Dear Straight Talk: I think this friend, "Tamara," has a drinking problem. I realize she's not much different than 10 other people I know, but she strikes me as drinking, not just to have fun, but to numb out problems with her father, and other awkward things… like all the hookups who don't call the next day. How do I bring this up without seeming like a not-much-fun friend? We do party together, but I know when to slow down or stop, versus getting wasted. Any ideas? Also, should I tell her parents? -- Concerned Friend
Colin, 19: Hey, I might know this person! College is basically a 4-6-year license to act like a complete alcoholic. If someone in their 40s gets drunk multiple nights per week, they're an alcoholic with a serious problem. If someone in their 20s does this, no questions are asked. It's a pretty fine line between using alcohol regularly to have fun and having an actual compulsion. Absolutely tell her parents, along with a group of concerned friends. To speak to her, use a well-timed, not-too-direct question delivered in a concerned tone like, "Is there anything you want to talk about?" Or, "Are you doing OK?"
Kira, 20: Check to see if your motives are sincere. For a person to admit they have a problem, you really have to have their trust.
Katelyn, 18: Since significant life problems seem linked to your friend getting wasted, step up with your concerns. Just be a friend, don't worry about being "fun." Bring up the topic in a compassionate, calm voice in a relaxed setting. Then, just listen to her. If her abuse persists, ask a counselor what to do next. Her parents may not be ideal to tell because of her struggles with her father. Next time you're at a party, get her out of there before she drinks too much or hooks up.
Christina, 20: Approaching her would be beneficial, even if it's not what she wants to hear. Timing and setting are key, though. Make sure she knows you are a concerned friend, not playing counselor. Find some substance-free activities she might like and invite her to them. Suggest the campus counseling center to talk about her father issues.
Dear Concerned: I really like what the panel has to say. Definitely search your personal motivation, as we have enough busy-bodies in the world. If you find a clean heart, approach her privately and with compassion as the panelists describe. A father wound can definitely trigger this kind of behavior. Unless you're worried for her life (which I'm not hearing), not knowing her parents or the nature of their struggle, I can't rightly recommend going to them, but I do recommend counseling.
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