Worried that you or your friend might have a drinking problem? If you answer yes to one or more of these warning signs, there may be an alcohol problem that needs to be addressed.
- Getting drunk on a regular basis
- Lying about how much alcohol he or she is using
- Believing that alcohol is necessary to have fun
- Having frequent hangovers
- Feeling run-down, depressed, or even suicidal
- Experiencing “blackouts” – forgetting what occurred while drinking
- Having problems at school or getting in trouble with the law
- Avoiding friends in order to get drunk
- Giving up activities he or she used to do – sports, homework, spending time with friends who don't drink
- Having to drink more to get drunk
- Constantly talking about drinking
- Pressuring others to drink
- Taking risks such as driving under the influence of alcohol or taking sexual risks
- Missing work or school – or exhibiting poor performance at work or school – because of drinking
If any of these warnings sound uncomfortably familiar, please
seek help for yourself or your friend. For referrals, talk to your school nurse or other trusted healthcare professional. You may also call the following hotlines: the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) at 1-800-662-HELP (662-4357) or the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Crisis Line at 1-800-234-0420. For information, call the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information at 1-800-729-6686.
Not everyone is drinking. Research shows that 70% of people ages 12-20 haven’t had a drink in the past month.
Alcohol comes in many forms, but one thing doesn't change: If you are under 21, it’s illegal for you to purchase or possess alcohol.
- Wine coolers may look like juice, but they have as much alcohol as a 12-ounce beer does.
- One 12-ounce beer has as much alcohol as a 1.5-ounce shot of whiskey or a 5-ounce glass of wine.
- “Alcopops” – sweet alcoholic malt beverages – are more popular among underage drinkers than among adults. These sweet drinks don’t taste like beer or liquor but can contain more alcohol than beer does. Teens are three times as likely to know about these products and nearly twice as likely to have tried them as adults are.
If Your Friend Has a Drinking Problem
First, it’s not your fault. Do not blame yourself for your friend’s drinking problem. Ultimately, it’s up to your friend to change his behavior. You can’t do that for him. (We’re using the male pronoun, but girls have drinking problems, too.)
Second, bravo! You're a good friend for recognizing the problem and trying to help.
Third, don’t take on this burden alone. There are many adults who can help you figure out the best approach. Talk to a trusted family member, teacher, SADD advisor, coach, school counselor, student assistance professional, family doctor, school nurse, or faith leader.
Discuss your concern when your friend isn’t high. Your friend may get angry with you, tell you to mind your own business, or may deny he has a problem. That’s common. And one conversation rarely does the trick. It may take several discussions before your friend understands how serious you are about this drinking problem. Don’t give up if he doesn’t immediately stop drinking. Here are some tips to help you with this tough conversation.
- Start by telling your friend how much he means to you and that you are worried about him.
- Give examples of when his drinking has caused problems or affected you or others.
- Let him know that you want to help, and tell him what you will do for him.
Drinking too much isn’t just illegal; it can be deadly.
Alcohol poisoning* occurs when the blood alcohol level (the percentage of alcohol circulating in the bloodstream) rises to a danger point, causing a person to lose consciousness and slip into a coma. In the worst cases, the drinker dies.
Here are some signs of alcohol poisoning.
- Not responding to being talked to or shouted at
- Not responding to being pinched, poked, or prodded
- Vomiting while sleeping or passed out and not waking up after vomiting
- Inability to stand up or remain standing unless aided by others
- Failure to wake up despite repeated attempts by others (?)
- Slow breathing (fewer than six breaths per minute or more than 10 seconds between breaths)
- Bluish or purplish skin or skin that appears flushed
- Clammy skin or skin that feels cool to the touch
- Irregular pulse rate or a pulse slower than 40 beats per minute
- Irregular heart rhythm with the heart beating unusually quickly or unusually slowly
Here’s what to do if your friend shows signs of alcohol poisoning.
- Call 911 for medical assistance immediately.
- Don’t leave your friend alone.
- Place your friend on his side to reduce the risk of choking on vomit.
- If your friend’s breathing becomes slower than six breaths per minute, perform rescue breathing if you know how to do so. This can save your friend’s life.
- If you no longer feel a pulse, perform CPR if you are certified by the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association.
- Wait with your friend until help arrives. Explain to the paramedics what you know about how much alcohol your friend has consumed. Even though you may be afraid of getting your friend in trouble, remember that this is a matter of life and death.
Here’s what NOT to do if you think your friend has alcohol poisoning.
- Don’t give your friend a cup of coffee or put him in the shower.
- Don’t let your friend go swimming or engage in other physical activities.
- Don’t let your friend drive or ride with someone else who has been drinking.
* A Note on Terminology:
Alcohol poisoning – Some people say that referring to an alcohol overdose as alcohol poisoning is inaccurate and misleading. These people say that “poisoning” implies that a third party intervened to “poison” the individual when, really, an alcohol overdose is usually the choice of the individual.
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