Dealing with a Drunk

Do you have, or have you ever had, an alcoholic in your life? I’m pretty lucky — I have never had a very close friend or family member have addiction problems. Until now.

Serena is a friend of several decades. We were roommates briefly, way back when, when I was changing cities, and a lease ended, and I couldn’t move for a couple of weeks. She was kind enough to take me in. At the time, I noticed that if we opened a bottle of wine, she drank the majority of it. If we went to a party, she had one too many, but she was a funny, sweet drunk, so I mostly just enjoyed her company. We were young; everyone partied; I excused it.

Then I moved. Though we kept in touch through job changes and moves and marriages and kids and separations and divorces, we really didn’t see each other much. When she got pregnant with her daughter, she told me she’d stopped drinking. I guess her husband insisted, and insisted she stay sober for her daughter’s entire childhood, which she did. But her daughter went off to college last fall, and her drinking resumed. To make matters worse, her husband left her.

Serena’s living in California now, has been for a few years, and so we’re spending time together. I’ve noticed that she’s drinking a lot. If I see her in the evening, I have to drive, because I don’t trust her to. Sometimes she slurs her words. I’ve seen her pass out, very genteelly, of course, but pass out nonetheless.

I’m horrified. I’m sad. I’m scared for my friend. I don’t really know what to do. I tried the Al-Anon website, which was not all that helpful, because I’m not family, or even close enough for Serena’s drinking to affect me, except for friendly concern. Then I found this article, by a recovering alcoholic, who is also a family member of other alcoholics, which is quite helpful.

So here’s what I’m going to do:

  • Take Serena out for coffee, early in the day on a weekend. (She only drinks in the evening, so she’ll be sober. We’ll be in a neutral location, in public, which is the safest place to have any difficult discussion, something I learned at Harvard Business School. Because it’s the weekend, we’ll have time to talk.)
  • Tell her specifically what I have noticed. (In NLP, I learned that people can’t deal with generalities, so it’s best to be specific.)
  • Tell her neutrally about my concern for her. (The article says that judging, labeling or shaming just make the problem worse. They give the alcoholic more reasons to drink. What the alcoholic needs is more resources, more ways to deal with the pain underneath the drinking.)
  • Bring information about the nearest AA meetings, both locations and times.
  • Listen neutrally and openly, using all the skills I’ve learned in NLP. (NLP has a whole model of linguistic rules which, when used by a listener,  help the speaker become more clear about what is going on.)
  • Be non-attached to the outcome. Perhaps Serena will take some positive step. Perhaps not. Perhaps, despite my best efforts, she’ll make me wrong for even bringing this up. I am prepared to lose the friendship, if that is what happens. 

Wish me luck! (And I truly welcome any additional ideas you’d like to post as comments here.)

Hollis Polk is a personal coach (, who has been helping people create lives they love for 15 years, using neurolinguistic & hypnotherapy techniques, decision science, clairvoyance & the common sense learned in 20+ years of business. She is an NLP Master Practitioner, hypnotherapist & has a BSE in engineering from Princeton & a Harvard MBA. She is also a successful real estate broker, investor & business owner.