Sticky Situation: How To Tell a Friend You’re Worried About Them

When talking to my best friend, there’s no conversation topic off limits. We can discuss her mom’s new boyfriend and his tight pants, we can laugh about romantic blunders from middle school to present and we can even get into politics. But, unlike with some of my relatives, politics is hardly a sore subject between us. So what about when it comes to something serious?

In my case, my best friend is a borderline alcoholic. She drinks more than the average person and has more than a few drinks per day, but she doesn’t let these habits get in the way of her schoolwork or ruin her relationships. I am concerned though because every time we hang out, and in the summer that’s pretty much daily, she always wants to bring some adult beverages or will pull for drinking to be a part of our plans in some way. I’m cool with casual drinking, but sometimes I would really prefer to just hang out without either of us being buzzed.

It’s a difference that’s starting to become a barrier in our decade-long friendship. It’s not an easy conversation, either. Sure, you can point out your friend’s booger, but can you point out something serious like this without them taking it as an attack?

The answer is absolutely yes. You just have to handle it with care.

It’s important to think through the situation before you proceed. Consider all angles of the problem: has this issue changed their behavior in a negative way? Has it negatively impacted your relationship with them? If you don’t talk about it, what’s the best and worst outcome? What if you did talk about it?

It is also important to consider if you think you could solve this problem or if it requires professional attention. More severe cases could really benefit from professional help. However, if after careful consideration you’d like to proceed on your own, you’re going to need to think about when and how to confront your friend.

Timing is everything. You should do your best to make sure that the environment is comfortable for your BFF. It won’t be useful to have this difficult conversation during times of stress or discomfort in their lives; they just won’t be as responsive to your concerns. Also, be sure that the area is private enough that they will not feel embarrassed to have a full conversation about the issue.

Word choice is the most important thing. You know your best friend better than anybody, so you know how they would respond to specific phrasing. In ALL cases, the best approach is sensitivity. You’ll have to find that sweet spot of concern without attack, of understanding without pitying, of pure genuineness without falter.

My friend, in particular, is extremely defensive when it comes to any negative feedback on her personality or lifestyle choices. Knowing this, I aimed to bring it up in casual conversation while we were having a beer. It seemed like a natural segway into my discussion. I told her it looked like she’d been drinking more lately, and I wondered if everything was alright. I led that into my feelings about her drinking and my concern over the previous weeks.

The results will vary across cases, but in my case, it was the best conversation we had ever had. At first, my friend was defensive, but when the walls came down, she was thankful that I had said something. She knew about the problem, too, but it took my expression of concern to help her get back on track.

You have the power to do this for your friends, too. With some attention to detail and thoughtful, thorough planning, you can make a world of difference.

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