Am I reading into things regarding a friend's drinking?
September 17, 2011 5:43 AM   Subscribe

Should I bring this up or let it go? I have been hanging out with a neighbor that I have known for about a month. Twice in an offhanded way, he has mentioned his alcohol consumption to me.

The first time he joked about needing to quit drinking, and I didn't think much of it. The second time, we were going out for drinks, and he awkwardly threw a comment into the conversation about that night being the last night he was going to drink. He kept talking about something else after that, and I never did ask him what he meant.

Since then, I've noticed he's drinks alot. I know he gets drunk almost every night, and his friends are big drinkers. I've seen him drunk (or high) all day on weekends.

At work (we work together too) he's always functional, outgoing and seemingly happy, though he's told me he's upset about a recent breakup, isn't close with his family, and needs to get his shit together.

Anyway, am I seeing a problem where there isn't one? Should I say something, or is it too late? I don't want to be dramatic if its unwarranted, but I want to be supportive if that's what he was looking for. He's in his late twenties if it matters.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total)
Anyway, am I seeing a problem where there isn't one?
Doesn't matter, it's none of your business. You've known this person for a month.

Should I say something, or is it too late?
You should most definitely not say anything. He will bring up the subject himself if he feels that's necessary.
posted by halogen at 5:55 AM on September 17, 2011 [12 favorites]

I think for some people, joking about needing to quit drinking is a tentative first step towards more seriously considering that they need to quit drinking. But as long as he isn't actively endangering anyone (not driving drunk, not violent, etc.), I think at this point it could be counterproductive to say anything—you could end up pushing him in the wrong direction. At this point, serious support for a joking "I need to quit drinking" is likely to come off as "yes, you drink too much" which he may not be ready to fully accept yet and would take offense at. If/when he becomes more serious about it and brings it up, that's the time to be supportive.

Should I say something, or is it too late?

It's too early.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:13 AM on September 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

He will bring up the subject himself if he feels that's necessary.
He's already brought it up.

I would say next time he mentions something, ask him a bit about it. I dated a guy like this and I didn't do anything at the time, but I regret that. He had a problem, and alcoholism is a serious problem not only because it's usually a cover for emotional problems but because it often leads to health problems later in life (along with risks of drunk driving, unsafe activities while drunk, etc.) Don't bring it up out of the blue, but if he's mentioning the problem it seems like a plea for help that you can (tactfully) grab onto.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:15 AM on September 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

The next time he wants to go out for drinks with you suggest something different like coffee or a movie. If most of his friends are drunks and you're not one maybe he's trying to reach out, and it might be easier for him to talk about it with a new friend. Do you have any friends in AA? If so, ask them what they think.

If he brings up the topic of quitting again you might mention simply that there are a lot of resources out there and that it's hard to do it alone.
posted by mareli at 6:16 AM on September 17, 2011 [9 favorites]

I think it's way too early to say anything to him. If you don't indulge to the same degree then maybe when you hang out with him it can be in alcohol-free environments. Sometimes, if you've got into the habit of just getting fucked up all the time in your free time you can forget how it's possible to have fun while sober.

You know that he has this thing happening, he's obviously not trying to hide it. He's said himself that he wants to curb it.

I think the best thing you can do is to help him avoid temptation by providing alternatives.
posted by h00py at 6:20 AM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think for some people, joking about needing to quit drinking is a tentative first step towards more seriously considering that they need to quit drinking.

This was very true for me. I knew I had a drinking problem, but I wasn't ready to quit, so I kept drinking and made jokes about it. The jokes were an escape valve for my own anxiety about my behavior, a way to deflect criticism from other people by beating them to the punch, and a way to feel out other people's attitudes toward drinking. I was always on the lookout for other people who drank too much, because I could count on them to be good drinking partners, always up for booze and never too critical. It took years of joking like this before I was ready to actually get help and quit.

From what you describe, your neighbor/friend/coworker could be a high-functioning or early-stage alcoholic. But unfortunately there's not a lot you can do, as someone who is not very close to him, to help. If you confront him about it, he's likely to be defensive. Dealing with an addiction problem is really painful and really hard, and people often make a lot of tentative steps and false starts before they're able to commit to that path.

If he brings it up again, you can ask him more about it. Does he want to quit, how long has he been trying to quit, has he tried going to AA, does he want to try? Try and be non-judgmental, and try not to tell him what to do. If you know any recovered alcoholics, you could offer to put him in touch with them. But I wouldn't offer to do anything unless he comes to you.

Proving non-alcohol hang-out opportunities isn't a bad idea, but be aware it may not work. He may just avoid you and spend more time with his hard-drinking buddies.
posted by bookish at 7:52 AM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by bookish at 7:53 AM on September 17, 2011

I'm going to respectfully disagree with some of the other comments. I also dated a guy like this for a while and he made those, "Yeah, I drink too much" comments as a way of being self-deprecating and deflecting. As in, if he said it first then no one else could say it to him in a critical way.

Or on preview, what bookish said.
posted by camyram at 7:54 AM on September 17, 2011

Anyway, am I seeing a problem where there isn't one?

No, you're seeing a problem where there is one.

Should I say something, or is it too late?

The advice above is great, actually. If you want to become real friends, do non-drinking things with him.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:19 AM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you were a recovering alcoholic yourself, I think maybe it would be okay to get involved, but really it's not much of your business... Just don't go drinking with him.
posted by empath at 8:36 AM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think the advice of suggesting non-drinking activities, as mentioned above, is a fantastic way to give him space to talk about issues as he is comfortable, to give him a break from contexts that cue his drinking, and of avoiding moralizing on the issue to him - which, I think, would be counter-productive.
posted by iftheaccidentwill at 9:31 AM on September 17, 2011

If he comments about needing to quit drinking, you can say "I haven't known you very long, but if you need a friend, I'll help if I can" if you mean it. Or, "You mentioned quitting drinking before; what's up with that?" It's quite nice of you to want to help.
posted by theora55 at 9:54 AM on September 17, 2011 [8 favorites]

there is a problem which is his drinking and i'm assuming using his drinking to feel better and make it through the day, but this is not something that can be easily addressed regardless of how long you have known him for. it's never too late for someone to get help, but in your case, it's too early for you to bring this topic up first because you are not at a stage in your friendship where it's 'appropriate' to address someone's personal problems. the chances are that he will deny it, will become defensive, or progress will not be made. you are not being dramatic, but you have to realize that people have vices which may be different from your own. the best thing that you can do is simply say "yeah, everything can be fine as long as it's in moderation" or a statement that shows that it's okay to drink or get high (which he does) but that his drinking and smoking can be dangerous if it's not in moderation. if there is a clear problem such as addiction then you should address it in a different tone which can only truly be done later on in a relationship. in the mean time, show him that you can be friends that bond together by doing other things that do not revolve around drinking or getting high.

long story short: it's too early to say anything, encourage him to change his habits by using caring yet none judgmental statements, and be the friend and support system that he needs.
posted by sincerely-s at 10:39 AM on September 17, 2011

"I also dated a guy like this for a while.."

Right, which is really different from being someone's neighbor and friendly with them for a month.

I think your acceptable range of responses ranges from halogen's strict limits, to mareli's suggestion of a casual "there's lots of help available if you ever feel you need it" type of response. I think relating your observations of his drinking behavior would be way off limits. Asking him to do things that don't involve (or don't have to involve) alcohol however would be nice as long as you're not making a point of it.
posted by crabintheocean at 12:01 PM on September 17, 2011

The hardest thing for any substance abuse user is finding new friends that don't drag them down into the same old behaviors. If you like the guy, you can be a new non-drinking friend he can spend time with, without needing alcohol to have fun. Many alcoholics don't know how to have fun without booze. I wouldn't say a word about his drinking. If you do wind up in a drinking situation, I would have one or two, then suggest you adjourn somewhere else to watch a movie or do something different. Maybe you can introduce him to a new circle of friends. Just be yourself; be accepting of what you can with him.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:59 PM on September 17, 2011

He knows he has a drinking problem. You dont need to notify him.
posted by twblalock at 5:25 PM on September 17, 2011

Mod note: From the OP:
Just to clarify, at this point, I would never bring this up to him just from my own observations. Im only asking because he brought it up, and at that time, I had no reason to think there was a problem. I described his behavior just to to give some context as to why there might be one.

Thanks for all the great advice! I'll try to steer away from alcohol related activities, and just be there if he brings it up again.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:03 PM on September 17, 2011

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