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Counseling & Psychological Services
Montana State University
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Bozeman, MT 59717-3180

Tel: (406) 994-4531
Fax: (406) 994-2485
Location: 211 Swingle
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Counseling Services

How To Talk With Someone Whose Alcohol/Drug Abuse Concerns You

Alcohol/drug abuse can cause problems not only for the abuser, but for people around him/her. Spouses, family members, employers, resident advisors, friends, etc. often ask, "What can I do to help?"; "When should I say something?"; "How much should I put up with?".

Outlined below is a six step process for talking with someone when their alcohol/drug abuse concerns you. Repeat the process as often as you need to. It is important that you only intervene on SPECIFIC, OBSERVABLE BEHAVIOR THAT CONCERNS YOU.

Hints for success:

  1. Trust the process, be patient, it works!
  2. Be consistent and intervene the same way each time whether you are responding to a one time incident or a pattern.
  3. Practice the entire six steps with someone else first, especially if you are angry or scared.
Step 1 Say: "I Care ..."

Tell the person how and why you care about them. This first step is very important since it sets the tone for the rest of your conversation. Examples include:
"I care about you because we are good friends".
"I value you as a good worker".
"Everyone in this organization is important to me and this includes you."

Step 2 Say: "I See ..."

Explain to the person that behavior which you have observed in them which causes you concern. Be specific. Examples include:
"You have been late for class three times in the last two weeks and when you arrived you appeared very tired and smelled like alcohol."
"I've noticed that you are raising your voice at me more often, like when we were going to the movie Saturday."
"I see you spending more time at parties and less time with your close friends."

Step 3 Say: "I feel ..."

Discuss how the above mentioned behavior affects you. Use feeling words like sad, mad, glad, scared, etc. Examples include:
"When you drove home the other night after you had been drinking, I was scared and angry."
"I am concerned about your academic performance."

Step 4: "Listen ..."

Stop what you are saying, be quiet and listen. Regardless of what they say or do, just listen - don't respond. This is the place where it is easy to get hooked into letting them be in control - don't do it, just listen. They may respond in a number of ways. Examples include:
Sitting and saying nothing.
Thanking you and promising a behavior change.
Telling you to bug off and mind your own business.
Challenging your authority.

Step 5 Say: "I want ..."

State your expectations. Again, describe in an observable way and be specific. Examples include:
"If you have been drinking, I want you to find a safe way home."
"I want you to talk to an alcohol/drug counselor within the next three weeks."
"I want you to attend meetings on time and without prior drinking."

Step 6 Say: "I will ..."

Sate that which you are going to do, and when you will be doing it. Examples include:
"I will talk with you again in two weeks."
"I will refer you to the counseling center."
"I will place you on probation for one month."
"I will go with you to an AA meeting."

If you would like further information, please call Rick Winking, the Substance Abuse counselor, on 994 4531 or 994 7764 (direct).


View Text-only Version Text-only Updated: 12/17/08
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