties, you drink until you get sick and somebody has to make sure you get home safely. And last week you didn’t make it to class the next morning, even though you knew we had a quiz. I’m really worried about how your drinking is starting to affect your life.”

  4. It’s important to distinguish between the person and their behavior, and it can be helpful to emphasize what you like about them when they’re sober. For instance, “You’re a fun person to hang with, but when you drink, you start doing some risky stuff, like driving when you’ve had too much, and I worry that you’re going to hurt yourself or someone else.”

  5. Encourage your friend to consult with a professional. You’ve done a great job getting this conversation started, and the next step is to help your friend get a professional assessment of their substance use. It helps if you already know of some resources that you can share with them.

    If your friend is a USA student, they can call the University Counseling & Testing Center at 251-460-7051 for a free and confidential substance use assessment with the Jag Intervention & Recovery program. You can support them through the process of making an appointment, but your friend must make the appointment for themselves.

    You can also find a list of available off-campus substance use resources on the Jag I&R webpage.


  1. Don’t give up. Your friend may not be ready to hear you yet. If they’re resistant to talking, let them know that you’re there for them when they’re ready to talk about it. And you can always bring it up again later, if your concerns persist.