My friend might have a drinking problem
Dear Straight Talk: I think my 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, such as all of her hook-ups 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, Los Angeles: Hey, I might know this person! College is basically a four- to six-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.
In actuality, 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, Moraga: My BS detector is going off. I was recently accused of having an eating disorder. The girl who did it was not a great friend and she said it in front of others.
I think if she was really concerned, she would have brought it up privately and been a closer friend. Yes, I have lost weight and have been working out a lot. But no, I do not have an eating disorder.
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, Huntington Beach: 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, Marysville: 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.
As Colin says, there is a fine line between typical college drinking and a drinking problem. Once you get used to drinking, it's hard to loosen up without it and personal issues are repressed and become worse.
New Year's parties are here — and so is a new year. It's a good time to look in the mirror and see why you drink and what personal work you could do to be happier.
Many otherwise intelligent people think our colleges are filled with raging junior alcoholics because we are too strict at home about underage drinking and all that bottled-up repression around alcohol gets uncorked in college.
These same people think that if we made alcohol part of meals and rituals, as is common in Europe, that our youths wouldn't go so crazy when they hit the dorms. Actually, this is a false and dangerous rumor.
It's a simple fact that the younger someone is when they first get drunk, the more likely he or she will become alcoholic. Also please note that periods of heavy youthful drinking are often followed by a period of sobriety before alcoholism returns. The only thing you repress by not letting kids drink before age 21 is alcoholism.
If you are considering allowing a New Year's party for underage guests in your home, please, just say no. Not only is it completely irresponsible to directly or indirectly provide alcohol to minors — as I've just noted — it is also illegal. If someone is hurt or killed, you can go to jail or lose your home. — Lauren
Lauren Forcella co-writes Straight Talk TNT with a panel of more than 70 teens and young adults. To ask a question or become a panelist, click StraightTalkTNT.com or write to P.O. Box 963, Fair Oaks, CA 95628.