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How Do I Know if My Friends Have a Drinking Problem?

For young adults who like to socialize and party together, drinking and substance use are often part of this experimental culture. Young adults who are experiencing freedom from the restrictions of their parents but not entirely carrying the responsibilities of the real world are the ones who tend to experiment with alcohol the most. However, when does experimenting go too far? How can you tell when it’s more than just partying? Many signs can indicate when your friends have a drinking problem.


The Drinking Age

In the United States, the drinking age is 21 years old, changed from 18 and 19 years old due to concerns about the developing brain health of teenagers and the questionable effects of alcohol. Some today argue that the drinking age should be 25 due to the brain not being fully developed until around 25 to 27 years of age — findings that were confirmed in a research study published by the Journal of Adolescent Health

Due to peer pressure, social demographics, or other reasons, you and your friends may have started drinking alcohol before you were the legal age to drink. Underage drinking is common in the United States but still illegal. Many young adults feel that constant alcohol use is not a problem due to their age or the party culture they surround themselves with. But this is not the truth, and it can be a dangerous mindset for young adults who do not really want to know if they are addicted to alcohol. 


Signs That Your Friends May Have a Drinking Problem

For simplicity, let’s focus on one friend at a time. Think about how long you’ve known your friend and how your interactions with them lately compare to earlier. Have you always known this person as a heavy drinker, or have you noticed a significant change in their drinking habits? 

Other questions you can ask yourself about your friend include:

  • Does your friend need to drink every day?
  • Does your friend scoff at the idea of taking a few days or a week off drinking? 
  • Does your friend rely on alcohol to interact with you or other people? 
  • Has your friend let responsibilities at school, work, or other commitments slip due to their alcohol use? 
  • Does your friend struggle to remain sober or consistently binge drink and experience blackouts? 
  • Is your friend’s health or livelihood failing due to their alcohol use?
  • Does your friend drink when they’re alone, isolating themselves with alcohol? 
  • Does your friend hide some of their alcohol use from you? 
  • Does your friend have a hard time concentrating? 
  • Do they have symptoms consistent with alcohol withdrawal, such as dehydration, nausea, vomiting, pale or clammy skin, headaches, muscle aches, or brain fog? 
  • Is your friend defensive about their drinking, accusing you of being “no fun anymore” or “hovering” when you challenge them about their drinking habits?
  • Does your friend refuse to take responsibility for their actions when drinking or do dangerous things that violate other people’s safety, such as drunk driving? 
  • Has your friend been more confrontational lately or angry when they don’t have access to alcohol?
  • Does your friend consistently use alcohol to self-medicate for stress, sadness, or mental health problems?
  • Does your friend show up drunk to work, class, or other commitments that they should not be drunk for? 

Some of these questions may be difficult to answer due to the stigma around addiction and the drinking culture that many young adults participate in. However, if you feel your friend is taking their drinking too far, there are several things you can do. 


How You Can Help

  • First, talk to your friend. Ask them if they are okay, and then ask if they have noticed how their drinking affects those around them. This type of brief intervention may be all your friend needs to realize they need to change their drinking habits, stop drinking altogether, or get professional help. 
  • Call their parents or guardians if you can. Relay your fears, observations, or concerns to them as you discuss your friend’s health. If your friend does not listen to you and feels like their excessive drinking and the consequences it brings are fine, this is the next natural step. 
  • Set boundaries and stick to them. While this can be tough, sometimes boundaries are necessary to help your friend understand that you are worried and that their behavior is becoming dangerous. Make sure that you are on the same page as your friend and their parents or guardians as you create these boundaries. 
  • Give your friend the phone number for an addiction helpline. Ask them to call Florida Health at 850-245-4444 or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) helpline at 1-800-622-HELP(4357).


Identifying a drinking problem in a young adult can be challenging. Those who are fully immersed in the party and clubbing stage of their lives can easily slip from harmless experimentation into a full-blown addiction. If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be addicted to alcohol, we want to help you. At RECO Intensive, we offer addiction treatment for people of any age and from all walks of life. We care about you and your RECOvery from alcohol. Our professional staff and experienced alumni will be with you every step of the way as we create a personalized treatment plan. Our extensive adventure therapy and other patient services can help you learn new skills and improve your mental health as you work on your recovery. Your safety and your future are important to us at RECO Intensive. To learn more, call RECO Intensive today at (561) 464-6533. Let’s get back to a brighter future. 

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