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How Can I Help Her?

Barin front of Big Window

michael111 sees a friend with talent and potential who is stuck in long cycle of use. He’s a friend and doesn’t really see her except at work, which is at a bar. Opportunities for practicing CRAFT are very limited. But is committed to finding a way to help her. How should he proceed?

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I have a friend of eight months who has a long history of drug abuse, some probable mental illness issues, and serious alcohol use disorder. She drinks every day soon after waking, and is what people have called a "functional alcoholic" — she doesn't do much in life besides drinking, daily marijuana, and weekly Adderall, but she does hold a job. She's a bartender at a local tavern with which I have a business connection — I see here there about 5 nights a week, and she drinks on the job and often gets very drunk at the end of the night. She has a boyfriend who enables and even encourages her drinking.

Despite all of her serious problems, I see and feel something very strong for this girl and her talents which she is wasting, and I'm committed to helping her. I'm reading and studying all I can about CRAFT, and I'm determined to help her no matter how long it takes. My difficulty is that even though she lives close by, I rarely see her outside of the tavern — she never socializes with anyone except the boyfriend and her mother, and when I pester too much about getting together she grows distant. Her mother does like me and I plan to tell her all about CRAFT when I see her next.

My question is, how can I effectively influence her if at this point in our relationship I only see her at work? The majority of examples I see of rewards and other CRAFT techniques seem to be geared toward husband/wife or parent/child relationships where you live with the user. She's talked about doing many different things with me over recent months, but it's all just talk — I've met her at other bars a few times but for the most part, she's been impossible to spend time around outside of the tavern.

Thank you so much for your time and help, and thank you for this site — it's been very helpful to me.

It is encouraging to see a good friend on this site. You want to help your friend who is in trouble with alcohol. Welcome.

A good friend can make a huge difference in the life of someone struggling, just as a family member can. CRAFT does say that you need a good amount of contact with the person. In the research the cut off was 40% of the time. This doesn’t sound like the case in your relationship.

We have worked with many families who are embracing the CRAFT method at a distance or who are in contact with their Loved One less than 40% of the time. Sometimes the family has nothing more to go from than the phone and texting.

You spend time with your friend when she is working at the bar, but that is mainly it. She talks to you, and, perhaps, occasionally, the conversation has to do with her drug and alcohol use.

Sharing our site with her mother is a great idea. The boyfriend doesn’t sound helpful. At this point it’s best to just focus on what will be or may be helpful. You are in her life and are concerned enough to get involved. Thank you for your willingness to reach out and learn more.

You’ve been looking at our program and find it helpful. The Learning Modules can certainly help you to communicate in a way that doesn’t shut her down, but instead makes her willing to talk with you. Doing this will help her see you as a partner in her struggle and a person to come to when she is ready to help herself address her substance use. Keep up with these shifts – it’s never a bad idea to practice them even in other interactions. Through your compassionate and empathetic communication style, you are showing her that you are there for her, no matter what. You are helping to build trust between you.

In the meantime, I suggest you look at Learning Module 8 to get the nuts and bolts of intervening with your friend to engage her into treatment. Treatment is the goal. Many of our discussions and comments do revolve around implementing CRAFT at home, or within the family setting. You aren’t in a position to do that, but being ready and able to come through when a Loved One gives you even a fleeting window of opportunity can make an enormous impact. So in your situation, this route is worth pursuing.

You have some work in front of you. I suggest you put together a list of treatments and self-help in your area. The list needs to be as specific as possible: who to call, what is required from admissions, how it will be paid for, where the meetings are, how will she get there, etc. At the top of your list is a medical detoxification program. This is inpatient, typically for 3-7 days; it will help get her off the alcohol and other drugs safely. This is very important because withdrawal from heavy alcohol use can lead to life threatening seizures.

For self-help, give her a sampling of different kinds: AA, Smart Recovery… see our list in the supplement for self-help resources. Here’s a post about Refuge Recovery from our News blog. Perhaps you can see if there is someone in your area who works with the Sinclair Method. Whatever you are able to find, list the actual meetings for her, perhaps several, happening locally. Be sure to also look for ones that start around 4 in the afternoon, or before she starts bartending and after she has slept off the drug use from the night before.

In addition to tightening up your communication and making the list, I’m going to suggest you try an intervention (Learning Module 8) when you can find the right moment. It’s earlier than we would like, but I don’t think you are in her life enough to make the behavioral work of Learning Modules 5 and 6 effective. Considering the situation, it doesn’t sound like you are likely to catch her in moments of non-use very often. This can certainly change though, so stay prepared. Lean on the modules and the discussion blog for support; continue educating yourself as you have been; fortify yourself in any way you can from the resources here. But aiming for an intervention – when you are ready – is worthwhile in your case.

What if you went into the bar just before the start of her shift. You sit at the bar where hopefully, at this time of day, you have her attention and some privacy. The setting matters; you want your words to have as big of an impact as possible, so do make sure to try for a time when she can be reasonably focused on what you’re saying. You pull out the list and say something like:

You are a talented and lovely person, and you are my friend. As your friend I have to say I see you hurting yourself with the alcohol and drugs. I’m afraid for your future. I have put together this list of options for when you decide you want to cut down on your drinking. I have tried to put every detail on this page, so the moment you want to, you can more easily get treatment. Along with this paper, you have me. As your friend I care about you and I will help you any way I can. Please just take this paper and hold on to it. My number is at the top. Thank you for listening to this.

You then sit back and don’t talk about it again. Keep the conversation with her light. Think connection. You are her friend. This is what a friend can do. You are a true friend, not just a fair-weather friend, which is often all that bar life offers. You’ve given your friend real options for addressing a serious problem, and you are there ready to help the moment she becomes even a little willing to try something.

It’s important to continue with the listening and communication skills so that you’re not putting her on the spot in general. When you do find the right moment, your job is to convey your message with respect and compassion. Just seize a moment and then sit back. For her to know that you care about her and believe in her is meaningful enough. Caring for herself and believing in herself is her job, and her challenge: she clearly has this work ahead of her. But having the support of a good friend along the way is huge. If you can get her mother to consider embracing CRAFT and applying it to their interactions, that would be fantastic. Sharing your concerns – and your commitment – with her mother is legitimate. But there are clearly limitations in your role. So part of this process will be accepting what you can and can’t control.

It’s important that your friend continue to feel – and know – that she can trust you. Whether your friend is able to accept or digest it at the time, you can communicate your concerns – and willingness to help – in a heartfelt way. Stay open and ready to accept her response. Let her know you’re not pushing her to do something. You just want her to have that list when she finds herself wanting help.

Thank you for finding us and for your commitment to helping your friend. Please let us know how it goes, and what else you need. We welcome you into the Allies in Recovery community.



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. I could use some help, and want to give an update on my situation. This post was from scarcely a month ago, but being in the days and hours before Covid changed everything, it feels like it was from a galaxy far, far away:

    As you can see from my reply to that post, Allies in Recovery and your post came into my life at the perfect time. I did what you said, gave her the paper, and described what happened in my response.

    And then, two days later, the world changed forever.

    Like all bars and restaurants (and, soon, all non-essential businesses), the tavern had to abruptly close. With some quick thinking, the owner quickly turned the business into a food carry-out and delivery operation, keeping as much of the staff as he could (including my troubled friend, and her boyfriend who is the head cook). Where most nights there is a crowded dining room and a long busy bar full of drinkers, there’s now just two or three bartenders packing and delivering food, and just a few people in the kitchen. Because of my business connection with the owner, I’ve been helping out with this new operation and I’m there most nights at the end of the evening.

    At first I thought this new change would be very good for my friend, and because of that I’ve even hoped that it would last a long time. As fellow workers, we’re basically in quarantine together — we spend a lot more time together now. There are no sitting customers, so when she gets off work there’s no one to sit at the bar and drink with. The bar isn’t even being restocked with alcohol. When the tavern closes and the town outside is dark and sleeping, I’ll often spend an hour talking with my friend and her boyfriend in the closed tavern, and it feels very good — I feel like we’re all getting closer, the boyfriend definitely likes me, and while she’ll have a few drinks from the bar’s dwindling reserves, she seems to be drinking much less than she did before. We now close at ten, so we all get home at a reasonable hour.

    A month ago, her and her boyfriend left the tiny one-room apartment they’d been renting, and now switch between a room at her mother and stepfather’s house, and the basement of his parents’ house. Both are just a few minutes from me. But despite this proximity, and the promise of our new quiet life under quarantine, I’m actually feeling distressed about her situation. I’ve come to learn how much her mother drinks and how much her stepfather enables the marijuana — and it’s not any different at her boyfriend’s parents’ house. Her mother told me she wanted her daughter sober, but never followed up — and she’s constantly drunk herself. So my friend is surrounded by people who enable and encourage her disorders. She still buys a cheap bottle of vodka that she drinks when she wakes up and throughout the day. She smokes weed every day, often with her stepfather. Her boyfriend was never much of a drinker, but in recent months he’s begun to drink heavily, picked up a cigarette habit, and no longer complains about her drinking. I’m the only one who seems to say anything to her about it.

    And what hurts most, and what scares me, is that she hasn’t been talking to me much outside of work. Her texts to me are very minimal now — most of the time she won’t reply to my texts at all. When I see her at the tavern the next day and ask her about it, she’ll brush it off. In the past, I’ve sometimes blown up her phone with text after text when this happens, pleading and asking what’s wrong and asking what I can do to make us closer, but now that I always try to do what’s CRAFTy I back off after a single text if she doesn’t reply. It’s hard and it hurts and I have to work at not obsessing over it — I’m desperate to be close to her, but it feels like she isn’t in the market for a friendship.

    I’ve read Beyond Addiction and Get Your Loved One Sober inside and out. I’m looking and ready for a wish or a dip. I study the Modules and think about my every move in terms of CRAFT. I test CRAFT on all of my healthy relationships. But I feel like she’s slipping away — we see each other and talk four or five nights a week at the tavern, but we don’t communicate at all outside of work anymore. We’re supposed to get together at my house next week, on their night off, but I don’t know if this is just another false promise, and I’m scared that I’m going to be deeply let down again. It’s been three months since I’ve seen her outside of work.

    I’ve given more background about my friend in my reply to your post, and there’s a little more that I think I should add. In the past, she was a heavy LSD user. She’s told me that ketamine was her favorite drug, and she’d also used Ecstasy and Molly heavily. About three or four years ago she was also a very heavy cocaine user — she’d even dealt it, and was even homeless for a time with a junkie boyfriend. She finally quit these drugs in late 2018, after catching her apartment on fire, leading to another brief period of homelessness. That same junkie boyfriend used to beat her, and had gotten her involved in some heartbreaking sexual abuse situations with other people, and she lost two pregnancies to drugs. In the past three months alone, I counted seven times where she sprained a leg or arm or got a black eye from falling drunk. So she has quite a tragic background of drug abuse and just plain abuse. She also has literally no friends, and has told me in a few moments of confidence and lucidity that she wishes she was different but that she has great anxiety dealing with people unless she absolutely has to (like for work). I believe there are mental illness issues at play, and I think the childhood abuse plays a factor in this also.

    But, believe me, underneath all this horror and waste is a person of very high intelligence and talent. She seems to have lost interest in her art ability, and has been annoyed lately when I bring it up, but I recently gave her a smart philosophy article to read and she enjoyed it and told me she even gave it to her mother to read. She seems to revel in the “lowlife” aspects of her family life these days. I don’t see the “wish” coming out in her like I did so often five or six months ago (before I knew CRAFT), and I’m scared that maybe she’s giving up and consigning herself into the lifestyle that her boyfriend and immediate family are encouraging.

    As you can imagine, I feel a heavy discouragement and despair most hours of most days. But just writing all this out has been cathartic and helpful — and I remember reading that it would feel this way in one of the Modules! Her situation seems hopeless, she seems absolutely hopeless, it seems at times like she doesn’t even like me or want me in her life — and yet, it’s my intuition, or something more, but I just can’t shake the fact that we’ve been brought together for a reason and that I’m going to be able to help her. I certainly am not giving up. I’m here, aren’t I? I am not going to give up. Ever. I know that, and I believe with all my heart that one day you are going to post an update about her and use your “success stories” tag — but I wonder how long and hard the journey will be until then, and I can’t say that this has been very easy on me, because it hasn’t. Am I wasting my time? Is it time to back off? Or do I keep the same course? Or try something else?

    I welcome and value your aid and advice, and with all my heart I thank you so much for it. You are making a difference.

    1. Your loyalty and affection for your Loved One is palpable. Thank you for writing in. Covid-19 has changed so much. You had found an opening, a wish/dip (Learning Module 8), to talk to your friend and to give her some treatment and self-help ideas. Along with the list, you told her you would be there to help whenever she was the least bit interested in checking into anything on the list.

      Then Covid happened. The bar in which she works had to quickly remake itself as a takeout restaurant. She no longer bartends at night. She and her boyfriend left their apartment and are now living with family.

      Read Dominique Simon-Levine’s full response to michael111 here:

  2. Sometimes just the right thing comes at just the right time, and your post was that. I had been especially down about this situation, and your post gave me both hope and concrete direction.

    Early last November, she had an especially bad night at the bar after work — drinking so much she was blacking out, behaving very inappropriately with customers, and then wanting to drive. We called her boyfriend and I helped her until he came; the next day, I went to her little one-room apartment to have a sort of mini-intervention — I told her that it was obvious she had a serious problem, and that everyone in her life has let her down, but that I wasn’t going to ever let her down, and that when she was ready I would help her get treatment. I promised I would hold her hand the entire way until she got to the top of the mountain. An hour later she sent me a text. It was only three words — “Thank you Michael” — but I can’t begin to tell you what effect those three words had that day on me, a grown man, and will always have for as long as I live.

    Ever since that day, I’ve carried a slip of paper in my wallet with the name and address of the best hospital in town for medical-assisted detox, a list of good inpatient clinics, the link to the best healthcare plan she’s eligible for, times and days for various self-help meetings, and the name and number of the best cognitive behavioral therapist in town — a doctor whom I’ve been regularly consulting with about her.

    So on the day of your post, I knew it was time to do something with that paper. I printed it all out on a sheet with an explanation of everything, with my name and number at the top, and like magic that night there was a time when we were completely alone and she was reasonably sober and I was able to give it to her. It didn’t surprise her — she told me that she has things like that at home, and I told her that this is different, these are all resources especially for her, and that of course besides that paper she’s got me — a friend. She did say she has a “family” of people who can help her, but I kindly reminded her that it didn’t appear there was anyone really looking out for her best interests, and that I would be there when she needed help.

    Her boyfriend does like me a lot, but he’s very much a boy — at 40 he’s not much younger than me, but he lives in his parents’ basement and his life revolves exclusively around video games, dirt biking, and Star Wars. When he lost his main job last year he’d begun to drink with her. He said his dream is for her to work in a marijuana dispensary. I don’t see him getting involved in a program that can help her. His parents drink and smoke marijuana, too (before they dated, she’d smoked with his father at another local bar).

    Her family is even more dysfunctional — her father is very wealthy, lives out of state and holds a top position at a big corporation, but he’s a functional alcoholic himself, and the one or two times a year he visits with her are spent drunk. He sends her money.

    Her mother has told me she wants her clean, but she’s an alcoholic herself — my friend tells me stories of family vacations when they were young, and how they have photos of the sights but none of them have any actual memories of them because they were all constantly drunk from morning to night. Her stepfather drinks and smokes marijuana with her regularly, which I find very disturbing. She was molested by her uncle beginning at the age of 4, so I feel like that whole family is seriously problematic.

    I tried to get together with her last night, her day off. Her mother and stepfather took her out to dinner at a bourbon bar. When they came home she said she was too full to move but that maybe we could do something later — if she didn’t pass out first. I waited up and texted all night to no avail. With her I’ve learned that “maybe” is a nice way of saying no. This is very hard for me to deal with.

    I’ve been trying to keep a compassionate and empathetic communication style. I told her in a final text last night that her “maybe” gave me so much hope, and that if she didn’t feel like seeing me she didn’t have to tell me what she thought I wanted to hear, that I liked her for who she was no matter what. I never heard back, and this is something I’m having a big problem with — she lives three minutes from me, and I know that she’s drunk most of the time, but I’m sad that it’s impossible for us to even spend a few minutes together. I don’t know if I should keep pushing or if I should lay off.

    Lately she’s been telling me more about her addictions and struggles. It was only last week that she told me how often her stepdad smokes marijuana with her, and when I gave her the paper the other night she told me that she smoked it in the morning in order to get an appetite to eat something, and that she also had to have a drink of vodka as soon as she woke up, and that her days were a struggle. She said she has to drink vodka throughout the day. Two years ago on St. Patrick’s Day she fell on the pavement and was unconscious and was rushed to the hospital, and a doctor told her that she had Wernicke’s encephalopathy.

    She once had a great talent as an artist. She’s shared with me the work she did when she was young, and I try to encourage her to get back into it. She’s made a few attempts, and every time I tell her how proud I am of her. I try to talk about art and serious topics with her — despite her addictions and troubles, she’s very intelligent. We talk about working on projects together, but they always come to nothing. Lately when I send her personal texts about art she doesn’t even acknowledge them.

    I’m also trying hard to focus on self-help. Seeing her so sick is hard on me, but her avoidance is even harder on me — I look forward to doing something with her, it doesn’t happen, and then I feel terrible and useless and rejected. I’m trying to be more patient about this and trying to take care of myself so that if and when she ever is ready, I’ll be able to help her.

    I’m going through all the Learning Modules you suggested, and I’m trying not to be so discouraged. Despite the overwhelming negativity of the situation, this girl is going to get better. I just know it, because I know myself: when I really want something, I never give up, and I’ve never wanted something more in my entire life. I know I’m never going to give up on her no matter what.

    Again, I’m going through the Modules, and I’m conscientiously trying to practice kindness, compassion, and empathy, and I’m trying not to lose hope. If there’s anything you think I should be doing (or not doing), and if there’s any other advice you might have, I’d deeply appreciate it. Thank you so much for everything you do.