Nobody likes you when you're wasted
June 20, 2012 1:29 PM   Subscribe

Is there a tactful way to tell a friend that they are not pleasant to be around when they drink too much, an occurrence that happens every time we see them?

I have a very nice, relatively tight-knit circle of friends. We frequently get together and take turns hosting. One of the couples in this group, Greg and Ann, consistently get really drunk, which no one else does. Greg has repeatedly gotten so drunk that items in my house have been damaged, and has been wholly unapologetic when asked to please take better care. My boyfriend has said that he would really rather Greg not be invited back in our house. Another friend mentioned they feel similarly. Is there a tactful way to ask them to be mindful of how much they have to drink? They are nice people, but their heavy drinking is causing me to be irritated by them, and I’d prefer not to let it get to a place where I don’t like them at all. I don’t mind not having alcohol around, but I feel like that’s not the right long term solution when they are the only ones who are drinking more than one or two drinks. Ideally, I'd like to cause as little friction as possible among all of our friends.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
and has been wholly unapologetic when asked to please take better care.

That would appear to be in direct conflict with "nice people."
posted by thomas j wise at 1:34 PM on June 20, 2012 [27 favorites]

I can tell you that when a friend told me that he didn't like how I acted when I was drunk, he didn't agree with the choices I was making and he thought it was related to my drinking, and that he was worried about me and didn't think he'd want to keep spending time with me unless something changed, I quit drinking for 10 years. I do drink now, but in moderation.

He wasn't particularly tactful, he was brief, direct, unapologetic, and clear, although also clearly coming from a place of love. It was very brave of him to say it.

I'm extremely grateful he told me that.
posted by latkes at 1:35 PM on June 20, 2012 [64 favorites]

Is it both Greg and Ann? Or just Greg? If the latter, then speak with Ann. If Greg has a problem with alcohol (which he does, at least in the sense that it is causing others problems) then he might not 'hear' you when you speak to him about it. (or at least that's what happened in my related situation).

I don't like the idea of having no alcohol because it's a drag for the other people.

I would talk to Ann, and then say if it happens again then you just won't invite them the next time. Warn them after 2 drinks, then let it go and don't invite them next time.

Or meet at a restaurant instead.
posted by bquarters at 1:36 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

Greg has repeatedly gotten so drunk that items in my house have been damaged, and has been wholly unapologetic when asked to please take better care.

You already tried tactful. It didn't work. You need to be really clear about it - either they stop drinking long before they might damage your house, or they leave and drink elsewhere if it means so much to them.
If the other friends agree, I don't see any problem to just not invite Greg and Ann to these get togethers and only meet them in public places/friends' houses who don't mind having their stuff trashed.
posted by MinusCelsius at 1:36 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's no way to do this lightly, politely or gently. Either take it dead seriously and approach it as an intervention with others involved or take Greg aside for a one-on-one personal chat, OR don't do it at all and just stop inviting them to stuff. There's a high possibility it will be incredibly difficult for them to hear, you can't just sort of mention it like "Hey cut it out with the hard drinking ok?" and then not talk more about it.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:40 PM on June 20, 2012

My boyfriend has said that he would really rather Greg not be invited back in our house.

When I've had related problems [i.e. someone's behavior was problematic enough that my partner and I wanted to no longer invite them to things] I've just not invited them to the next get together and if they asked about it, had a very friendly and polite conversation with them about how whatever the behavior was wasn't really okay at group get togethers. If they wanted to change it and come back next time, super we'd love to have them but I felt like I'd already asked and gotten no response or a negative response and I wasn't going to ask again.

Be really clear about separating the behavior from the person [i.e. not "You're a drunken oaf" but "You broke things and did not offer to fix them when asked"] and be okay with the boundaries that you are setting up. This does not have to be drama unless you make it into drama and you can let your friends know, again politely, that you'd love to have them back but they have to basically dial back the behavior.

You can also play good cop/bad cop if you need a social "out" where you can say that your partner said "not okay" after the stuff breaking incident but I really think just being up front about things is the way to go. Whether they have a drinking problem or a not-caring problem or something else isn't really for you to untangle, you can just say "no more getting wasted" or "no more breaking things" and then leave it for them to moderate. Asking people to drink less tends to backfire and puts you in a role you shouldn't be in anyhow.
posted by jessamyn at 1:43 PM on June 20, 2012 [12 favorites]

I recommend speaking to both of them before the drinking starts. Perhaps breakfast out somewhere.

Here's a script (stolen from Intervention): "I really like both of you and I want to keep you as friends but lately your drinking has affected our relationship in the following ways:

1. You get knee-walking drunk and trash my shit.
2. You both argue and make my other guests uncomfortable.
3. The fact that you don't seem to be remorseful about the damage that you do when you're drunk has caused my SO to request that you not be invited over to the house.

I don't know if you have a drinking problem or not, I do know that your current drinking is a problem for me.

The consequences for exhibiting this behavior are that we will not be hosting the weekly get-together at our house if you are in attendance.

I really hope that you'll choose to restrain your drinking in the future. I love you both and want to keep you as friends and I'll help you in any way that I can.

It's a hard message to deliver, but being a grown up is sometimes hard.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:44 PM on June 20, 2012 [36 favorites]

Pragmatically, can you have fewer drinks on hand when hosting? Maybe ones in discrete packaging, like a beer or two per person?

Did you ask Greg about his bad behavior while he was drunk or after? If the former, maybe he would be more receptive if sober. If the latter, maybe you could try asking him at the time rather than bringing it up in an unrelated context.

On the other hand, you would be perfectly reasonable just not to invite them to your place, especially given that your boyfriend doesn't want Greg to come anymore.
posted by mlle valentine at 1:44 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would just straight up say "Are you guys going to be able to control your drinking? Because if not I'm happy to make this an alcohol free event. What I'm not happy to do is host a repeat of the last visit."
posted by DarlingBri at 1:44 PM on June 20, 2012 [27 favorites]

Being tactful won't work. It's in direct opposition to the clear statement you need to make in a situation like this.

Think about it this way: You've tried being tactful. Your other friends have tried being tactful. Greg and Ann are causing a lot of friction, and your tactful treatment of them thus far is contributing to that. It's time to try something else.
posted by cardioid at 1:54 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I really like Ruthless Bunny's answer, which boils down to the sentence "I don't know if you have a drinking problem or not, I do know that your current drinking is a problem for me."

It is totally honest, not even blaming, and gives the couple an opportunity to examine themselves deeply - if they chose to.
posted by latkes at 1:55 PM on June 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

No. There is no tactful way to say it.

But more than that, so much more than that, if you allow it to continue, then you can count yourself among the co-dependents that help foster and maintain Greg and Ann's drinking problems. It takes a circle of family and friends to keep a drunk from hitting rock bottom - and they will not see the light until that point.

As someone who has been there - you need to be clear with them for them, not just for you. Do not white-wash their behavior and become a co-dependent.
posted by Flood at 1:56 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would just stop asking them over. You can still do other things with them (if you do now) but no more dinners at your house. And if they ask why, I wouldn't even treat it like a "problem" (unless you're ready to go all serious intervention about it.) I'd just treat it like a different social style. "We like you, but we know you guys prefer the 'wild and crazy, let's party and break stuff' kind of scene, and we're really not up for that anymore."

Another thought, could you sometimes host not at your home but someplace where they can't do as much damage, like a public beach or park? (Where, also, maybe alcohol wouldn't even be allowed or there'd be stricter rules for behavior and cops patrolling the area and other people around?)
posted by DestinationUnknown at 1:57 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm 100% with Ruthless Bunny's script. If you find yourself resisting being that direct, remember this: if being tactful was going to work, it would have worked by now.
posted by scody at 2:02 PM on June 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

Don't just passive-agressively stop inviting them or hiding the booze. Talk to them, with or away from other friends, and tell them your concerns flat out. Hell -- even show them this post.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:05 PM on June 20, 2012

I have a good friend whom I love and trust so much they had a key to my house so that they could take care of the place if I am out of town or whatever. But my friend got strung out on cocaine. Both I and my wife said to the friend, hey, you need to watch yourself, I think you're getting out of control. Naturally, it didn't work. So one day, after hearing about yet another destructive bender from a third party, I went to my friend and said, give me my key back. Why? The friend asks. Because you're officially strung out on coke now and I don't trust coke heads with keys to my house, I say. It sucked, but I felt like I had to do something. And what I said was true. So I took my key back, and my friend got worse and worse until eventually friend shows up on my doorstep one morning, kicked out of their house by their spouse, at the end of their rope and my wife and I put friend up for a little while until friend went into rehab. I don't know if this is applicable in your situation, but I think the bluntness of my honesty made friend trust me and I was the one friend came to when it was it time to get help. So, just some food for thought from my life. YMMV.
posted by vibrotronica at 2:12 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

Adding to what Flood said, you really will be doing them a favor by letting them know you see their drinking as a problem. They may not see it that way right now, but at least it can make you feel better about the confrontation if you approach it from the perspective that you are helping them, not being a jerky friend. At the very least you're letting them know their behavior isn't socially acceptable, and you could be planting a seed that helps them realize their drinking is (or may become) an serious problem.
posted by something something at 2:14 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is a situation in which email could be the best medium for delivering the message. I agree that "tact" is misplaced here: you are going to have to communicate frankly and even bluntly. The advantage of email is that Greg is going to be able to react to your message privately; that is, he is (likely) going to be shocked and ashamed, but he will at least be able to feel these unpleasant emotions without the additional distress of having you see him in his shame.

He will also have the option of thinking about what you have written and even talking it over with a third party before he has to offer a response. This, I think, is easier on the recipient of unexpected "big" news than doing it face to face, as he won't feel constrained to answer you immediately.

You might preface your email with something like "This is something I have been meaning to say for a while, but I felt uncomfortable saying it to you in person." Then at the foot of the meail you can add, "I'm hoping that my putting what I've just said in an email will make it a little easier for you to hear what I"m saying." Or something along those lines, using your own words.
posted by La Cieca at 2:17 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

caused my SO to request

I would go with Ruthless Bunny's script but change this one line. It might be interpreted along the lines of, "well, anonymous wants us to be able to come over, but his harpy of a wife won't let us," rather than what you intend, which (I assume) is to present a unified front. Because it's not just affecting your boyfriend, it's affecting everyone.

If Greg and Ann act the same way at the homes of others in your circle of friends, you should let them know you're planning to have the talk so they can decide if they want to use the same/similar script, too.
posted by phunniemee at 2:33 PM on June 20, 2012 [12 favorites]

In New Zealand we have this advertising campaign. These tips might be of interest to you.
posted by Yma at 2:36 PM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]

Talk to the other people in your circle of friends. Chances are you're not the only ones who don't like the behavior. If you do end up confronting them in some way, it'll be more meaningful if it comes from more people. If not, then everybody stops inviting them and hands are washed.
posted by gurple at 2:39 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

(I meant to add)
... and either way your action has the result of putting you on the same side as the rest of your group of friends, rather than let the drinkers drive a wedge between you and your group.

Of course, your other friends might all tell you you're seeing tempests in teapots, which is something you should be open to hearing.
posted by gurple at 2:42 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think email is a good idea. It may sound like a copout, but in reality it's more likely to result in a rational exchange than a face-to-face meeting. In the email lay out your concerns, and say that you would be glad to discuss the issue in person.

It's also useful in that it leaves a record, so that the interaction cannot be later mischaracterized by Greg and Ann.
posted by zachawry at 3:42 PM on June 20, 2012

If you want to be a fair-weather friend and just be done with them, you can just "un-friend" them and stop inviting them over, but if you want to be a real friend, you will bluntly tell them exactly what the problem is, and that you will no longer tolerate it, and that you're there for them when they decide to pull up.

People with drinking problems need the bluntness way more than they need the tact, because it takes a petty forceful message to break through the fog of the booze. If they're truly alcoholic, this can take some time, and yours might not be the first or last blunt message that it takes, so be prepared for short-term disappointment. Wish them the best, and stick to your guns. It's really about the only thing that does help.

In the event that they do eventually sober up, it will mean a lot to them if you're ready to forgive & be there as friends again once that happens. A little redemption can go a long ways too, for someone who's trying to recover.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:58 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was going to suggest some kind of alcohol-free party as a method of provoking the conversation, but I've reconsidered. Call Ann and tell her you'd like to have coffee with her, because you need to tell her something. At the cafe, tell her that you're worried about her and Greg; tell her that you personally are very unhappy with how drunk and unpleasant they get at parties, and that you've overheard other people (that you will not name out of politeness and respect) making comments along the same lines. Let her know that you're particularly worried about Greg, because he's getting drunk enough to break things, and he isn't even slightly apologetic about his behavior. Close by telling her that you are her friend, and you care about her, otherwise you'd just avoid her instead of having this really difficult conversation with her. Then see where it goes.

Note: it might get ugly, but if she's a really good friend you'll be patient with her...and if she's not, then you can write her off if it gets ugly.
posted by davejay at 4:34 PM on June 20, 2012

I would call him/her up and say: "I'm really sad to have to say this, but we're not going to invite you to this next gig. The reason is that your drinking is out of control and makes everybody uncomfortable. If you were just an acquaintance, I'd simply not inform you of this, and not invite you. But I consider you my friend, and that's why I'm telling you this: regardless of what you may think, others, outsiders, think your drinking is a problem. And while I am your friend, I am not a nag, and so I will say this only this one time, and I am not going to repeat myself or nag you in any way. Think about this carefully. What you want to do from here is up to you. If you need help, you know how to get in touch. This is your wakeup call. Good luck!".
posted by VikingSword at 4:35 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was Greg. I was that obnoxious drunk who always seemed to ruin parties. I was that guy who was fun to be around when I was sober, but turned into a total asshole once the tops were popped.

Parties were a great thing for me you see, because I not only drank mine, but I could drink yours too. Parties were a great place for me to get free alcohol. Obviously I can't speak for Greg, but I was totally self-centered. Nearly everyone with a drinking problem is. So I didn't care whether you liked my behavior or not. That was your problem, not mine. The folks who tried to be tactful and polite were merely enablers.

Eventually my obnoxiousness began driving my circle of friends away. They just stopped inviting me to their get togethers, and you know what? I didn't care. It didn't change my behavior any. I still drank just as much. I found other places to go and people to see. It wasn't you and your friendship that were important to me. It was the availability of alcohol.

Over time, I inevitably ruined every relationship and I was just a sad, lonely drunk. I drank alone, in my room. That's what I did. I went to work during the day and I drank at night, at home, alone in my room. So the people who I used to hang with that didn't invite me back weren't doing me any favors. Their lives became better because I wasn't around anymore, but my life continued spiraling downward.

Ultimately, it took someone being totally frank with me and telling me what a jerk I am when I drink and that I have to do something about it. They didn't sugar coat it. They told me I was going to die, alone and ugly. They told me they were willing to help me get help, but they were not willing to tolerate my behavior. I didn't listen right away, but when I came to the conclusion for myself that I needed help, their words were in the forefront of my thoughts.

So here are your choices. (1) Maintain the status quo and continue to have Greg be an asshole, because he isn't likely to change his behavior to suit you. (2) Stop having Greg around, period. This makes your life easier, but not Greg's. (3) Quit enabling. Tell it to Greg straight, as latkes suggests right up top. But also let him know that when he is ready to get help, you will be the person who will take him there. Otherwise, if he continues his self-destructive behavior he's on his own.

Option (3) is the hardest. It's a difficult conversation to have with anyone. It feels like betrayal. If Greg is really a true friend, then demonstrate that friendship by telling him the toleration stops now, but the willingness to help will never go away.

I used to be Greg. Now, I am 19 years sober.
posted by netbros at 4:36 PM on June 20, 2012 [21 favorites]

Oh, one more thing: once you've said your peace, you can set a "no alcohol" boundary for your parties going forward. However, be prepared for them to show up already drunk.
posted by davejay at 4:36 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

has repeatedly gotten so drunk that items in my house have been damaged, and has been wholly unapologetic when asked to please take better care. [snip] Is there a tactful way to ask them to be mindful of how much they have to drink?

Yes, there is; you already tried it and it didn't take. Don't be tactful; be direct. "Your heavy drinking is causing me to be irritated by you, and I’d prefer not to let it get to a place where I don’t like you at all. What can we do about this?" Last sentence somewhat optional. A united front of your other friends might be best but depends on how the others feel. I wouldn't do "no alcohol" because it's unfair to the others but it's an option, as is manually slowing them down by refusing them more alcohol, but that seems like a recipe for drama.
posted by sm1tten at 7:50 PM on June 20, 2012

I really second all the comments on your need to be blunt, not rude but very direct about your problems with their behaviour. Drunks are incredibly self-centred and are often completely in denial about their behaviour and its repercussions.

They might well use a carefully worded and affectionate warning as food for thought but they may also see you as a nag and a party pooper who is exaggerating the situation.You need to be prepared for that too.

Two more things, we had a situation very similar to this, a lovely bloke when sober, but drunk a complete nightmare around women, really handsy, refusing to take no for an answer, just incredibly obnoxious when drunk, he was confronted about it and completely denied it as rubbish and people being jealous or not wanting him to "have fun"-we filmed him and showed it to him, he was absolutely shocked rigid, there is nothing like seeing yourself when you are drunk and out of control to seriously make you SEE the error of your ways! You might not want to go that far, but drunks have a nasty habit of simply not remembering what they did or playing it down and denying it.

My now husband was a mean drunk, he would say the most hurtful and degrading things when drunk and then claim he never said them so he would then refuse to apologize, it caused us huge problems, taping him and playing it back to him was enough, he has been sober five years now.

I also went through a stage of drinking way too much and I know my closest friends were worried about me, but nobody actually said anything-I wish they had! Good luck and you're a good friend!
posted by hitchcockblonde at 3:18 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Greg has repeatedly gotten so drunk that items in my house have been damaged, and has been wholly unapologetic when asked to please take better care.

So has he damaged things and not offered to repair/replace them? I'd make it about that. "Look, you've done such-and-such to me when you've been drinking; I can't have you in my house because you get drunk every time and I don't know what you'll do next." Or even,"You keep breaking stuff at my house and seeming totally unconcerned that you've done that and it's not cool and also, you and I both know it's because you've been drinking." If you just put it in terms of not liking him when he's drunk he'll just think you're uptight or anti-drinking or something. Even if your main concern is to help him, pointing out in concrete terms: this is what happens when you get drunk; it has concrete results, is probably more apt to convince him than just you observations of how drunk he is, because he's going to be in denial.

If he comes back at you with, "It was an accident; everyone has accidents," you can say, "Really? That many? When they're not messed up?"

Plus, is he driving home from these things?
posted by BibiRose at 7:53 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Record a video of them while their drunk. Show it to them when they are sober.

I had a friend that was like this a few years ago. We all told him that it was out of control, that he was abrasive and not cool and sloppy when he was drunk, which was every night after he'd get home from work (we lived in the same building). One night he was wasted at my house - he had that look in his eyes that told you he was out of his mind - and we happened to have a camera in the house, recording randomly. He fell off the couch, from a sitting position to splayed out on the floor in front of the door. It took him literally 15 minutes to profanely clamber back up onto the couch, spitting, cursing, making a fool of himself while we watched him have trouble with the simplest of acts.

The next day we watched the video together; he was in complete shock, had never realized he was this belligerent, asinine and silly while he was shitfaced. He asked if that was really how he acted while he was on a bender, and we had to sadly affirm. It embarrassed him deeply and he vowed to never go that far again. To this day he doesn't drink like that anymore, and we are eternally grateful. He is a lovely man whilst in his right mind.
posted by dozo at 8:26 AM on June 21, 2012

If you have a problem with both of them, then tell them both. But if your problem is only with Greg, confront him, not Ann. Just because she's his wife doesn't mean she is responsible for his behavior, or to be a mediator between your friendship with Greg. I think that's a lousy thing to do to both of them.
posted by lyssabee at 9:24 AM on June 21, 2012

[This is a followup from the asker.]
Neither Ann or Greg drive, a number of other friends get them home. They also both drink way more than everyone else, but Greg gets significantly more obnoxious when drunk than Ann does. They are not particularly close friends of mine, which is part of why I have been reluctant to deal with this. Thank you all for the really thoughtful advice, it confirmed my suspicion that ignoring it wasn't going to help anyone.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:52 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am part of a very tight-knit circle of friends, based on …approaching two decades… of friendship, and I've been the obnoxious drunk who got the talk. In many ways, it worked, and in some ways, it was damaging... but those ways, I own them as being my own, to accept or change.

So, here's what was said. My two best friends said "We think you have a problem. Whenever there’s a party, you almost always get very drunk and (this was gentle of them) argue or come off as super arrogant... what's with that? We kind of hate it." (They did not mention other worse transgressions. For me, they didn't need to. Maybe I'm a softer touch than Greg and Ann. Maybe not, keep reading.) This, you see, opened a conversation, which is what made it an important moment in my life. I was on the spot, but given a voice. I was terribly wounded and shamed, of course. I knew, I know, that I can be an uncontrolled drinker, and binge. I had a different impression of those arguments and arrogances. I had an impression, and a haunting guilty sense. I knew they were right. I wondered how they managed not to be as drunk as I became. Anyway... I told them I was very sorry and I never meant to come across as mean or arrogant. I cried and felt small. BUT, I had to say, I was hurt that these, my closest friends, had not stopped to intervene in why I was performing this behavior. There were reasons: the day’s emotional stress, social anxieties about people in the group... things I was struggling with that were pushing me into bad decisions. I was going through a very hard time, and needed my friends to intervene on those grounds. I needed them to notice that, to be there, and not just in reprimand after the fact. But, thankfully, I acknowledged, painful or not, this intervention served that purpose. Of course, these friends already knew I had this kind of trouble, and were facepalming at not making the connection. They were chastened by this, but maintained that from then on, they'd prefer to socialize with me in venues that were not centered around drinking. That was very fair and very wise. They made sure to find ways to be with me without drinks in our hands.

Over time, that loosened, but I have felt ever since terrifyingly stigmatized by the callout of my past behavior (when I have nightmares, they concern blacking out, which creates, trust me, a confusing way to wake up), even though I have implemented careful measures to avoid those old missteps. And, they do still happen every so often. It recalls a bad feeling, every time I pick up a glass, but it’s not their fault. It’s just their faces on my sum total of remorse. Now, it’s not around those core friends that it ever happens anymore, because we have the bond that allows them to caringly intervene, or permits me to self-sanction under their gaze without sadness. When bingeing and bad behavior does happen, I’m with stranger company, where I don’t feel safe, and those friends are the ones I call for support the next day, when I get the judgment on my behaviors, which they so well can understand now.

Anyway, I hope my account helps you find a way to be a good friend even though you’re feeling very trod-upon by this couple. I still drink, as it happens. Too much, surely, but more wisely, I hope.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:34 PM on March 5, 2013

« Older Am I a bot?   |   You know, like Netflix.... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.