How to help a friend struggling with alcohol

Share This Article:

Even with his eclectic and unusual style, he was still really good looking.  My friends and I were instantly attracted his good looks, dubbing him “The Unicorn” for the easy way he carried himself. We would occasionally giggle and chat about him if someone saw him on campus, but nothing much came of it.

Fast-forward 6 months to an early evening mid-week.

Walking back from a rec class, my friend spotted something in the bushes. It was a pair of feet. Upon further, tentative, inspection, my friend realized it was ‘the Unicorn’  – he appeared so drunk he was almost unconscious. Since we were off-campus, we called for an ambulance and contacted his roommate to ride with him to the hospital. From his roommate we would learn that his friend was concerned about him and his increasing use of alcohol over the past few months. It seems that he’d been overwhelmed by the demands of school and extracurriculars, and had turned to alcohol to cope with the stress.

We were shocked, but we shouldn’t have been.

Alcohol and other substance dependence disorders are often hard to detect, especially in a high-risk college environment. Moving to on- or off-campus housing increases the availability of alcohol and other drugs, especially in social settings where a  main focus can be alcohol. A new sense of freedom and a new set of responsibilities away from parents can also lead students to experiment with alcohol and other drugs, facing decisions that they haven’t had to encounter before.

This experience also demonstrates that someone’s outward appearance  doesn’t always reflect their reality, making detection of alcohol abuse or dependence that much harder.

So, how do I know if a friend (or me!) is struggling with alcohol abuse or dependence? What can you do? 

If a friend is showing any of these symptoms and you feel comfortable talking to them, engage in a calm, non-accusatory conversation about the changes you’ve noticed in them.

If a student wants to seek off-campus help, call or visit the Center for Health and Wellness Promotion. For off-campus resources San Diego Alcoholics Anonymous offers online resources and in-person meetings.

If the student is extremely intoxicated or needs medical attention, call Public Safety at 2222 (on campus) or 911 (off campus). College can be stressful and overwhelming and finding new and healthy ways to cope with the changes isn’t easy. By being a resource for someone who may be struggling you can help provide support. Don’t hesitate to reach out!