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I have a friend who has been my "drinking buddy" since college. Whenever something big happened in our lives, we would always get together and open a few bottles of wine to celebrate or commiserate. In college, we found a reason to drink every weekend, but as we got older, I thought we both grew out of it. We meet up every other month or so and I enjoy the occasional glass of wine, but I've noticed that my friend still drinks a lot. During our last catch-up, she confessed that she can't fall asleep unless she drinks something. After pressing her for details, I discovered that she drinks one bottle of wine every single night, whether she has company or not. I'm beginning to think she may be an alcoholic. How serious is this and should I address it with her?
- Sober Friend
Your concern for your friend’s drinking is understandable, as her level of alcohol consumption is potentially dangerous, according to several international agencies. Expert health organisations in the USA, UK and Australia recommend that drinking more than 4 standard drinks in one day, or 10 standard drinks in one week, means there is increased risk of health damage due to alcohol. A bottle of wine contains around 7 standard drinks, so your friend’s consumption would be considered well beyond the recommended safe level.
Whether her drinking is problematic to her or not could be a different matter. The use of any substance is generally considered to be problematic when it has a significant negative impact on one or more aspects of a person’s life, such as relationships, work, social life, parenting, etc. It may be that her drinking is not noticeably affecting any key areas of her life at this time, meaning she may not consider her drinking to be a problem. However, from a health perspective there is certainly a potential risk and the longer her current pattern of use continues, the more significant that risk becomes.
Ultimately it is your decision whether to raise this with her or not. It may be that she’s not fully aware of the health risks to which she’s exposing herself, and so may welcome some insights about this. However, it’s also possible she will not welcome another person’s perceived judgement of her drinking, even from a good friend. You know her best so you are more likely to have a sense of how she might respond.
If you decide to raise it with her, I suggest taking a gentle approach and avoid using the word alcoholic, as it can be an emotionally loaded term that could provoke a defensive response. Maybe start off by asking how she feels about drinking a bottle of wine every night and whether she has any concerns about it, and then gently share your concerns. It might be worth asking how reliant she is on the alcohol to sleep or otherwise cope with her current situation, because having that need or reliance is an indication that an addiction could be developing.
If she expresses concern about her drinking and wants to change, then any support you can offer her with this will be helpful. If she can reduce her drinking to safer levels by herself then that would be a good outcome (there are many resources on the internet that would help her with this). If she’d like some more professional support, then that is certainly available also. However, if she believes her drinking is not problematic and she doesn’t wish to change, then ultimately that is her decision and it’s probably best to respect that for now. It’s possible that just raising this with her will prompt her to re-evaluate her drinking, which may change her behaviour down the track. Either way, I wish you and your friend well in handling this situation.