Summertime & Drinking

Amy O. Project Manager, Health Literacy on August 22, 2016

This is the time of year for weddings, parties, barbeques and other gatherings. In many cases a few social drinks are just part of the occasion and no big deal. However, if a friend or family member’s drinking can become a problem, these fun, relaxed events can potentially take on a different tone. Recognizing that someone you care about has difficulties with alcohol can be the first step, as it can be hard to draw the line between what’s normal and what’s taking it a step too far. It’s important to determine if drinking is being used as a coping mechanism or an outlet to deal with other things going on in their lives, rather than just being a few casual drinks. So, if you’ve determined there is a problem, what’s next? What do you say? This can be a difficult conversation but it can be a big step in helping the person you care about to address the problem, prevent it from getting worse, and potentially make an improvement in their life. 

I personally have avoided having this conversation in the past, because I questioned whether I could be sure there was actually a problem—maybe I was always seeing the person at times when there was something to celebrate, or maybe my frame of reference of what’s “normal” was off. I avoided saying something because I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing, offend them or jeopardize our relationship. I now realize that you don’t need to have exactly the right words to say, and that maybe letting them know you’re there to listen is one of the best things you can do. I’ve also learned that saying something to indicate you care when you have a concern about a friend or loved one is better than saying nothing, minimizing or denying the issue or just hoping it will go away. It takes courage to start the conversation, and a great deal of courage to listen to other’s concerns, admit there is a problem and address it. 

Here are some things to think about when talking to a friend or family member about their drinking:

  • Pick a good time to have the conversation. Don’t do it when they’ve been drinking, find a time and place that is relaxed and neutral. If there is an event coming up, talk about it in advance
  • Let them know the reason you’re bringing it up is because you care, not to blame them or accuse them, let them know you’re not going to disappear and that you want to be there for them
  • Don’t make assumptions, find out more of what’s really going on. Then come up with some strategies together for when you are out. Ask if there’s anything that’s been difficult for them lately, and if there’s anything you can do to support—if  for example they drink a lot at parties because they feel nervous or feel like they don’t have much to say to others, try to introduce them to people or bring them into conversations

For some tips on what to look for and how to start the conversation, check out

For more information:

With some planning and discussion, you can aim to keep those social gatherings fun and relaxed, and not avoid them. When you are heading out, remember to plan how you’ll get home in advance-arrange a designated driver or cab so you don’t have to discuss it later. Check out more tips at


And, to find out what the potential risks are of mixing alcohol (or other substances of abuse) with prescription medications, visit the FREE website,

Dean Elbe, PharmD, BCPP Project Lead

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This is an agency of Provincial Health Services Authority, providing provincial tertiary mental health services to the citizens of British Columbia. Programs include: Adult Tertiary Psychiatry, Geriatric Psychiatry, Forensic Psychiatric Services, Child & Adolescent Mental Health, Women’s Reproductive Mental Health, as well as the Provincial Specialized Eating Disorders Program for children and youth located at the BC Children’s Hospital.

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